"It's not the trades of 10, 15 or 20 years ago where it was all just on the tools and everything was done by feel. There is so much technology involved" – Malcolm Haines, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
Despite a steady rebound in the Canadian oil and gas industry, countless Alberta workers are seeking out new opportunities, says Malcolm Haines, dean of Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's (NAIT) school of skilled trades.
Qualified oil and gas workers such as boilermakers, mechanics and pipefitters are going back to school in droves to expand their training, Haines told CBC News.
"We see apprentices, certainly in trades that are related to other trades, they're taking this opportunity to dual-ticket themselves," Haines said. "They're still working around the industries that they came from, but they're in different roles. They're looking to move around and maybe get some better secure employment in those areas."
But not everyone is flocking back to the oilpatch. Many of the jobs lost are gone for good or have become unrecognizable post-recession, as the industry cuts costs and relies more on automation.
"Trades have changed so much over the years as far as the technological requirements," Haines said. "It's not the trades of 10, 15 or 20 years ago where it was all just on the tools and everything was done by feel. There is so much technology involved."
Josh Hibbert worked the rigs in Fort McMurray's oilpatch for years but when the economy crashed in 2008, he – like thousands of others – had to adapt. In the decade that followed, Hibbert edged his way back into the beleaguered job market and is working on his second trade ticket at NAIT.
He landed an apprenticeship, got his red seal in welding and is set to enter his third year of boilermaker training.
"I had to adapt," Hibbert said. "I had to get into a new career path to get on with life and make myself employable in an area that had a demand," he told CBC News.
For his part, Hibbert has no regrets about going back to school. With his new training, he feels better prepared to survive another bust. And while there are jobs to be found in the oilpatch, Hibbert is less willing to cope with the swings in employment.
"The rigs started to pick up again so I think guys are working them again … but that was a long time for that to be on the down and out," he said. "Now that I'm with the boilermakers, we do maintenance on refineries.
"It doesn't matter how bad the economy gets, they still want to make money on the things that they have, there is still work."