Kelowna Women in Business: Women drawn away from community for high pay

It’s no secret working in northern Alberta is common for residents of the Okanagan.

According to Robert Fine of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, approximately 5,000 residents currently make their way to the Fort McMurray area for work on a regular basis.

Most of the workers are male; however, with WestJet Encore’s recent announcement of regularly scheduled flights to Fort McMurray from Kelowna, working in northern Alberta may be an increasingly appealing option for women in the community as well.

Although Abra Playfair isn’t from the Okanagan, she is able to shed light on what women can expect if they choose to search for work in northern Alberta.

Playfair became a paramedic in January 2010; she’s worked part-time for BC Ambulance Service ever since.

Although she enjoys the job, she isn’t thrilled with the paycheque. So in late 2010 she began looking on the Internet to see if there were better paying job opportunities up north.

“I found a company and got hired with them immediately,” says Playfair.

Playfair says she remembers feeling nervous before she began her new job. And, at first, it wasn’t easy.

Her fellow male crew members used vulgar language and often talked about what she calls: “Men things.”

Playfair was always one of the guys growing up, so she was able to fit in with her crew. But, she admits, that might not be the case for everyone.

“You have to be a certain kind of woman to be able to work with that many men around you,” she says.

“At first it was really hard. There were lots of phone calls to mom; lots of phone calls to my best friend.”

But for women who are still interested in the opportunities working up north can bring, there are several positives.

After getting through several days—in Playfair’s case, 21—of hard work, employees often get several days off in a row. And during the days they work their bank account is being filled with a sizeable income.

For those in the Okanagan, WestJet Encore recently announced the airline would begin daily, non-stop service to and from Fort McMurray, starting in May.

“The new WestJet Encore daily flight to Fort Mac is going to have a huge impact on our region,” says Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray.

“For those who live in the Okanagan and work up north, this new service means a better work-life balance, getting them back home to their families and spending less time between flights.”

Although there are challenges—especially for women—associated with working up north, Playfair says she grew to love the work.

Twitter: @PatersonWade

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