Education pays especially well in Alberta oil and natural gas fields this fall.
Drilling hands who make the grade for their new occupational title as rig technicians are hitting a wage gusher.
Hourly pay jumped about nine per cent for veterans who quickly passed exams set by the province's apprenticeship system.
Increases average about five per cent for workers who have not yet completed the program begun last winter by oilfield employers, trade schools and the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board.
"We wanted to send a message," said Don Herring, president of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors.
"We are trying to communicate that you can make a career in this business."
No crews in the 835-rig western Canadian drilling fleet belong to unions. But the CAODC posts recommended pay standards after canvassing employers, reviewing oilfield personnel needs and checking wages offered by rival recruiters of skilled blue-collar workers such as construction firms that often have organized labour.
Base wages for top rig hands, drillers or foremen, rise $1.25 to $37.25 this fall. But they make $39.25 if they earn a $2 "rig tech premium" by passing Alberta's new apprenticeship exams.
The premium is $1.50 an hour for the two rungs below driller on the rig occupational ladder, assistant driller and derrickhand. The education bonus is $1 an hour for the first level requiring technical training, motorhand.
No premiums are available to two novice ranks, leasehands and floorhands, who do rig heavy lifting and cleaning as basic training in the trade's blend of hazardous machinery, high technology, 12-hour shifts around the clock every day of the week, remote locations and harsh weather.
But the beginners receive pay raises this fall. Pay for entry-level leasehands rises by $1 or five per cent to $21 an hour.
Annual earnings on junior to middle rungs of the drilling job ladder typically average $60,000 to $100,000. Top hands can make $150,000 or more depending on types of technology and specialized activities on their rigs, Herring said.
Alberta's rig technician program, a world first in the oil and gas industry, lays out a three-year apprenticeship of on-the-job and classroom training. But veterans are allowed to obtain journeyman tickets immediately if they prove they have the right experience and pass written exams.