3BB: Our story through partnerships
Nov 10, 2019
Producing three billion barrels of oil takes some help and Syncrude has plenty of it from different communities, businesses and organizations.
As Syncrude’s Indigenous Business Liaison, Doug Webb has worked alongside many in the region. It was easy for Doug, who was born and raised in Fort McMurray. “The people I grew up with are now chiefs, band councilors and run businesses so I’m often sitting in meetings with people I rode my bike around town with as a kid,” says Doug, who joined Syncrude in 1986. Those personal connections have helped find competitive and reliable local contractors. Syncrude has spent more than $3.5 billion with Indigenous-owned businesses since 1992. “I’m proud to work for a company who engages the people living in the region to responsibly develop the oil sands,” says Doug.
One of those key partners is former Syncrude employee Chris Wilson, who started his own company with a single mechanic service truck in 2005. Today, Wilson’s Birch Mountain Enterprises is one of the largest contractors in the oil sands. The Fort McKay-based company has grown into a leader in fluid handling services, with about 225 units and 335 employees taking on tasks that include water hauling, steam cleaning, waste disposal, fuelling stationary equipment, dewatering, waste water treatment and flatbed hauling. “I started out at Syncrude as a general labourer in the tool crib before getting an apprenticeship to be a heavy-duty mechanic,” says Chris, a member of the Fort McKay First Nation. “Syncrude was my first industrial client and has been a stable part of my company’s growth and expansion. They understand the value of having local contractors who understand the industry.”
The commitment to developing businesses with First Nations and Métis communities in the region stems from Syncrude’s Indigenous Relations Program that started more than 40 years ago. Syncrude has increased its spending with Indigenous-owned companies by working with them to identify opportunities and build competitive businesses that deliver safe, high quality work.
“We now work with more than 50 Indigenous-owned companies based in Wood Buffalo and are continuing to explore further opportunities based on the shared successes we’ve enjoyed,” says Doug.
Other valuable partners include the region’s school divisions and Keyano College. Syncrude has invested $84 million over the last 20 years alone on community projects, programs and initiatives, with a substantial amount directed towards education. These investments support Syncrude’s preference to hire people who live in the region and want to pursue careers in the area where they grew up. But George McGuigan, superintendent for Fort McMurray Catholic Schools, sees the commitment to learning extending beyond training the next generation of employees. “There are longstanding partnerships, which are important,” says McGuigan, who started teaching with the school division in 1982. “But it’s just as important to have Syncrude employees come into schools to help tutor kids or sponsoring innovative programming. It helps keep kids in school and interested and enjoying education. Students are learning more and it’s a 21st century education.”
That is reflected in the division’s outcomes, which include a 90 percent three-year high school completion rate. These numbers are mirrored by results with the division’s Indigenous students, where 89 per cent complete high school in a three-year period and a zero percent drop-out rate. “We are so proud to have a zero percent drop-out rate for all students, including our Indigenous learners. This is a testament to the strength and will of the entire Fort McMurray Catholic Schools family. No one is left behind.”
“We could talk about the registered apprenticeships or sponsoring Junior Achievement or the $1 million donation to the Father Mercredi Science & Technology Centre or the various initiatives to promote education with Indigenous students. The bottom line is Syncrude has increased the value of education by creating opportunities for students to explore different paths and different futures. They are a great partner.”