The Book of Jobs
Oil prices go down and then they go up again – and the jobs follow. In our annual report on energy business careers, we take a look at today’s in-demand skills, recession-proof sectors and what students and new graduates are doing to get ahead in the ene
In today’s tough job climate, we found the in-demand skills, the downturn-proof professions, and the new entrants who are making industry careers work for them
STUDENTS LEAVE CLASSROOMS BRIMMING WITH QUALIFICATIONS, ASPIRATIONS AND DREAMS. But sometimes the wider world can seem immune to all that. Those graduates with the in-demand skills that the oil industry needs know that they can still enjoy a rewarding, challenging career. They just might have to wait for tomorrow’s market, rather than today’s. Starting off in a downturn, the challenge is getting your feet secure on that first rung of the corporate ladder.
In “Starting From the Bottom,” we examine exactly that – how to start a new career in the middle of a deep slump. We talked to a cross-section of college graduates looking to enter the industry, and surveyed them on their experiences and hopes.
And then there’s the view from the top of the corporate ladder. It’s never easy to lay off staff, especially those who have been with the company for many years. In “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (Right),” we look at how energy firms should – and should not – make those most difficult decisions.
Finally, “Mind The Gap” explores how the evolving oil industry has created openings – and even booms – for certain niche professions as companies change their expectations to match market moods and technological advances. Strangely, even oil-loathing environmentalists and the energy recession have played key roles in creating the current skills gaps and the hope that shines through them.
When the sun shines full again on the oil patch, job seekers and switchers will once more enjoy the warmth of a booming job market. We took a peek ahead to see which professions will be most in demand when this year’s first-year students graduate.
THE CANADIAN OIL INDUSTRY SHED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS in 2015, and it’s expected to cut even more this year. Yet, there are still some areas in the sector that are relatively unscathed – and even growing. The key factors that created this skills-gap safe haven are the rapid advancement of oilfield technologies, the constant drive towards cost-cutting innovations, and some new sectors opening up. “The industry has changed dramatically in the past few years,” says Carol Howes, the vice president of Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI). “The expectations of oil companies have changed.”
The recession is decimating some professions but it is also driving advanced technology that boosts operational efficiencies. PetroLMI, the human resources division of oil and gas safety association Enform, has published a report highlighting these changes. It identifies increased use of measurement-while-drilling and logging-while-drilling tools, which collect data to improve drilling accuracy. Another career-opening new technology is micro-seismic monitoring of fracking, which collects and analyzes data to map geological impact, boost output and minimize the number of wells and fractures required. “These types of technology will drive the need for workers with backgrounds in field operations, geophysics, geology, and reservoir and completions engineering,” the report says.
Fracking brought other seismic shifts to the labor market. NGLs output has leapt dramatically and is still increasing, requiring process operators. It also boosts the wastewater and desalination sectors. The recession is increasing the need to cut costs for trucking in water, boosting recycling technology demand. So despite spudding slowing to a near standstill, throwing drillers out of work, fracked wells are still creating new jobs for some professions. “Disposal wells and process recovery disposal units are somewhat recession proof in that they do typically handle both drilling wastes and production wastes,”
says Gibsons Energy spokeswoman Amanda Condie. “The drilling volumes have definitely come off for ourselves and all of our peers, but the produced water volumes are holding up very well. We have only seen a minimal number of shut-ins to date and overall production is still growing, which helps to sustain activity levels in this portion of the business.” For those in the water sector, not only is it stable work, but the retraining and skills building is constant and ongoing. Each water or wastewater operator is required to complete educational units every year to ensure they remain up to date.
Ironically, protestors who dislike the oil industry have helped create and expand professions within it. Increased public scrutiny of fracking and pipelines has created new growth in the regulatory, stakeholder and aboriginal relations fields within the energy business. Qualifications required to enter the latter typically include a degree or diploma in public relations, communications, journalism and/or business. Public scrutiny has coincided with the search for new markets, such as for LNG and for crude exports to Europe and Asia. Together those have expanded the number of environmental offshore monitoring jobs. This is in addition to the specialist engineering, business and marketing roles that new markets bring. Part and parcel to public scrutiny are the ever-increasing regulatory requirements on the industry, which drive demand for regulatory and compliance roles. To comply with regulations, as well as to prevent oil spills, pipeline integrity specialists keep a keen eye on the sector’s aging infrastructure. Chris McNelly, the chief executive of Human Resources Institute of Alberta, says that pipeline maintenance and monitoring careers are only growing in importance. “There’s an incredible amount of pipelines in Alberta,” he says. Furthermore, the constantly expanding pipeline network also raises demand for midstream pressure welders at a time when upstream structural welders are being laid off. Another area of growth is crude by rail. In Alberta, railway terminal hubs are booming, requiring terminal attendants, tracks men, control center operators and land technicians.
POSITIONING FOR THE BOUNCE BACK
The slump in traditional energy professions will bottom out. And in addition to the rebound creating future jobs, there is a very large percentage of baby boomers who will retire over the next few years,
which, Howes says, “is helpful for young students thinking four or five years out.” PetroLMI did a survey of a number of companies in the industry and 50 percent of respondents said that those staff who are eligible to retire will retire. The survey found there will be increasing demand growth among accounting and financial professionals, heavy equipment operators, geoscientists and engineers.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Many laid-off oil veterans are retraining, joining aspiring first-time entrants back in the classroom. In 2015, Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) saw a three-percent increase in applications for training compared to 2014. The school has oil and gas advisory committees to determine what’s needed now in the industry, and what will be needed in three years. “The current economic climate provides an opportunity for students to look longer-term and train for the future so they are ready to make an impact on the workforce when the labor market improves,” says Rand Ayres, SAIT’s interim dean of the MacPhail School of Energy.
Educational institutions are rising to the challenge to reflect the rapidly changing labor market. The use of advanced technology makes computer literacy essential to nearly all jobs in the patch. David Schneider, an education manager at CDI College in Calgary, which offers a diploma in Oil & Gas Administration, says the school routinely sees established industry professionals enrolling to update their digital literacy. The pipeline integrity industry does much of its own in-house training because there are no pipeline engineering degrees. Right now, inspection companies are seeing a lot of job applicants but very few have the specific skills needed, such as non-destructive testing (NDT) pipeline integrity technicians with up to 12 months of training. Some firms say that most roles need individuals with electrical, mechanical or instrumentation tickets, in addition to a high school diploma. This spring, SAIT will launch a new pipeline technician course. Meanwhile, Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is in the process of determining how much demand exists for a future pipeline inspection course.
Another growth area in the downturn is for steam power engineers who operate industrial boilers such as those used in the oil sands. “Industry keeps saying we need more,” says NAIT business manager, Todd Sumner. Those oil sands plants will keep running, regardless of whether the expansion of the oil sands has slowed or not.
THIS MICRO-SEISMIC FRACK MONITORING DIAGRAM IS PART OF A TECHNOLOGICAL DRIVE THAT’S CHANGING THE JOB MARKET
ENFORM OIL AND GAS SAFETY ASSOCIATION TEACHES ESSENTIAL HSE COURSES – SAFETY TICKETS ARE PRE-REQUISITES FOR MANY JOBS