Students see bright employment future in Canada’s oil and gas sector

'There's a misconception that young people don't want to get into the oil and gas industry, and it’s just not true'

By Deborah Jaremko
University of Alberta students Daniel Baker (left) and Skye Lybbert are looking forward to finding good jobs in Canada's oil and gas industry. Photographs for Canadian Energy Centre

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Baker is excited about getting started on a career in energy. It’s an appealing field for a young person, he says, because the sector has a bright future.

“There’s a misconception that young people don’t want to get into the oil and gas industry, and it’s just not true. A majority of my friends at university or who have graduated want to get into the oil and gas industry,” says Baker, who is nearing completion of a Master of Science in Geology degree at the University of Alberta.

“I like the idea of providing energy to people that need it; it’s really exciting. You get your hands on so much information and data and then you have to try to integrate it in different ways to find a solution to an issue or a problem.”

Oil and gas jobs in Canada have risen modestly after taking a hit in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to labour information provider PetroLMI. As of January 2021, the industry directly employed 173,700 people, up from a low of 156,000 in June of last year.

“We’re starting to see some green shoots. The services sector is starting to actually see shortages of skills in some areas,” says PetroLMI vice-president Carol Howes. “There’s activity starting to pick up and they’re starting to do some hiring.”

Around the time Baker expects to enter the workforce – in 2022-23 – the market is forecast to improve further, Howes says.

That’s good news for the Canadian economy, which benefits from oil and gas development. Thanks to the oil and gas workforce, the sector contributed $493.3 billion to federal, provincial and municipal governments between 2000 and 2018; revenues that help pay for roads, schools and hospitals.

The sector leads the country in terms of labour productivity, the level of income or output per unit of labour input.

According to CEC research, in 2019 the labour productivity rate of Canada’s oil and gas extraction sector was $700 of real income for every hour worked, nearly 12 times higher than Canada’s overall industry labour productivity rate of $60.

Howes attributes the expected increase in oil and gas jobs in the coming years to a number of factors including improved prices, new pipeline export capacity, LNG project development, retirements, an increased focus on adding roles that support environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, and the industry branching out to develop new energy sources like hydrogen.

The constant evolution of the oil gas sector is part of the appeal for Skye Lybbert, who is also an MSc geology candidate at the U of A. Through internships, he has seen that “oil and gas is a very dynamic environment with lots of problem solving. All these companies have been through ups and downs, but they’re always looking for ways to adapt and optimize the resources responsibly.”

Today, “we’re seeing oil and gas embracing more of the things that we find within the earth, like geothermal, hydrogen, [and] companies researching lithium extraction from brine waters” that can power batteries, he says.

Skye Lybbert pictured in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday June 25, 2020. Photograph for Canadian Energy Centre

Baker and Lybbert are both members of Students for Canada, a non-partisan, student-run volunteer group across Canada that advocates for responsible resource development.

Lybbert says he is also excited to work in an industry that values communities and he has seen the social benefits, such as company-supported volunteerism and efforts to educate about mental health.

“They really focus with help making sure your well-being is good. I know every company is different, but that is based off what I’ve observed from the ones that I’ve worked at. It’s like a community,” he says.

“Working with your team, you’re looking for ways to make things better. It invites you to think of new ways to go about things and think of solutions, and it’s very satisfying.”

Howes says the health and safety of workers is a priority for the industry, and oil and gas continues to be one of the higher-paying industries in Canada. In 2018, earnings for people in the sector averaged $2,727 per week, compared to the $1,001 in weekly earnings for the average of all industries in Canada, according to CEC research.

The higher salaries, the diversity of work, and significant contribution of the industry to the Canadian economy continue to help attract workers, Howes says.

“Where we believe that young people and Indigenous communities in particular will really start to see even more value of the industry going forward is the expansion into these broader energy sub-sectors like geothermal, hydrogen and carbon capture, utilization and storage.”

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