Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector.  Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022  is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old.   The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years.   The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region.  The  top level finding:  69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in  “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”.   These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November.  It reports that  drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

Return of oil and gas jobs? New pipelines and new technology are essential conditions

The headline of a Calgary Herald story on March 30 warns: “ Another 8,700 oil jobs are at risk if prices drop below US$50 for a sustained period, according to new study” .  Based on a labour market study by Enform consultancy,  the Herald states that this possible job loss would follow the loss of 52,500 direct jobs between 2015 and 2016, without even taking into account the job turmoil caused by the 2017 mergers and acquisitions in the Canadian oil sands: Canadian Natural Resources and Shell  ; Cenovus Energy and Conoco Phillips; and most recently, Enbridge and Spectra Energy  .

oil sandsThe original Enform study on which the newspaper article is based provides much more detail.  Labour Market Outlook 2017 to 2021 for Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry  was prepared by PetroLMI, a Division of Enform, and was partly funded by Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives program.  It reports that the oil and gas industry directly employed an estimated 174,000 workers at the end of 2016, (down by 25 per cent from the industry peak of over 226,000 in 2014). It forecasts job growth for two different scenarios – oil prices well above or well below  US$50 per barrel from  2017- 2021 .  The “modest recovery” scenario, (prices above US $50) ìs forecast to support an annual average of 554,000 direct and indirect jobs in the next five years; the “Delayed Recovery” is forecast to support 508,000 jobs.  The report provides detailed statistics by subsectors, occupations, and regions.  The report also notes the shrinking labour pool, as workers are discouraged from remaining or entering the sector, and as older workers retire.  Although the forecast expects limited job recovery in the next two years, it concludes that the peak employment levels will not return.  “Heading towards 2021 and beyond, accessing world markets via new pipelines will be critical for full job recovery. Equally important will be investing in technology, innovation and a highly-skilled and technical workforce to sustain the productivity and efficiency gains achieved in the last few years. These things will be critical if the industry is to compete globally and make a transition through carbon regulations.”  See the full suite of forecasts for the oil and gas industry, including the LNG industry, here .