In this article we dive into a recent PetroLMI report, Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce: Distribution, Work Patterns and Income. This report is your gateway to understanding the workforce trends and patterns in the oil and gas industry’s key sub-sectors: exploration and production (E&P, including oil sands), oil and gas services and pipelines.
Labour market information (LMI) provides an analysis of workers in the industry (workforce) – where they work and what type of jobs they have. This report looks at trends and compares the workforce in 2006 with the workforce in 2016.
So, how is this relevant to your job search? Looking beyond job ads and classifieds will help you assess which part of the industry you might want to work in, and what types of occupations you might find there, based on working conditions, location and growth potential. These are important elements to consider when mapping out your career path.
Oil price slump, industry persists
The oil price slump beginning in 2014 hit the industry hard. Adjustments were made which resulted in a loss of 25% of the workforce and changes in the jobs that remained. In spite of these job losses, the oil and gas workforce did in fact, grow overall from 2006 to 2016. The exploration and production sub-sector grew 23%, up to 88,900 in 2016 compared to 72,500 workers in 2006. The pipeline sub-sector nearly doubled its workforce, it grew 95%, from 4,300 to 8,400 during the period.
The oil and gas services sub-sector experienced the least growth at 5%, from 88,000 to 92,300 by 2016. This was due in part due to the 2014 downturn, which impacted an already volatile sub-sector that is always susceptible to cycles in the industry.
Overall, Canada’s direct oil and gas workforce grew 15% in 10 years, from 165,000 in 2006 to nearly 190,000 in 2016.
Show me the money
Let’s talk money. We all want careers that pay our worth, and the oil and gas industry surpassed the national average when it comes to income. The overall average employment income in oil and gas was 24% higher in 2016, than just five years earlier in 2011.
The average income among oil and gas workers increased from $101,200 in 2011 to $125,300 in 2016. The exploration and production sub-sector had the highest average income at $153,600 by 2016, followed by pipelines at $145,100 and oil and gas services at $95,700.
So, which provinces fared the best when it came to income? Since most of the head office roles for oil and gas companies are concentrated in Alberta, the average employment income of $136,000 in 2016 was nearly 10% greater than the national average. Also, the higher the education, the higher the income. The oil and gas workforce today, is much more educated than in past years. Workers in the pipeline sub-sector tended to be the most educated, with 45% holding a university degree.
A broad range of skills
Before you get paid in any job, you need to show up every day – and contribute. The oil and gas industry is well-known for its grit and hard work, but perhaps less known is the diverse set of skills that are required to do the job and the occupational groups found within it.
The most commonly represented job categories noted by the report were the trades, transport and equipment operators and natural resources – roles that are critical to day-to-day industry operations. According to the report, 53% of workers in oil and gas services were employed in these positions in 2016. Not a surprise, since most of the work in this sub-sector is characterized by fieldwork, specifically performing functions like drilling, servicing and testing. Oil and gas services also has the greatest share of the overall workforce, representing 92,300 occupations in 2016.
The oil and gas services sub-sector was most impacted by the 2014 downturn and also saw the largest declines in roles by 2016 due to periods of constraint on new expansion projects. Across the industry, geophysical occupations were most impacted with a decrease in workforce share of 40% by 2016, compared to 2011. Mechanical engineers, industrial electricians and supervisors (petroleum, gas and chemical processing and utilities) saw the largest increase in workforce share with 55%, 41% and 37% respectively.
Like working indoors or in an office? Business, finance and admin workers accounted for 18% of the workforce. Managerial/supervisory roles made up about 10% of positions, and in the pipeline sub-sector the proportion of managers or supervisors was higher at 12%, than other sub-sectors.
Location, location, location
The Western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan were home to nearly 85% of oil and gas workers in 2016. The remaining 15% lived in either Central Canada or the Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador). In fact, Atlantic Canada saw a 22% increase in its oil and gas workforce, growing from 9,400 to 11,500 workers during the 10-year period the highest when compared to other parts of Canada.
