Buffeted by low oil prices and a less then favourable image, Canada’s fossil companies are no longer the obvious career choice they once were for engineering students in provinces like Alberta, according to a survey of recent industry research published this week by JWN Energy.
“The appeal of employment in the industry has taken a hit in recent years,” JWN notes, to the extent that “the industry may struggle to recruit fresh talent in the coming years.”
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That observation led JWN to wonder whether recent engineering graduates represent a “lost generation” for oil and gas employers.
“Young graduates shy away from wanting to be associated with the seemingly older and less eco-friendly oil and gas industry, as opposed to new, technologically-driven green sectors,” stated the Global Energy Talent Index released earlier this year by Airswift and Energy Jobline, based on a survey of 16,000 energy industry hiring managers and other professionals around the world.
In contrast to past periods of economic uncertainty, “the bounceback is not the same as it has been in previous downturns, so certainly the growth in employment opportunities will be slower over a longer period of time,” agreed Carol Howes, vice-president of communications at the Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) division of Enform, based on a market outlook the firm released in March. “We do think this downturn will have a larger impact on the level of interest of young people to get into the industry.”
PetroLMI reported that 4,136 new employees joined the Canadian fossil industry in 2014, bringing the total head count to 226,459. By 2016, the work force had shrunk by 50,000, and only 3,354 new arrivals started new jobs.
“In a delayed recovery scenario, the forecast number of new entrants to the industry bottoms out at 3,010 in 2018 before rising slowly to 3,146 by 2021,” JWN reports. “In a modest recovery scenario, the number of newcomers hits its low in 2017 at 3,166 and increases to 3,326 by 2021. But regardless of how quickly the industry recovers, the numbers remain well below the pre-downturn numbers.”
(Which may be just fine with fossil companies that are getting excited at the prospect of “de-manning ” large segments of their oilfield activity.)
PetroLMI also found that younger employees entering the industry for the first time “prefer indoor positions and high tech work, as opposed to more traditional oil and gas jobs,” JWN adds. “At the same time, they are more interested in sustainability and renewable energy, and they want oil and gas employers to align more closely with their own values.”
“There’s a certain perception that really needs to be addressed in terms of the kind of work that they can do in the oil and gas industry,” Howes says. “It is a very highly technical, innovative industry, so many of the characteristics that they’re looking for in a company do exist. Unfortunately, whether rightly or wrongly, some have a perception that has dissuaded them that their values can be aligned with what the oil and gas industry offers.”