Hear from a Drilling Rig Worker

Shawn Woodford, SR Environment Safety & Regulatory Professional

Past: Roughneck, Motorhand

“In the spring of 1995, at the age of 24, I was eager to get a job on the rigs, work hard and make some money in the Alberta oil patch. At that point, I had worked in the hospitality industry, and at a bank as a teller but it didn't pay well so I was motivated to seek a better wage.

I was given advice to go to the "rough-neck school', a two week program offered at the Petroleum Industry Training Service in Nisku, Alberta. To this day, I am grateful for that training, as it helped prepare me for the unique culture, how to recognize common hazards and how to protect myself from being harmed. I credit the instructor's industry experience and approach to training for my success while on the drilling rigs.

While at the drilling rig pre-employment training, I was inspired to work hard, and save enough money to put myself through school with the goal to start a sustainable career in the oil and gas industry. Four years later, I received a Petroleum Engineering Technology Diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.         

As expected, I learned a lot about the systems of the rig, and how a drilling program was executed. More importantly, I learned how to problem solve, work in a team environment, persevere through challenging times and how important it is to set smart goals and take responsibility for your future.

A mentor of mine at the time would say, "...If you want this, you have to give up that..." which to me meant you need to adapt if you want change. Other classic bits of wisdom he imparted on me were to 1. "Always have a place to jump! " and 2. "Never go under a suspended load."

I would certainly recommend this job to anyone who isn't afraid to work hard in a challenging environment. The wages are good and the work experience can lead to a multitude of sustainable career path options in the future, some you may not know even existed.

Having enjoyed a meaningful 27 year career in the energy industry as a Health, Safety, Environment and Regulatory professional, I have always thought about how the work I do now influences and improves a front line worker, like a young rig hand. Even though the improvements and innovation achieved have been plenty, we need to strive to continue to improve. I am excited for the future of our industry and would recommend anyone considering a career in this sector to do so."


Raylene Whitford, Partner, Deloitte Canada

Past: Roughneck, Leasehand

"I am a Partner at Deloitte and National Lead for Indigenous Strategy in the firm's Consulting practice. I trained as a Chartered Accountant in the UK, and took a sabbatical mid-career to work to work as a roughneck with a drilling contractor in Northern Alberta for a winter to gain experience in the field.

The time I spent working on the rig was incredibly formative for me as a professional, but also a woman, as it gave me the confidence to do things I would not normally think I would be able to do.

Teamwork, communication and trust were all important skills I developed as a crewmember. You have to learn to work together effectively, especially as a new member standing on the floor of a rig. I will never forget the camaraderie, the jokes and the fun that we had. Fortunately, we never had any serious incidents on the rig, and I put this down to the leadership of the rig manager, driller and the rest of the crew - everyone worked together to complete the tasks at hand efficiently as with ease.

Hands down, the best part of the job to me was the ability to ask questions - I was there to learn. Never once did I feel silly asking how things worked, or why things were done a certain way. The crew was incredibly patient with me and in return that allowed me to build the confidence I needed to do an excellent job.

What makes a good roughneck is a strong work ethic, and ability to work hard and not complain. If you do that, you will be a success. When I decided I was going to work as a rig hand, my uncles all called me and told me that working on a rig was “no place for a woman.” I proved them wrong. The stereotypes that the work is too difficult for women to do are outdated and untrue.

I would recommend any person - regardless of their gender - who is interested in being part of a close team and working with their hands to consider working as a roughneck."

Cayle Bohmer, Driller 

Past: Floorhand, Motorhand, Derrickhand

"Initially, I became interested in the drilling industry because of my twin brother. He had got his start a year before me. When I’d listen to stories about roughnecking from my brother, I was immediately interested. We come from a hard working, and mostly trades, family. My brother was achieving quick success using his natural ability and good work ethic.

Once I made the shift to drilling rigs, I landed on a triple drilling rig, drilling nearly 7000m wells in about 6 months. (Today that’s around 1 month depending on the formation). Starting out I was the youngest hand by about 10 years. Quickly, I learned the importance of keeping the veteran hands above me impressed.

The skills I developed included information retention, (See it once and remember the process), and problem solving. This has been important regardless of position- from roughneck all the way to driller. When following proper procedures on the worksite, issues can and do arise. Being able to improvise and solve these problems efficiently is key to the job moving forward safely.

From developing these simple skills, it helped expand my leadership abilities. This proved to be the most important skill moving up the ladder to driller. An example would be, early in my career I was able to assist my supervisors by leading 2 crews and rig movers during rig moves. On my breakout rig this took nearly 2 weeks from rig release to spud.

From experience, retaining information, problem solving and leadership are key to success in this industry. I would recommend this job to those looking to be rewarded from hard work. This job requires dedication to a rig for 2/3 of each year. While it can be difficult to leave your personal life on hold for weeks at a time, I have found the benefits of the job include financial freedom, pride in career advancement and a sense of accomplishment.

For me, the best part of this career is being able to pass on the knowledge and experience I’ve gained equally through success and struggle. Every single day working on a drilling rig is a learning experience."