The cumulative impacts of a six-year economic downturn, lower demand due to COVID-19 health restrictions, and structural shifts in the oil and gas industry, mean there is a smaller oil and gas workforce in Canada – down 26%, or 58,700 jobs from its peak in 2014. 

Every aspect of the industry — from drilling and operations to marketing and office staff requirements — has been affected. Add in the industry’s shift from a growth focus to optimizing production and accelerating the implementation of technology, and there is clear evidence that the oil and gas industry has discovered ways to remain sustainable and be profitable with a smaller workforce.

While layoffs rarely have a silver lining, these workforce reductions mean there is a robust pool of talent available for hire. This talent pool consists of mature, educated and skilled workers who are ready to get back to work. For more information about the make-up of the talent pool, see our previous blog, Untapped Potential: Opportunity to Transition.  
This workforce is not only ready to get back to work but also recognizes the need to transition to different roles, different industries and even different regions of Canada to continue their careers. In a recent PetroLMI Untapped Talent survey of over 2,000 Canadians who had worked in the oil and gas industry, 72% of respondents indicated their career priority was to make a career transition. Of those, 35% indicated their desired employment situation was in a different role or industry; 14% were seeking a different work arrangement such as self-employment; and 12% planned to seek employment after additional training.

This is a workforce ready to embrace change, which will be key to their success. The survey results show they are ready to take the necessary steps to get back into the job market. For example, 54% of respondents said they are willing to pursue rotational work assignments with the greatest interest coming from respondents in British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces, not unlike what they have done historically.  

Workers recognize the necessity of upskilling, retraining 

More than 80% of the respondents said they were willing to take additional training for a new career. Of those, 27% were willing to take training that required more than one year and 55% preferred short-term training that could be completed in less than one year, particularly if it offered credentialling to help secure future employment. This preference was especially true in Alberta where the layoffs have been most prevalent. 

Did you know?

8 in 10 respondents are willing to take additional training for a new career.

Source: PetroLMI

Much of the talent pool of respondents had over 15 years of experience and were solidly mid-career. With plenty of peak work years ahead of them, these individuals want to invest their time and money in training that can lead directly to employment. But while there was a willingness to take these steps, only 21% indicated they were pursuing training, reflecting a need for a better understanding of what skills are required to enhance their employment opportunities.  

Of the 21% of respondents who said they were already pursuing additional training or certification, many indicated they were focused on progressing their current qualifications such as a red seal certification or the next level of power engineering. Alberta respondents revealed there is a trend towards pursuing training and certification to support accelerated digitization – a skill in demand in several other industries also and that could be easily transferrable. Other training certification trends included those in renewable energy and sustainability, project management, quality control and inspection, environmental health and safety, and supply chain – areas of training that would both complement existing oil and gas experience and further enhance a worker’s value to employers.

Given today’s transitioning economy, providing support for unemployed and underemployed workers with job search and career transition expertise will be important to effectively accelerate any labour market adjustments. However, only a small number of the survey respondents indicated they were working with career or employment counsellors. In fact, 74% of Albertans, 89% of those in Saskatchewan and 90% of other Canadians said they were not receiving any help from counsellors or agencies. 

Understanding wage expectations

While this talent pool said it was overwhelmingly prepared to learn new skills, take additional training and accept different work arrangements, one stumbling block is salaries – or rather the perception of salary expectations. Human resource professionals from other industries have noted in consultations that companies are worried about the salary expectations of workers who had higher than average wages in oil and gas. 

Did you know?

6 in 10 survey respondents have salary expectations of less than $100,000.

Source: PetroLMI

However, the PetroLMI survey showed that the wage expectations of respondents were not out of line given their education, experience and skills. When asked about their salary expectations, 61% indicated a salary of less than $100,000, and 28% were willing to take a reduction in their salary for stable employment. In Alberta more than 35% of respondents said they were willing to take a salary reduction. While this was not surprising given the length of time many Albertans have been out of work, perhaps it also shows a greater recognition that career transition requires flexibility and a broader view of what a new employer has to offer.

Supports for employers hiring a worker in transition 

Canadian employers can reduce the risk of hiring a worker transitioning from oil and gas by using programs such as the Canada-Alberta Job Grant. There is also an opportunity to create “returnship programs” which are similar to internships but focus on experienced workers returning to work. These programs can both help to mitigate hiring risks and help skilled workers kick start their career transition.

PetroLMI’s survey ultimately found there is an eager and capable workforce ready to pivot their experience and education to make room for a new career. They just need an opportunity. 

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