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Future of Workforce Housing

Workforce housing is responding to the market as companies look to recruit and retain drillers, miners, electricians, engineers and other skilled tradesmen. And with economic uncertainty in verticals such as oil and gas, there's increasing pressure to create housing projects which aren't just worker-friendly, but cost-effective.

The Realities of Long-Distance Residence

According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) shift work can play havoc with the body's natural rhythms and result in everything from sleep deprivation to gastrointestinal distress or cardiovascular issues. Despite these concerns, however, most camp-based operations run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and require personnel to work rotating shifts, often two weeks “in” which swap 12 hour days with 12 hour nights halfway through or sets of four-on-four-off where workers complete two day shifts, immediately turn around for two night shifts and then take four days off. And while it's not possible to change the nature of natural resource work, it is possible to make workers as comfortable as possible when they're not working to limit the possibilities of injury or illness. The result? Organizations are changing the way they look at workforce housing.

Consider the recent announcement of ATCO's successful bid to build the Site C Clean Energy Project housing facility, a 1600 person workforce housing facility in northeastern British Columbia. As noted by Reuters, the new lodge will include a multi-faith center, 100-person movie theater and gymnasium with both running track and weight room.

Current and Future Accommodations

So what do current housing projects look like? Britco's Jackfish Lodge in northern Alberta is a good example: It features private bedroom and bathrooms along with high-end, hotel-quality finishes in addition to a games room that offers pool tables, poker, video games and pinball. The idea is to create a sense of “home-away-from-home” that both encourages employee loyalty and jump-starts productivity. Black Diamond, meanwhile, was clearly thinking ahead with its Sunday Creek project which includes a self-contained water treatment plant able to provide on-site fresh water to the entire camp.

But what else is on the horizon? Speedy satellite Internet is rapidly becoming the expectation rather than the exception, and high-quality food prepared by Red Seal certified chefs is replacing the bland, high-calorie fare of decades past. Looking further down the line, however, it's possible to speculate about more sweeping advancements such as the use of solar and other renewable energy technologies to offset power consumption and lower environment impact. And when it comes to more fundamental changes, expect to see a rise in automation technology such as Command and Control Suite, which is able to “lower operational costs, minimize risk and reduce downtime” in large facilities by providing a holistic view of any connected building's video feeds, access controls and fire alarms.

Moving ten or fifteen years down the line, expect to see not only a trend toward more hotel-like structures but those which can be easily dismantled or re purposed when mines are empty or oil sands drained. As the new Site C project suggests, the goal of workforce housing suppliers is shifting from speed to sustainability as employees demand improved amenities and providers look for ways to encourage loyalty while still meeting production goals. Put simply, workforce housing technology is driving a revolution in camp identity; no longer outsiders in their environment, camps are becoming true communities.

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