Calgary's oil and gas companies are digging deeper to attract skilled workers.

There's a wage war going on, with big bonuses being offered to new recruits just to sign up with a company. 

Darcy Spady, who has worked as a petroleum engineer for 25 years in the city, says it was much different when he was starting out.

"Most of my classmates and myself struggled to find a job for 10 years," said Darcy Spady.   Now Spady is managing director of Saint Brendan's Exploration, a small oil and gas company.  "We are so understaffed as an industry that there is competition. How do you address competition? Cash, location, lifestyle," he said.

That often means hefty bonuses — thousands of dollars just to sign on with a company.

And the fight for talent is international. Oil and gas companies as well as mining firms from Australia, New Zealand and Peru are in Calgary this weekend hoping to lure away skilled labour. 

Companies that came for the job expo are prepared to compete for the best talent available in cities like Calgary, which is seen in Australia as a "global hub for skills, especially in the oil and gas, engineering and mining sectors," said Rupert Merrick, director of operations for Working In Ltd., the firm the organized the event.  

"Salaries are actually higher in Australia," he said. "When employers come here they’ll actually relocate people to Australia, they’ll take care of the visa."

But Cheryl Knight , who speaks for the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, said it is not sustainable to get into salary bidding wars.

"In the end we really can't let costs just escalate to infinity ... we have to find other strategies to find and train skilled workers we need," she said.

The industry is focusing on hiring foreign trained workers and training new graduates more quickly before the baby boom generation starts to retire en masse.