Process operators are expected to be in high demand in the next few years. One study reported that between 2006 and 2020, over 5,000 new plant and facility operators will be needed in the oil sands.
One study reported that between 2006 and 2020, over 5,000 new plant
and facility operators will be needed in the oil sands. As construction
of more and more oil sands projects ends and production begins, there
is a change in the kind
of workers most needed. More maintenance trades are needed and less
construction trades workers are needed. Also, companies now need more
operating and technical employees, such as process operators, power
engineers, and instrumentation technicians.
A study recently put out by the Government of Alberta (Report on Phase
2 of the Oil Sands Labour Resource Study) found that from 2006 to 2020,
15,000 new employees would be needed for operations and maintenance
in the oil sands industry. The study says there will be a need for
over 5,000 plant and facility operators between 2006 and 2020. This
includes process operators
(NOC 9232) and power engineers (NOC 7351).
Over the next few years, more plants and facilities will open up and the
demand for process operators and power engineers will increase. There is
advancement in this industry and even movement between industries.
Recently, there have been over 80 job postings for process operators
and power engineers, so there is great opportunity in Wood Buffalo
for this occupation.
is one reason (for the increased need) because a lot of the older
guys are going to be coming to the age of retirement within a
very short time and they will have to be replaced,” says
John Cook, associate dean of technology with Keyano College. “The
other reason is expansion of the existing plants and new plants
recruitment advisor with Syncrude Canada Ltd. says they recently
had a large number of process operator
because of their practice to promote staff within the company. While
this is an entry-level position, most companies require that
their employees have at least a high school diploma and their fourth
class power engineering ticket. For more information on education,
see Schools Offering Programs.
There are a few different kinds of process operators: refinery/upgrader
process operator, gas plant operator, and oil and gas pipeline operator,
to name a few. The jobs found in Fort McMurray are generally related
to mineral and hydrocarbon processing in the oil sands industry.
searching for jobs, be aware that there are a number of different
job titles for process operators. Usually, the title of the job
is based on the process the employee is involved with or by the
in which the employee works. See the list on this page for
job titles found recently on Job Bank.
There are industries other than oil and gas where process operators
can work, such as pulp mills and chemical plants. They may process
different products, but employers will often consider hiring workers
from these other industries.
“We have been successful in taking people that had previously worked
in a paper mill,” says White with Syncrude. “The processes
are certainly different. They’re dealing with paper, rather
than oil, but we recently hired 18 (previous mill workers) and
my understanding that all 18 have gotten their fourth class tickets
since coming to Syncrude. We still need people with refinery experience,
but it is possible.”
Process operators in the Fort McMurray area generally have their
fourth or third class power engineering certificate, which allows
process steam and operate boilers. Other process operators, such
as pulp mill operators, don’t necessarily need this.
order to be called a power engineer, a person must be certified
through the Alberta Boilers Safety Association to operate pressure
four different levels of power engineer—the lowest
is fourth class, going up to first class. For more information
on the Alberta Boilers Safety Association, contact their Fort
Field and control
There are basically two levels of process operators in Fort McMurray:
field operators and control room operators (or board operators).
when someone is starting out, they’re in the field,” says
Cook. “After a few years they can become a board
operator if they want to do that. They are more experienced
kind of like
the team lead. They tell the field people what needs to
be done and if it needs manual operation, (the field operators)
go out and do it—turning
valves, adjusting an instrument to control temperature,
pressure, flow, or level.”
operators are responsible for the initial separation processes
or the special treatment
required to ensure that
as water and sediments are removed from oil and gas in
the field. Once
separated, the oil or gas is transported by pipeline
to refineries, gas plants or markets.
of a process operator are operating equipment to ensure that
the oil meets
specifications before it
Some of the equipment could be:
- vacuum and atmospheric
- heat exchangers
“A process operator, whether in Fort McMurray, or in a gas plant
in Medicine Hat, basically processes the upstream
oil and gas until it’s
purified enough to go through a pipeline
outside the gates of the plant,” says
There are many power engineering programs around northern Alberta
(see below) and some process operating courses. Keyano College
for both courses and one of the advantages of this program,
besides being in Fort McMurray, is the job placements which
“We only take as many students as we can guarantee work placement
spots, and students have to compete for a seat,” says Cook. “We
look at their educational background, their marks and then
an interview process with Keyano staff and industry people—just
like applying for a job.”
Salary and benefits
The pay range for this occupation varies greatly depending
on experience and training, but the range is about $20
to $47 per
hour, but averages
about $30 to $40 per hour.
positions are for ongoing production and maintenance of oil
employees are expected
to move to
Fort McMurray, regardless of whether they are doing shift
next few years, there will be many more opportunities for people
wanting to get into a career in process
or power engineering.
The information in this issue of Labour Market News was current as of the date shown. Employment outlook, salaries and educational programs may change. Please verify the information with additional sources before making career or business investment decisions. Contact us for more information.