Oil and Gas: To Be or Not to Be in the Industry?

by Valerie Jones, Careers Editor

The environment of the oil and gas industry’s upstream sector has been something of a horror movie for the past year-and-a-half. Layoff numbers are in the hundreds of thousands with possibly more to come. In particular, oilfield services companies have suffered tremendously.

We hear, see and read the news every day. The industry’s in a downturn … and we don’t know where the bottom is.

But no matter how many times I read or write about the current state of the industry, there’s a certain cliché phrase that always seems to come up: “It’s cyclical.”

It seems as though those two words have served as a sense of reasoning – a reminder that, in all honesty, this too shall pass. But, try and tell that to 20-year petroleum engineer who got laid off six months ago and has yet to find another job in the industry. Knowing an industry is cyclical doesn’t mean one is immune to sour feelings when the industry is in the unfavorable part of the rotation.

Despite the current oil glut, there are some great reasons why the oil and gas industry is still a good career choice. And these are the reasons academia is trying to reiterate to young students. A solid background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is often a precursor to a career in the oil and gas industry. For years now, the United States has made great efforts to increase the number of STEM graduates among minorities and women. Oil and gas companies have teamed up with schools and educators to do so.

And then there’s the many veteran oil and gas workers who are retiring or choosing to leave the industry, creating the need for more millennials to step up and fill roles as the backbone of the U.S. workforce transitions. Once the market recovers, new discoveries are made and drilling resumes, the industry hiring will pick back up – with a good chance many laid off employees will be given the opportunity to return to their jobs.

But are burgeoning oil and gas professionals receiving mixed messages? They’re told in school how much they’re needed in the industry, and yet many workers living through the downturn are saying run for the hills. Who’s right and who’s wrong? That’s not for me to determine. However, one consistent message seems like it would be the most beneficial. In any conversation with a student or worker early in their career regarding the oil and gas industry (I’m talking parents, professors, recruiters and industry vets), two truths should be stressed: 1) the reality of the current market – people are losing jobs, drilling contracts are getting cancelled, rigs are being stacked, and 2), it’s cyclical … and the market will recover.

It would be a disservice, misleading and downright unrealistic to describe the oil and gas industry in any other way. As long as there’s work in the field, there will be a need for workers, whether that’s today, tomorrow or next year.

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