The Atlantic Provinces are home to the offshore industry, where you’ll find marine and nautical careers to support the complex exploration and production of oil and gas on specialized vessels at sea, as well as traditional oil and gas activities. Notably, Avalon Peninsula, in Newfoundland and Labrador, was home to just over 3,600 oil and gas workers in 2016. The number of oil and gas workers living in Central Canada also grew by 9%, from 16,200 to 17,700.
Not surprisingly, Alberta had the greatest share of the oil and gas workforce with 51% of Canada’s workforce residing in the Calgary, Edmonton and Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake regions in 2016. More than one in five workers living in Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake were employed in 2016 and employed in roles that directly or indirectly support oil and gas operations, such as oil sands development, in construction and other industry operations. British Columbia’s concentration of workers was primarily in the Northeast Region, in cities such as Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and a number of Indigenous communities.
As of September 2018, 23% of the labour force was outside of Alberta, which demonstrates that you can work just about anywhere in this industry if you really wanted to.
Off to work we go
Most careers in oil and gas are not traditional 9-5 jobs and are characterized by part-time and temporary positions. Nearly half, or 44%, of oil and gas workers worked part of the year (i.e., fewer than 49 weeks) and/or part-time (i.e., fewer than 30 hours per week) in 2016, increasing from 41% in 2006. This is in part a reflection of companies’ attempts to manage uncertainty in the economy at the time and the nature of work in the industry, where there are many contract and seasonal roles. If you’re aiming for something more stable, the exploration and production and pipeline sub-sectors employed 61% and 69% of their workforces respectively in full-year, full-time positions. Due to the frequency of seasonal employment within the oil and gas services sub-sector, over half, or 51%, of its workforce worked part-year and/or part-time.
If travelling or working outdoors is your sweet spot—the oil and gas industry could be your calling. Oil and gas workers were nearly twice as likely as the average Canadian worker to have no fixed workplace in 2016. Over 20% of the industry’s workforce reported they didn’t go to the same location every day for work. The oil and gas services workforce were the most likely to travel, with 30% reporting no regular place of work. Oil and gas workers were also twice as likely as the average Canadian to travel one hour or more for work. Longer commutes are a result of industry operations in remote locations.
Workers also filled more job openings in oil and gas through temporary relocations, and are six times more likely to commute to different province than other workers. Many workers in oil and gas are rotational workers take jobs primarily in northern Alberta and maintain permanent residences in other parts of the province, Canada and, sometimes, the world. For instance, of the 23,200 workers in the Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake region, only 60% of workers called the region home in 2016, with 24% living somewhere else in Alberta. The work is often characterized by rotational shift arrangements and temporary relocations, known as fly-in-fly-out (FIFO). The rotational lifestyle and temporary relocations aren’t for everyone though. Being away from your home base and family can be difficult and should be carefully considered when planning your career in oil and gas.
A career in oil and gas is waiting for you
You can assess your education, experience and skills to find a customized career profile in the oil and gas industry. Using Careers in Oil + Gas is your first step. Specifically, Career Explorer, is a unique career planning tool, which allows you to search and compare more than 100 occupations in the oil and gas industry. You can also find relevant job postings on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank and apply directly to jobs that are a fit with your profile.
Despite the downturn that began in 2014, Canada’s oil and gas industry persisted. With a little bit of ingenuity to improve processes, companies focused their efforts on efficiency-enhancing technologies to manage labour costs and improve productivity. Did you know that with nearly 20% fewer workers in 2016 when compared to 2010, the industry was still able to produce and transport 10,000 barrels of oil per day? Rising merger and acquisition activity and organizational restructuring efforts also helped to reduce costs around production.
While there is still a ways to go to return to the heady days of hiring activity in Canada’s oil and gas industry, resiliency is a wonderful thing, and an industry that can weather the storm is one you’ll definitely want to consider in your future.