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Losing Workers to Alberta’s Oil Patch? Eight Obvious, Possibly-Wacky and Workable Retention Strategies.

Posted on June 6th, by Henry Goldbeck in Engineering, Henry Goldbeck, HR Management, Industry Resources. 1 Comment

Senior Estimators Make 55% more in Saskatchewan

Senior Estimators Make 55% more in Saskatchewan

First — and of course you already know this — there isn’t going to be a cost-free solution.

When managers, engineers and skilled professionals can make double their salaries in Alberta’s oil patch or small towns in Saskatchewan

    for example, recent Payscale data reports that a Senior Estimator can make 55% more working in Saskatchewan

— we’re going to have to get really creative and outright invest in ways to keep them.

With that in mind, here are eight retention strategies for companies like yours who have to compete with industries that can pay your workers double what they’ll earn in urban centres.

Some of them might be obvious.

Some of them might be crazy or inappropriate.

Some of them just might work.

Eight Retention Strategies for Companies Competing with Alberta’s Oil Patch:

1. Apply for pre-approved Labour Market Opinions (LMO) and recruit internationals.

a. Problem: Usually the process for hiring an international candidate is to recruit a person and then get an LMO. Once you have an LMO then you can apply for the relevant work permits – but the length of time between recruiting –> LMO –> work permits can lower the chances of successfully closing your hire. If the LMO + work permit process takes too long to get approved, the candidate may change his or her mind and go elsewhere.

b. Solution: However, a new process has emerged in the last couple years. Now, you can get an LMO preapproved and then go find your candidates. That gives you a 6-9 month window before the LMO expires in which to find candidates, and you can get an LMO approved that allows you to hire several candidates at once. (You’ll need an individual LMO for each trade, however.) So now you can get the LMO, recruit and then once you’ve found your candidate(s), get your work permits. From your potential hire’s perspective, the process is much shorter and therefore more likely to result in success. You can also hire for particular occupations in batches, reducing recruiting costs. (If you need a referral to a good labour/immigration lawyer whom I’ve personally used, let me know.)

2. Retention Bonuses. Many companies in high-competition places like Fort McMurray offer a retention bonus every 18 months, usually for something like $15,000. You could do that for your employees here. Put an 18 or 24 or 36 month retention bonus in place and employees will have an additional incentive to stay. No one likes to leave a potential bonus on the table.

3. Employee Referral Bonuses. You could consider – if you haven’t already — an employee referral bonus program for employees and even former employees who refer new employees to your company. (Something like $1k bonus when a referred new employee begins and another $2k if they are still there after a year.) I would make sure to include ex-employees because if you have employees who DO move to Alberta, they might be working with tradespeople who want to move to, or back to, BC.

4. Shifts/Job-Sharing of Absences. Institute a company policy that allows workers to leave in shifts for temporary placements in places like Fort McMurray. Something like this: from January to June, Joe can leave. When he gets back in June, Mary can leave your company until December. That way your employees can take lucrative short-term opportunities but you’ve always got coverage and you don’t lose your people permanently.

5. Sabbaticals / Job Guarantees. Every two or three years (or at whatever interval you choose), an employee earns the right to leave for one year and come back to his or her same job, guaranteed. Alternately, if someone quits, tell them you’ll hold their job for 18 months or even indefinitely. Make sure they know that they can come back any time.

6. Invest in apprenticeships and co-ops. If the candidate pipeline is too narrow, make it bigger. Recruit three or four apprentices for every one trades person you anticipate losing, and several co-op students in key professions (engineering, management, etc).

7. Recruit in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario, but market the move as “make BC your home” (vs. “make money in Alberta”). Highlight BC lifestyle.

8. Build a national network of recruiters. Find recruiters and recruiting agencies all across the country who specialize in trades. Make sure they know about you even if you haven’t placed a job with them, so that if they do find a candidate you might be interested in, they’ll give you a call and give you the option to create an opening and recruit their candidate.

I hope some — or at least one of these retention strategies — help you out. If you have ideas or refinements, feel free to say so in the comments —

— or if you want to talk more about it, I’m happy to connect. Email me, call me, and let’s brainstorm some solutions for your company.


Update: This retention advice of mine was featured in The Globe and Mail.

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Henry E. Goldbeck, President and founder of Goldbeck Recruiting Inc, is a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) with over 24 years recruiting experience. In his 13 years at the helm of Goldbeck Recruiting, Henry has built the company's reputation as a leading headhunter and recruitment agency in sales, marketing, operations, engineering, and executive level positions across a variety of industries.

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