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A year ago, perhaps a job but not today

Part of our NOW WHAT!?! series of stories on looking for work

Weyburn – Companies that tend to avoid a spring layoff and have a long track record of stability are a prize to be sought when looking for a job. That’s one of the reasons why the first place I took my job search, resumé in hand, was to Weyburn-based Jerry Mainil Limited.

The company has been in business for 54 years now. They’ve been through tough times before.

While they have someone who usually handles the human resources area, Dennis Mainil, president, has done his share of hiring over the years. He was kind enough to look over my resumé to see if I would be a suitable fit. As an oilpatch earth-moving company, my pipeline and excavator experience would hopefully be a good fit.

In this case I was looking for excavator operator work. Scanning the resumé and looking over the tickets I have, Mainil noted the absence of a no current ground disturbance ticket. “That’s something you have to have,” Mainil said.
It’s good that I have my other oilfield safety tickets like H2S Alive, WHMIS and first aid. Resumés without tickets get filed in “file 13.”

He asked if most of my excavator experience is with pipelines. It is, and primarily big-inch.

He also asked about my unsuccessful project in the late 1990s to create a virtual reality training simulator for excavators.
“What type of controls do you run?” Mainil asked.

“Cat,” I responded. Excavators and backhoes have two standard control patterns, and operators familiar with one can have difficulties with the second.

“You’re fortunate. Here, we have pattern changers,” he said. That’s a switch-type device that allows the machine’s controls to be changed with ease.
“So you know how to run a wheel ditcher?”

“No, I greased one,” I said.

Wheel ditchers aren’t as useful anymore because of their inability to easily create properly sloped ditches. Jerry Mainil now has V-buckets for their excavators to do that sort of work. I explained how I was trained to slope a ditch by digging a certain pattern and then swiping in the sides.

Excavators are often used for shading the pipe (sprinkling dirt on it while backfilling in a manner to avoid dropping rocks) and to cradle in the pipe when lowering it in, he said.
On one of the later pages he noticed my farm equipment operator experience.

“You grew up on a farm? That’s a big bonus, with a strong agricultural background,” he said.

In comparison to the union work I had done as an oiler (an operator apprentice/swamper), he noted “We don’t have oilers.”

“We expect our men to show up 10 to 15 minutes early. We start at 7 a.m. Some start sooner. We do use excavators a lot on cleanup. You have to be comfortable working on piles (of dirt),” Mainil said.
I explained I spend a year working in a pit, climbing up and down piles all day.

They often use excavators to pull in dirt from the edge of a lease or right-of-way so as to speed up the dozer with its work, allowing them to get behind it.

If I were to start work with them, first I would be sent out with senior people. I would have to complete their power mobile equipment training, a formalized course to ensure each operator is competent to run their piece of equipment. That type of training is becoming more commonplace now, as I first heard of it a few years ago with Carson Energy Services.

Jerry Mainil Limited has had the program in place for three or four years now on a formal basis, but they’ve been doing similar orientation for years before.

“I’m the evaluator, trained to do the evaluation,” Mainil said. There’s a theory portion, then the new employee is taken out with a supervisor to ensure they are familiar with the machine. This includes doing proper fluid checks, climbing on and off properly, etc.

“We’d start on a lower risk task, i.e. moving topsoil,” Mainil said. “I’d come out and do a final evaluation, which is documented.”

All told, a new employee will spend a minimum of two-and-a-half days in orientation before being sent into the field. That’s a far cry from my first pipeline job in 1995, which had a half day orientation session in the yard and a drive out to the job site by early afternoon. Some oil companies have up to two weeks of orientation before work commences, he noted.

“We’d get you on a seat, might not be the first,” he said, adding a person willing to work weekends and has experience is an asset.

“We have a green hard hat policy,” Mainil said, and that includes even experienced workers. This indicates new workers to those around. The minimum a person wears a green hard hat is two weeks, but the standard is 90 days. It takes a while for a new hire to know theirs, and their clients’ systems.

One of the key distinctions with Jerry Mainil Limited is that, unlike the union work I had done, which had very, very strict rules on who performed what jobs, they expect workers to do a variety of things. On a union pipeline job, a member of Operating Engineers could pick up a narrow track shovel (a.k.a. sharpshooter), but not a spade. That’s a labourer’s tool. Similarly, driving a semi is a teamster’s job, and never the two shall mix.

With Jerry Mainil Limited, the more you can do, the better. It’s a lot harder to keep you employed and working if you only run an excavator, according to Mainil. Some of their excavator operators also run loader backhoes, dozers and steamers (all of which require their own power mobile equipment evaluations). It also helps to have a 1A drivers licence.

“No one just runs excavator,” Mainil said. “Jerry Mainil is a very diverse company, and it’s what kept us alive.”

Thus, that person who runs an excavator in the summer might run a steamer in the winter, keeping him employed and Jerry Mainil Limited. working.

“Becoming an employee, you’re not and excavator operator. You could be on a shovel or squeegee. We’re trying to create employment,” he said.

I’m upfront with my heath issues, including a heart attack two years ago that precludes heavy physical exertion. He replied that some staff members choose not to do shop work, but when they do, there’s no work to be had at times.
“Each has his own abilities, strengths and weaknesses,” Mainil said.

They like when workers are willing to help put the pipe together. He takes his father, Jerry’s example on that front. “My father started this company. There’s no job he wouldn’t take on,” Mainil said.
Unfortunately with the slowdown in the oilpatch, there aren’t as many working as there was not too long ago.

“We peaked at 120. We’re around 95 right now,” Mainil said. They had also has some recent layoffs.
It’s a frustrating experience, because he noted, “Traditionally we keep people.”

My training and background, with outside experience, are strengths, he noted. A willingness wo work weekends and long hours as projects require are also benefits, for the times they are not working their usual eight-hour days. Being able to drive a stick shift is also good. I also have a “good resumé.”

“I usually phone where they worked in the past, not just references,” he said.

As for weaknesses, my health is a concern, but he appreciated the honesty. My resumé is also too long. Is there a job to be had?
So, in the end, would there be work for someone with my qualifications?

Right now Jerry Mainil Limited has its eye out for certain people with high-end, technical experience and for certain high-level jobs.

“As for operators, labourers and drivers, unfortunately we’re not hiring at this point,” Mainil said. “In today’s world, it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone hiring.” “A year ago, we probably would have taken you on, but not at this point,” he said.

“We’ve unfortunately had a wage rollback. They (the staff) all agreed,” Mainil said. The company was under pressure from the clients. The net result is they have kept working while others are on the bench.
“We had a choice of no work or a reduced rate,” he said.

There’s a limit to how far a company can cut its rates, however. Overall costs for many items have not gone down. Mainil said, “Sometimes the right decision is to step back and let nature take its course.”
From 1987 to 1988 the company resorted to job sharing for its employees. They’re looking at it again.

In 2009 they rescinded a rate increase that was put in place a year before.

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