Partnerships in the oil field
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Success stories in the Oil Sands

Gerry Gionet, Aqua Industrial Ltd.

Gerry Gionet learned to be an ironworker from the legends of the trade. When he was 25, Gionet spent four years ironworking in New York City with approximately 150 Mohawk workers; most of them young men like himself.

“I was majorly influenced by that,” he says. “Not only did I learn what it meant to be a good ironworker, I learned the importance of who you are,” he says.

Looked for opportunities in oil patch

That experience has left a lasting impression on his life as a businessman. He returned to his home in Saulteaux-Dakota/O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation in Manitoba just before he was 30 years old, knowing that Aboriginal people should play a more central role in Alberta business. Through word of mouth, he heard the Athabasca oil sands were a promising hub for oil and gas development.

Soon he was in talks with some of Alberta’s largest oil and gas firms, pitching himself as both a competent ironworker and a link to the aboriginal workforce.

The work paid off, with Gionet eventually signing a contract with Suncor Energy Inc. in 1996. The contract included numerous steel jobs as well as regular maintenance of the company’s main plant. “They gave me an opportunity to tell them what I believed was the aboriginal component to employment – to business – and to bring forward a common goal,” Gionet says.

That was the beginning of Gionet’s role as chief executive officer of Aqua Industrial Ltd., a steel mechanic installer. The company grew from about 100 employees in 2005 to 350 in early 2007. 

Aqua installs thousands of tonnes of steel every year, and works multiple contracts at a time. But Gionet’s main focus is on Aqua’s training and apprenticeship programs. He learned his craft from some of the best, and he hopes to pass that on to the next generation of young aboriginals. “They trained me, and I’ll train them.”

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