Trying to outguess the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry is
like outguessing a roulette wheel in Vegas. People make and lose fortunes
guessing whether oil and gas prices will go up or down.
If speculators invest, oil companies have lots of money for exploration
and drilling. If investors get skittish, the industry has to tighten its resources.
That means halting new drilling or even downsizing. Whether these speculators
buy or sell will make the difference as to how well the industry does, and
what the employment picture will be like.
Boom and Bust
You'd think that since everyone needs gas and oil -- for fueling cars,
heating homes and powering public utilities -- the industry would be pretty
stable. Think again.
"You're dealing with a commodity," says Wayne Wetmore, senior vice-president
of operations for a petroleum industry training center. "It's classic supply
and demand. If prices are high, everyone drills wells. By the time new product
is on the market, the price goes down. It's been going on forever."
Many factors raise and lower prices: how much OPEC (the Organization of
the Petroleum Exporting Companies) is producing, how warm the weather is and
how much oil is available at any given time. Given all these factors, it's
impossible to predict what will happen in the industry.
"The oil and gas industry is cyclical," says Neni Manalo, manager of planning
and resources for an association of petroleum producers.
"If there's a boom, then there will be a bust. When you talk with human
resource planners in oil companies, they can never really plan. If you could
plan, I'd be rich right now."
Even gauging where the industry is right now is tough. Much depends on
whom you speak to, and what part of the industry they're in.
To understand where the industry is now, it helps to look back a few years.
The 1980s and 1990s were a rough period for oil and gas in the U.S. Many people
were hurt by the bust.
"A lot of people in the U.S. lost their jobs during the last two decades,"
says Mike Ayling, an industry recruiter in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As a result, students weren't interested in preparing for jobs in the industry.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, combined with recent events in
the Middle East, also had an impact.
University programs used to rely on foreign students for enrollment. Now,
it is increasingly difficult for these students to enter the country. A shortage
of students caused many universities and colleges to drop their training programs.
Plus, Ayling says investors are reluctant to put money into oil projects
in the Middle East right now. The political climate is too uncertain. Therefore,
there may be fewer jobs available in international destinations.
Monica Danforth works for an industry recruiting firm in Texas. She says
she has seen an increased demand for petroleum and drilling engineers.
Looking to the Future
Ayling believes the oil industry will have a serious labor shortage over
the next 10 years. Most employees are nearing retirement age. When they retire,
many jobs for trained workers will open up.
But getting trained could be a challenge. Ayling hopes the oil companies
will start offering training to new recruits and that the universities will
reinstate some of the programs that have been dropped.
"And there is always a demand for laborers to work on the rigs," he says.
"Oil companies are having difficulties filling those positions."
Stephen Ewart is the manager of communications for a petroleum association.
He says there is a huge demand in rural areas for people with all skill levels.
Trades people, heavy equipment operators and power engineers are in particular
"We need people to fill the full range of corporate services -- accountants,
lawyers, geologists, engineers and others," he says.
The industry also needs computer technicians, software developers and other
technologically trained people. "It's a technology-driven industry," he explains.
"For example, we do GPS positioning on wells and we do three- and four-dimensional
There are so many factors involved that it's tough to see into the future.
"There's a cyclical effect and it's hard to predict how long they'll last
and how high or low the dips might be," says Wetmore. "From a career planning
perspective, you might get out of school during a boom period, or you might
A Safe New Career?
Salaries are good. "The salaries are very attractive," Ayling says. "People
just out of college are starting in the $65,000 range. Experienced people
make $120,000 to $150,000. Managers and senior technical people are making
Despite the good wages, there is a downside. People on rigs work in remote
areas, and in extreme weather conditions. The work tends to be cyclical and
project driven. When one project ends, the worker is looking for another position.
On the other hand, it's an exciting field.
"Don't go into this because the money is good," advises Ayling. "Go into
it because you are excited by the prospect of finding oil and gas."
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