This article relates to land based field jobs in the oil industry. Much of this also applies to offshore drilling, indoor, lab, office, and facility related jobs, but for the most part they are not addressed specifically. For most of this article, I use the word 'industry' to describe the oil industry as a whole. The word 'field' is used to describe a sector of the oil industry that involves on-site labor at varying locations, such as well drilling or seismic exploration.
So you're thinking about a field job in the oil industry. If you haven't been involved in the oil patch before, you probably have no idea how vast it is, or where to start your job search. Many sites will try to convince you that you can get a job on an offshore rig making $10,000 a month without any experience or training at all, and while this is possible, it's not at all likely. Actually, it can be tough to find a job in any field of the oil industry without some experience or training.
First, you should realize that the oil industry isn't just drilling rigs, pumpjacks, and gas stations. The oil industry is a lot like the military in that it employs people in nearly every profession. There are positions such as roughneck or airgun operator, that are very specific to the oil industry; but there are also welders, medics, chemists, biologists, environmentalists, cooks, computer programmers, engineers, and a thousand more positions that are absolutely essential to the industry. You don't have to have experience specifically in the oil industry in order to have relevant experience.
The oil patch is a little bit different from most other industries. You'll soon lose the idea of a weekend as you now know it... The patch runs seven days a week, and in many cases, 24 hours a day. You'll be expected to work every day in all weather conditions, for weeks or even months at a time. The oil industry is also very production oriented; you'll make more money welding in the oil patch than in another industry, but you'll work longer and harder for that bigger paycheck.
There are a few prerequisites if you want a field job in the oil patch:
- You must be in reasonably good physical condition, and be able to lift at least 50 lbs. regularly.
- For most positions, you must have a valid driver's license.
- You must have suitable clothing for extended outdoor work and in most cases, hard toed safety boots.
- You should not have any medical condition which would make it unsafe for you to operate machinery.
- You don't need to live in the city where your employer is located, but in most cases you will have to provide your own transportation to and from your home from the employer's location (point-of-hire). If you live a long way from any areas with oil and gas activity, you will have a very difficult time finding an entry level job in this industry.
- You must be willing and able to work hard for long hours. This industry is all about production, and if you don't produce, you're not an asset to the company.
- You must be drug-free. Most companies conduct pre-employment drug screenings and random testing of employees. If your test show signs of illegal drugs in your system, you will not be hired.
In Canada, the oil patch is much busier in the winter, when the ground is frozen. Typically, during the month of October the demand for field workers goes up dramatically, and drops off near the end of the season - between late February and March. If you're new to the industry, the winter is the best time to look for work, as companies will be more willing to hire and train inexperienced workers.
If you want to spend some money to make some money, you can take some of the required courses to make your resume more attractive to potential employers and possibly get you a position a bit higher than the bottom of the barrel. WHMIS, H2S Alive, and first aid with CPR are generally required for all positions, as well as a driver's license. Many industry fields also require various other safety tickets, depending on the work that they perform... If you'd like to work on a rig, for example, you should have a course in fall protection.
In areas with oil & gas activity, you'll find many companies that offer oilfield specific training. More generic courses like first aid or WHMIS may be taken from any available training facility in your area-- First aid training, for example, can be obtained from any branch of the Red Cross or St. John Ambulance.
If you'd rather not spend a bunch of money on training, you may want to consider the seismic exploration field as a place to start. Seismic jobs are easy to come by simply because seismic crews are large (20-45 people) compared to other oilfield crews, and they offer labor jobs with little or no experience required. Among the fields in the oil industry, seismic exploration employs the most people. Seismic companies will usually pay for all required training. The starting pay isn't the best, but there are plenty of overtime hours... most seismic crews work 12-14 hours per day, 7 days a week. A season of seismic work should give you the experience and the certificates that you need to get other positions elsewhere in the industry, or you may decide to stay in the seismic field and work your way up.
The seismic field extends beyond seismic line crews to include seismic drilling, surveying, line cutting, and cleanup crews. There are entry level jobs available in each of these fields that typically pay more than line crew positions for less work. There are, of course, fewer of these positions available, but the jobs are out there and they need to be filled!
Most oil work requires you to live away from home, in motels or camps near the jobs. Your travel, accommodations, and meals will usually be paid by your employer while you're working. Most companies also provide all required safety supplies, such as hard hats and reflective safety vests. You are required to supply your own work clothes, boots, gloves, etc. Before you leave for your first job, be sure you have appropriate clothing to spend 14 hours outside... frostbite isn't fun, neither is heat stroke.
Much of the work in the oil industry is very physically demanding, especially in the entry level positions. There is no upper age limit, but you should be willing and able to work hard for long hours, lift 50 lbs regularly, and be in relatively good physical condition. If you have back or other health problems that prevent strenuous activity, you may want to reconsider this line of work. Most companies require employees to be at least 18 years old. A recent hearing test and/or medical evaluation may be required. Many oilfield companies also require a pre-employment drug and alcohol screening.
You should know that while you can make a lot of money in a month in the oil patch, you can also make no money in a month. Most oilfield work isn't very stable, and you'll occasionally find yourself laid-off on short notice due to a shortage of work... and called back on even shorter notice. Many people in Canada work in the oil industry during the winter while it's busy, then take the spring and summer off, or work non-oilfield summer jobs.
Offshore and overseas rigs usually operate year-round, offering a much more stable work environment; but there are very few positions on these rigs that are available without any experience. If you're interested in working on one of these rigs, you may want to start with a catering job. All major offshore and overseas projects employ catering staff to provide meals for the rig crew. These positions are often available without experience, and rig managers will often hire catering staff onto the rig crew if they need an extra hand, or if a member if the rig crew gets injured or leaves. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and showing interest in working on the rig.
Crash Course in Oil Production