Elnora native creates forum for oilpatch

Accepting a job in the oilpatch often means committing to a lengthy stint far from home in unknown working and living conditions.

Accepting a job in the oilpatch often means committing to a lengthy stint far from home in unknown working and living conditions.

During his eight years in the industry, Ryan Winther found himself travelling to jobs —including in the oilsands — with little idea of what awaited him.

“Once you’re up there, you’re kind of stuck,” said the Elnora native, who now lives in Red Deer. “You take a flight, it’s one-way in and might be a 20-day shift with no way out during those 20 days.

“Sometimes the work wouldn’t be very good and you regret taking the job.”

A few years ago, Winther began pondering an online forum for oilpatch workers to share information about their experiences. He developed a rudimentary website, and then contracted professional programmers to refine it.

The result is www.PatchHand.com, which has been accessible for the past few months. Registered users can participate in discussion forums, post resumés for prospective employers, interact in social media groups and view news items.

Companies are also able to join the site, where they can look for workers and advertise positions.

Registration is free for individuals, while companies pay a monthly or yearly fee.

“For the past few months we’ve just been testing the site and making little improvements here and there,” said Winther. “It’s running pretty flawlessly now.”

The site is attracting about 600 unique visitors a day, he said, with marketing yet to begin.

Winther plans to promote www.PatchHand.com on Oilogosphere.com, another website he developed that’s dedicated to the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. He expects to use other online promotional tools and has ordered stickers for distribution to friends and others in the oilpatch.

“Hopefully they can hand them out and get them on hard hats.”

In addition to learning about job opportunities and sharing information related to working and living conditions, those using www.PatchHand.com can express their views on industry issues, said Winther.

He hopes to extend the site’s reach across North America, noting that more skilled workers from the United States are expected to travel to the oilsands.

Winther would even like www.PatchHand.com to extend to other industries, such as the mining and forestry sectors.

A red seal and journeyman steamfitter/pipefitter, second-year millwright and fourth-class power engineer, Winther now works for Nova Chemicals. But he said he’d still like to improve communication among workers in the oilpatch, and the culture and conditions there.