For many O&G professionals, 2017 was billed as the year of recovery. Sadly, that optimism has now largely fizzled out.
Terms like the ‘last cycle’ are now increasingly commonplace, and a consensus is building that oil markets have adopted a sweet spot of $40-60/barrel. Any lower, and the money markets won’t lend, any higher and there is the risk of a shale drilling bonanza, especially in the US lower 48.
Trends have started to emerge, which between them, create a major disruption to established O&G labour markets:
- Job protectionism has played a prominent role in voting tactics across the globe, and newly elected leaders are responding to their electorate with ever stricter work visa requirements.
- Sustained low oil prices have inflicted financial pain on many petrostates, resulting in their leaders promoting lower pay offerings to expatriates while simultaneously attempting to encourage their own nationals to work for a living.
- The alternative/renewable energy industry is now competing for like-minded talent.
- An anti-fossil fuel movement is gaining momentum, with a knock-on effect that starves financial investment, and over the longer term is likely to deter future generations of scientists and engineers from entering the industry.
- The longer the displaced workforce has to endure financial hardship, the more likely it is that the best talent will start to build their economic futures elsewhere.
Sadly, wherever there is personal hardship there are organisations that will seek to take advantage. ‘Serious’ job offers from reputable employers offering Drilling Supervisor roles at $150/day, or blog articles from recruiters suggesting they can solve the impending “O&G Skills Shortage”.
It remains abundantly clear that the glut of highly skilled underemployed, or unemployed O&G professionals remains significant. While personal finances continuously worsen for most of these individuals, so does the competition for well-paid re-employment opportunities. Getting hired or re-hired has become a highly problematic scenario for all too many individuals.
For many, the barriers to re-employment are becoming increasingly difficult to justify:
- $150/day for highly skilled technical or engineering personnel does not even meet minimum pay requirements in much of the western world.
- Expatriate positions being offered on the basis of single status or national status equivalent contracts.
- Contingent labour contracts where the contractor is obliged to take care of all their in-country requirements (housing/transport etc.).
- An alarming increase in defaults on payments to contractors.
- Job opportunities that stipulate only nationals from certain (traditionally low-paid) countries may apply.
- Job opportunities that further discriminate on a whole raft of metrics including age, years of experience, nationality, and so on.
Most O&G professionals chose their career paths with a view to seeking out rewarding life experiences across the globe, motivated at the prospect of extensive travel and an opportunity to constantly refresh their working environment. They also understand, that as a consequence they will likely spend long periods away from their families. Compared to an average city worker, it is highly likely that most O&G professionals will have also had at least one or two encounters with situations to which many other professionals would not even contemplate the potential exposure.
It’s often said that the O&G industry overpays its workforce. Perhaps at the lower, less skilled, segment, there may be a weak case for this sentiment. But for those that have the responsibility as Supervisors or Managers of entire platforms, major assets, or multi-billion dollar budgets, there seems little justification to warrant the excessive pay tag. Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants are all capable of achieving similar salaries.
As job opportunities dry up in the industry, the entire supply chain suffers. Recruiters will typically make their living via two types of payments: The finders-fee to locate talent, and the agency markup to then subsequently employ the individual they secure. Generally, both payments are bundled into monthly invoices for the duration of the candidate’s employment.
In a cost-conscious market, it is the finders-fee that is the easiest target for elimination. Most, if not all, employers possess the ability to find their own talent in the current market conditions.
What methods are being used to attract O&G talent in today’s tough market conditions?
This has always been a popular and reliable method of scouting for the best talent. In ‘boom’ periods employees were often financially incentivised to refer their trusted colleagues. In today’s market, employees are just as well motivated to recommend individuals without a financial return. So long as effective candidate screening is taking place, and systems are not akin to ‘old boy networks’, then there is very little reason to avoid this highly effective talent scouting method.
When the earliest job boards starting entering the labour supply markets two decades ago, they were groundbreaking, and the preserve of industry specialists who identified a niche mechanism – the first, and arguably, still the best specialist job board, dedicated purely to O&G professionals, remains drillers.com.
Technology has since evolved, and it can be argued that social media sites such as LinkedIn have edged job boards out, almost to complete redundancy. Logically for employers, why would you pay for candidate access when you find the same talent on social media for free?
Feeling the financial squeeze job board owners have, for the most part, not invested in better/more expensive algorithms and data fields, opting instead to expand into other non-O&G disciplines to fill their ranks, in order to attract paying clients.
Employers are also increasingly wary of candidate ‘self-certification’. Downloading paid profiles to subsequently discover that large numbers are either inaccurate, or simply out-of-date, is a time consuming, and therefore, expensive internal process.
Employers of lately, especially those large enough to justify permanent HR Departments or Hiring Managers, have embraced social media to reach out to prospective new talent. The largest employers with social media page followers running into 7-digits have the ideal platforms in place to reach a wide audience.
