'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Alberta oil jobs, says consultant

As oil prices gently rebound in the early weeks of 2017, an Alberta-based human resources consultant says jobs are starting to rebound as well.

Human resources consultant says things slowly picking up in Alberta oil industry

Alberta-based human resources consultant Wendy Giuffre says oil companies are slowly calling workers back to the oil patch. (Wendy Ellen Inc. )

A human resources consultant based in Calgary says the oil industry is slowly starting to rebound along with the price of oil, which was more than $50 a barrel Jan. 6, up from about $30 a barrel one year earlier.

"It'll be almost a 12-month lag, when things will really pick up in the hiring world," said Wendy Giuffre.

Giuffre is president of the human resources firm Wendy Ellen Inc., which places employees with oil and gas companies in Alberta. A number of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been part of that workforce. 

She told CBC Radio's The Broadcast Thursday that there is some drilling going on now, and some people are being called back to work but she doesn't see the bulk of the rehiring happening just yet. 

"I can't see it until near the end of this year, 2017. That's what everybody I talk to in the industry is saying."

She said even as things pick up, the industry will not be what it once was as oil companies have changed the way they operate, "working smarter," looking at outsourcing, consolidating. 

Giuffre said there are rumours there could even be more cuts before it gets better. 

Magic number

As for a "magic number" — the price oil has to reach before job activity really picks up and the industry is back in gear — she said there probably is one, but not the number it used to be. 

"[Companies] have rejigged their business, and have really looked at how they can be profitable at a lower dollar value," said Giuffre. 

"I actually think it's going to be a bit of a new game on what that number is, to be profitable."

For a number of years, people from Newfoundland and Labrador have worked in Alberta's oilfields and commuted back and forth. (Tracy Johnson/CBC)

She said the market is actually similar this year to where it was last year, when the price of oil was lower. 

"The difference is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Between a new government taking over in the U.S. this month and talks of carbon pricing and developments in climate change policy in Canada, Giuffre said there are many unknown factors affecting the industry.

The difference is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.- Wendy Giuffre

In the meantime, Giuffre said she knows people who have gotten out of the oil business just because they got tired of the cycle of hirings, firings, booms and busts. 

"I've seen it. People that have taken a far lesser salary to do something much more simple and satisfying than what they were doing before for the big dollars."

The downturn was forecasted, she said, "but I don't know that anybody really believed it."

With files from The Broadcast