A whole generation of students is now wondering what to do when they graduate following a year of bankruptcies and redundancies across the oil and gas industry. While we’re gradually seeing oil companies across the US emerge after a difficult year, they are not unscathed. Few are looking to hire as they attempt to pull themselves back from the brink. According to last year’s figures, over 100,000 jobs have been lost in the oil and gas industry by October 2020. This was the fastest job-loss-rate in the history of the industry. So as a new wave of students flock to the job market, little is left in the wake of this wreckage.
2020 was a catastrophic year for oil and gas as oil prices fell to -$37.63 per barrel in April and demand remained stagnated for most of the year. With people working from home, international travel halted, and businesses closed, there was significantly less demand for this previously vital energy source.
Oil and gas seemed a sure bet to many budding students who were attracted to the high-paying industry. With around 2 million employed in the oil sector across the USA, landing a decent job with good upward projection opportunities after completing the right degree seemed like a done deal.
Entry-level jobs for petroleum engineering graduates were paying as much as $101,000 prior to the pandemic, making it an attractive opportunity for many youths across the country. Pay in the industry is high for those even without degrees, but graduates entering the sector could expect to earn quadruple the national average within their first decade of work.
But we’re seeing, from the recent generation of graduates, that the assumption that oil and gas scouts led them to believe when visiting their campuses do not apply in times of global pandemic.
The worry for these students is whether the industry will bounce back as it has before. The difference between the drop in oil and gas demand now compare to previous decades is the potential for something else. As governments look to achieve net-zero targets and incorporate greener policies into their future, many question the role of the oil and gas industry beyond the next decade.
Regulators, governments, and activists used 2020 as a time to put greater pressure on the industry to plan for a more sustainable future. There are now few oil and gas companies that are not also exploring the potential of sustainable energy going into 2021. So will students give up on oil adapt their knowledge to sustainable energy?
As students are being left with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, many debate whether they should switch industries or focus on sustainable energy going forward. Thousands of students are now forced to move home while they continue to apply for the few available and highly competitive jobs, as they ponder their futures.
While traditional jobs in oil and gas are hard to come by at present, the outlook may not be so bleak. As oil companies rein in their spending and act cautiously going into 2021, several tech startups have emerged in many of the USA’s oil hubs, hoping to offer an innovative hand to the sector.
Houston tech startups raised $466 million in funding in 2020, with several of these companies providing the oil and gas industry with innovative money-saving technologies and the means for greater digitalization. Oil majors are becoming more and more willing to invest in blockchain technologies, ghost rigs, and AI as a means of modernizing, cutting costs, and reducing the physical workforce.
As 2020 upended the traditional way of working for many oil companies around the world, many realized the importance of a clear future-proof strategy where remote work became possible, the supply chain became more straight-forward, and time-wasting over inventories became a thing of the past.
Although this is not positive for all oil workers, oil-innovation provides a potential pathway for many of these graduates who are stuck in limbo. Now seems to be the time for innovation, one of the few times that oil majors will look to small startups for new ideas.
So, while 2021 will not be clear sailing for oil and gas graduates, the potential for greater innovation in the sector could clear the path for new opportunities for the next generation of oil tycoons.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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