In October, three months before Dan Themig’s busy winter season, he was scrambling to find enough employees to keep the natural gas flowing through the oil and gas pipelines of his clients.
While the energy company executive had 750 employees around the world at the time — engineers developing drilling systems, workers installing equipment in the oil fields — he needed to hire 40 more before things ramped up.
Activity doubles in the winter for Themig’s company, Calgary-based Packers Plus Energy Services, which provides fracking technology and equipment to oil and gas companies. That’s because there are fewer people traversing the Canadian prairies so the company has easier access to the roads that lead to their sites.
Yet Themig, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Packers Plus, was having trouble finding new recruits to do everything from graphic design to fracking machine repair. He was even struggling to find some basic human resources specialists.
“Canada’s labour force is fairly well stretched,” he said. “There’s such a heavy demand for workers.”
The CEO eventually found his 40 staffers, but he’s now looking for 20 additional hires. He anticipates he’ll need even more in coming months.
Themig isn’t alone in his desperate quest for manpower. Energy sector companies across Canada are seeing incredible growth. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that global demand for energy will rise by 35% by 2035.
The International Energy Agency has also said that Canadian crude output will climb to 4.9 million barrels a day by 2020, up from 3.2 million today, while natural gas production will increase by nearly 30% over the same time period.
Race for talent
As a result of this increasing demand for Canadian energy, Canada’s oil and gas sector will need to fill about 85,000 positions between now and 2020, according to the Petroleum Human Resources Council (PHRC).
While some of the jobs will be filled by Canadians, with an expected 4.9% industry unemployment rate in 2014 — the lowest in years — there simply aren’t enough qualified local workers to fill every vacancy.
If you’re an engineer, machine operator, truck driver, drilling expert, accountant, human resource professional or are just willing to get your hands dirty then Canada’s oil and gas sector could be a very lucrative place to look for work.
Where are the workers?
There are three primary reasons why companies just can’t find enough workers, said Barry Munroe, an oil and gas practice leader at Ernst & Young, a global business consultancy firm.
For one, the industry is booming and is expected to remain robust for several more decades. The liquid natural gas sector, which will turn gas into liquid and then ship it round the world to nations without sufficient domestic energy supplies, could account for $10.5 billion of spending alone, according to a 2013 National Bank of Canada report.
Another reason is demographic, said Munroe. The baby boomer generation is ageing (baby boomers are generally considered those born between 1946 and 1964) and starting to retire. That will open up a number of jobs, especially in more skilled and senior positions.
Unfortunately, “the types of skills required in the oil and gas business today don’t match the available labour force,” he said.
Finally, the oil and gas sector remains one of the toughest and arguably most dangerous industries in which to work. People often must travel to remote locations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, they have to work on rigs and they have to be there in the winter.
“It’s not a glamorous job by any means, especially in 40 below weather,” said Themig.
In coming years Canada’s energy industry will need to fill everything from engineering and welding positions to accounting and human resource jobs. That doesn’t even include the need for service sector workers — retail, financial services and more — that have grown along with the oil and gas industry.
According to PHRC, the most in-demand jobs over the next seven years will be power engineers — people who can oversee machinery and boilers that provide steam, power and heat to facilities — heavy equipment operators, oil and gas well drillers and drilling coordinators.
There will also be a growing need for trade workers, such as welders, machinists and crane operators, said Carla Campbell-Ott, the PHRC’s executive director.
Themig said he is always looking for engineers, people who can manufacture equipment and field workers who are willing to work in Northern Alberta and British Columbia. But that’s not all. He also needs marketing, accounting and human resource professionals.
Naturally, the more experience one has in the oil and gas sector the better, but companies have loosened their job requirements, said Todd Springer, managing partner at Andover, Mass.-based FootBridge Energy Services, an energy sector staffing company.
These days, companies will hire people with experience in other industries and give them energy sector-specific training. For instance, anyone who’s worked on large construction projects will be able to use that expertise in the oil and gas industry, said Springer.
“People can come up to speed pretty fast,” he said. “Companies are starting to see that.”
Some of the more skilled jobs, such as engineer, do require post-secondary education, but a secondary-school education is sufficient for the more labour-intensive jobs, said Campbell-Ott.
It is crucial that job seekers speak and understand English, she said, mostly for safety reasons. People must also be willing to work hard for long hours and be able to operate within a team, she added.
Can people from outside North America get work?
Until recently, companies stuck close to home for new recruits, but that’s changing, said Campbell-Ott, pointing out that Calgary Economic Development went to Ireland last year to talk about the benefits of working in Alberta.
Other companies have attracted talent from Europe and Australia, which also has a booming energy industry as it attempts to become a global hub for liquefied natural gas production.
If you do land a job at Canadian company, the business will help you sort out all of the visa-related requirements, said Campbell-Ott.
How much could you earn?
Many people are attracted by the money: Most jobs start in the high five figures and can grow to six-figure incomes.
The median annual salary for an oil and gas drilling supervisor is almost $75,000, while the median pay for a petroleum engineer is about $94,000, according to an April 2013 Canadian Labour Force report. A more basic field worker can also make a six-figure income, said Themig, as long as they’re willing to work overtime which can mean more than five days of work.
The Packers Plus CEO said he pays all of his employees “really well.” Most start in a high five-figure range but that will increase with experience, Themig said.
The energy sector does go through periods of boom and bust, so the employment picture could look considerably less rosy if oil and gas prices fall, but generally the demand for Canadian-made resources — and the people who develop them — remains strong.
“Energy requirements are only growing,” said Campbell-Ott. “The work is not going away.”
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