The only potential downside is being inundated with applicants and the public relation consequences of failing to provide individual feedback to all those that have applied.
Despite all the negativity that occasionally boils over onto social media sites, recruiters are still very well positioned as talent scouts. In today’s market, it is a sad reality that the specialist recruiters are rarely rewarded with sufficient business to justify employing the very specialists that afford them the cutting edge over the generalists. Their business is undercut by the large multi-nationals subsiding O&G via other, currently more profitable product lines, or the spare room recruiters operating via a mobile phone or basic social media site, and with little to no overheads.
Applicant Tracking Systems
Sadly, in all but the referral route, recruiting is becoming increasing computerised, and as such de-humanised. The advent of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), has distinct advantages for employers and recruiters but has been entirely detrimental to the career prospects of candidates.
The march of ATS technology should not be seen as entirely negative, especially for those candidates that understand how it works, and adapt their application(s) accordingly. Many highly respected HR/recruitment advisories are critical of the flaws of ATS systems, the main downside being that candidates are left stranded for no other reason than not knowing how to ‘beat the system’.
To keep this post shorter, we’ve selected a handful of useful articles that might well help candidates understand how they need to tailor applications to the current ubiquitous ATS movement. The articles are all written by respected individuals working across the IT, HR & Recruiting professions.
The link, as we see it to grassroots recruiting is that is re-humanises a sterile computer driven process.
There is no doubt that HR Managers delight over ATS – everything is on easy to use menu driven application, and you’re guaranteed to deliver a healthy supply of candidates. Given quantity, you can easily overlook quality, and besides the real screening activity & effort will likely be delegated to another department overseen by Technical Managers.
Conversely, Technical Managers are often far keener on the referral options for talent acquisition. Employees are unlikely to risk their reputation, and project livelihood by recommending below par individuals. Instead of receiving an inbox crammed full of dozens of unverified computer selected ATS candidates, they already have a verified referral shortlist.
At NatResPro, we believe there is perhaps an addition talent acquisition option. Just suppose as a Technical Manager, you could extend your professional network beyond your immediate past and present work colleagues. A network where you could access verified referrals for a small one-off fee and no further obligation?
We thought long and hard about what Technical Managers really need, and have created something that fits the bill perfectly: Our free to view Verified Candidate Database, a bespoke offering, built from top to bottom by experts that understand your needs.
As for candidates, we try out utmost to offer free assistance. Like it or not, ATS is here to stay, however, we adhere to a policy of not feeding any of our candidates into ATS. We don’t want to encourage a de-humanisation of the recruiting process, and besides our candidates’ CV’s are individually created over a period of hours and at times even days.
The vast majority of candidate CV’s fed into ATS or job boards are given, at best, a glossy once-over and are padded out with a few keywords.
To tackle the inconvenience some of our candidates may have in regards tracking down precise job histories, project details or training records we offer three tiers of profiles/referral packages, each corresponding to a specific & predefined level of detail.
The basic-level Bronze referral package consists of a creation of a Verified Online Profile – created by one of our in-house Skill Pool Advisors. Anonymous profiles can be downloaded for free to a 1-page PDF summary.
The mid-level Silver referral package combines an online profile with a basic NatResPro branded CV, also created from scratch by one of our in-house Skill Pool Advisors.
The top-level Gold referral package consists of an online profile, a NatResPro branded CV and is further supplemented by a verified candidate certification package.
Our tier levels are not a candidate judgement scale, they are a reflection of the package content, and therefore level of verification we offer our clients. At each tier step-up the requirements on the candidates are greater, and of course, the end product we also offer our clients is also more comprehensive. We take the utmost care and attention in maintaining a robust level of candidate verification. The end result is a relationship built with each and every one of the candidates that reach out to us and offer us the information & support required to create a new CV.
We’re aware that even our clients may subsequently opt to enter our candidate CV’s into an ATS, so we endeavour to prepare for that eventuality. More importantly, we ensure our candidate search options are the most accurate and comprehensive available anywhere in the global O&G industry.
Our parting advice to candidates would be not to give up, work with the system and not against the system. Sadly, the cherished era of securing employment through recruiter relationships is largely over. Gone are the days where maintaining a strong relationship with your favourite recruiters was sufficient to propel you into your next job. Technology has taken over, and now the computer decides, with ATS sitting between the recruiter and employer HR department.
Even computers have weaknesses, and your best bet, as a job seeking candidate in the current climate would be to exploit these weaknesses to your advantage.
Graduated with an Honours Geology Degree in 1987, and joined the oil and gas industry straight after. Worked across the globe for three major service companies and four operators up to 2015. Founded Natural Resource Professionals as a grassroots technical recruiter with a global reach.