| HOUSTON/CALGARY, March 3
HOUSTON/CALGARY, March 3 Doug Lucas stood
outside a Houston energy conference early one morning last
month handing out resumes and hoping to catch the eye of oil
executives with a hand-written sign advertising "Petroleum Eng.
Hungry for job interview."
Cut from oilfield services firm Halliburton Co in
2015, the 26-year-old temporarily turned to lawn care and
cable-TV sales jobs while finishing a master's degree in
petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California.
Despite relying on a depression-era sign for introductions,
he is hopeful demand for petroleum professionals will come back.
"It's way better now than it was six or eight months ago,"
he said optimistically, as he solicited business cards from
After a rout that began in 2014 due to a worldwide glut of
oil in part caused by a U.S. shale boom, crude prices
have rebounded from 13-year lows hit a year ago and have held
above $50 a barrel since the start of the year when major oil
producers curbed output as part of a global deal.
The higher prices have spurred an uptick in drilling
activity as energy companies boost spending plans to take
advantage of the crude price recovery.
However, massive cuts that cost some 440,000 jobs globally
at energy companies in the last two years have left veteran
workers and skilled job-candidates without a clear future in oil
Unable to find work in their chosen field, some have turned
their sights to technology or other industries, adding a note of
uncertainty to next week's CERAWeek industry conference in
The outflow of experienced workers and a lack of hiring as
oil companies drive to become more efficient could put future
production growth in jeopardy, should a nascent upturn in the
industry accelerate, say experts. In western Canada, companies
resuming production of crude oil are struggling to rehire rig
crews following job and pay cuts.
A University of Houston global survey of laid off oil
workers found that 25 percent had already moved to another
industry and another 55 percent were considering it. Only 13
percent of those polled in late 2016 had found energy jobs.
"A good number of people are 'lost' to other industries,"
said Christiane Spitzmueller, the study's principal
investigator. "This will translate into high recruitment and
training costs for new hires."
BRIGHTER TIMES AHEAD
The combined U.S. and Canadian rig counts, which can be an
indicator of the health of the industry, jumped to 1,091 by
Friday from 618 a year ago, a sign of the upturn in drilling in
In western Canada, where many more rigs are working this
year than last, drillers say a lack of experienced employees
could slow their work later this year - or force them to pay
higher salaries to lure workers back.
Dan Block, chief executive of Edmonton-based Jomax Drilling
(1988) Ltd, said contractors he once employed took jobs in other
industries, including construction.
"We are scrambling to bring people back," Block said.
Halliburton, an oil services firm that had about 50,000
employees at the end of 2016, down from more than 80,000 two
years earlier, is now holding job fairs in regions where there
is an uptick in drilling activity, such as Colorado, Texas, New
Mexico, Oklahoma, and Ohio, the company said.
"We're seeing a good balance of both experienced and entry
level candidates," said spokeswoman Emily Mir, noting that there
is strong applicant interest in open positions in the Permian
Basin - one of the hottest drilling areas in the United States
due to its favorable economics.
The U.S. oil and gas industry will need to fill 1.9 million
new jobs through 2035, according to consultancy IHS Markit
But filling those jobs could prove a challenge, management
consultancy KCA said in study published in September.
"A rapid run-up is going to be a really difficult spot for
the industry, versus a slow ramp up where you can start to lure
people back over time," said David Skinner, KCA's chief
The study by KCA, Pink Petro and Glexnet, which polled 1,000
laid off and working energy professionals, found that 45 percent
of executives or board members said they were ready to seek
other job options, retire or are unsure what they will do
Karsten Thompson, petroleum engineering department chair at
Louisiana State University (LSU), said the loss of experienced
executives will hurt the training of professional staff.
"Students will miss out on mentorship," he said in an
If experienced workers are less inclined to stay through
another economic cycle, younger workers may already be placing
bets on other careers. Before oil prices crashed, the University
of Texas placed more than 90 percent of students who majored in
petroleum engineering into oil and gas jobs. In 2015 and 2016,
that number fell by around a quarter.
LSU said its May 2016 engineering graduates reported fewer
than 50 percent had found jobs, down from around 63 percent in
"In the past, for students with petroleum engineering jobs
who couldn't find full time work, there were always
opportunities to work offshore as a roustabout," said Trey
Truitt, Associate Director for Employment Services at LSU.
"In this economy, those jobs haven't been available either."
Despite a potential shortage of engineers, companies could
still grow their businesses using existing staff augmented with
newer technology and contract labor, said KCA.
Automation and technologies that require more software
know-how are changing the skills needed by industry workers.
"Someone who majors in petroleum engineering with a minor in
computer science, that might be the ideal engineer going
forward," said John Graves, of energy consultancy Graves & Co.
Viet Pham, 23, a 2015 graduate from University of Texas at
Austin's Petroleum Engineering program said if he could do it
all over again, he would have majored in mechanical engineering
or computer science.
Pham, who has been working at a retailer, is taking
engineering courses at a community college to expand industry
contacts and improve his professional job prospects.
"Petroleum is volatile," he said. "It's great when it
(Additional reporting by Ruthy Munoz in HOUSTON; Writing by
Gary McWilliams; Editing by Simon Webb and Marguerita Choy)