CEO of Survival Systems Training Ltd, John Swain. (Photo: Dwayne McIntosh)

Roughneck school not affected by economic downturn

Demand is still greater than Dartmouth school can supply

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The economic downturn is hurting many grads' employment prospects. But at least one program in the city is still pumping out graduates and guaranteeing them jobs.

The Atlantic Petroleum Training College in Dartmouth offers a 14-day roughneck training program and guarantees graduates a job in the Alberta oil patch.

The course teaches students the jargon of the oil patch, as well as proper handling and use of tools. It also instructs them as to what they can expect working on the rigs. The school has an operational service and drilling rig the students work on almost every day to get a feel for the work. The students also get the mandatory H2S (hydrogen sulfide) Alive and First Aid training.

The economic downturn hasn't affected the school "because the number of people we turn out of the school is small," says John Swain, CEO of Survival Systems Training Ltd., the college's parent company. "We are averaging between 16-20 per month."

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The service rig at APTC that students learn by working on. (Photo: Dwayne McIntosh)

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Students trip pipe to learn what rig work is like.

The small graduate numbers means the industry has "more demand for our students than we can supply, especially during the winter season," Swain says.

Precision Drilling Trust is a company that runs service and drilling rigs and they are still hiring despite the slowdown in the economy.

"There's always jobs in Alberta," says Charles Sormany, senior recruitment specialist for Precision.

There are a lot of wells producing in Alberta and they have to be maintained, so "it's easy for us to place these guys in the service rig side," Swain says.

Precision hires people without experience but it looks for someone with training first, Sormany says.

Some of the students, such as Tony Gover, have come from as far away as Labrador to take this training. Gover worked for Iron Ore Canada in Labrador before being laid off and says he "wouldn't want to go to a rig without (training)."

Starting wage is $25 an hour

The program's tuition is $2,900 and the job placement service costs about $1,900. With the training "we recommend they have a thousand dollars in hand," Swain says. The thousand dollars is suggested for living expenses, until employment is found.

With the placement service "either a representative of the company meets them in Edmonton or we travel with them," Swain says. It is very rare that they have not been able to find someone work and in those cases their money was refunded.

The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors sets the recommended pay scale for rig hands. Floorhands start out making $25 per hour and "when you consider they are clearing six to seven grand a month ... in the first month of employment, the student pays for their training," Swain says.

The application process to the centre is based on drilling company standards. Students must complete a medical and drug test, as well as a physical test during their training that mimics what rig workers would be required to do in the course of their day. Former service rig workers train the students on the college's service rig.

Tough times in Alberta

Still, the prospects for striking it rich in Alberta have changed with the economic turmoil. As of December, the unemployment rate has risen to a two-year high at 4.1 per cent as the province lost 15,800 during December. According to Alberta's Weekly Economic Review, "housing starts have declined by 37.6 per cent in 2008."

Along with the slower times the province is seeing a slowdown in the oil patch. The association's statistics shows that the average service rig count between October and December of last year dropped by 109 rigs and the count is down 71 service rigs from December of 2007.

Alberta's Weekly Economic Review also points out "the average number of rigs drilling in Alberta declined 10.2 per cent in December from the same month a year ago."

Updates

Survival Systems Inc was changed to Survival Systems Training Ltd.

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