If there’s been one nagging issue that’s seemed to slow down our economy’s recovery, its anemic jobs growth. While jobs have been bouncing back, the rate of growth isn’t nearly fast enough to get us to where we want to be. There are still too many Americans unemployed or underemployed.
Some industries, though, are experiencing growth and are even struggling to find qualified workers. That’s seen most clearly in the growth of energy development. Demand from around the globe has spurred hiring within the industry, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Top jobs in demand include engineering and technical services, with a sprinkling of project and supply-chain management. The problem is that companies simply can’t find all the workers they need. This situation is creating an unexpected growth hurdle for many companies.
There are a number of issues facing the industry, from widespread turnover resulting from the long hours and difficult work to an issue finding applicants who can pass a drug test. A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Wanted: Drug-Free Workers” highlighted the issue. The article noted that one environmental-service company working in the Marcellus shale had to turn away 7% of applicants because of failed drug screenings — four times the national average. This particular company is looking to grow its workforce by 50% and has been struggling to find employees.
Other areas of the country, such as the Bakken in North Dakota, face a different problem in finding workers: lack of housing. Companies with access to housing have a strong competitive advantage. Heckmann Corporation (NYSE:HEK)‘s CEO, for example, owns a housing business, which makes a material difference in his company’s ability to attract employees, and it also helps customers find affordable housing for their employees.
The Bakken boom has had a noticeable effect on North Dakota’s unemployment rate, which is less than half of the national average:
While there are jobs, and lots of them, the other major issue for the industry is finding workers with the advanced technical knowledge oil and gas companies require. This is where schools are getting in on the act, by creating more focused programs aimed at producing the kind of talent these companies need. The industry sees this as an important collaboration, which is why it has opened up its wallet and has taken a very hands-on approach to this problem.
In one example, Ron Harrell, chairman emeritus of petroleum consulting firm Ryder Scott, said that in 2008, Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO) committed $600,000 to the University of Houston’s petroleum engineering program. Today, an advisory board at the school includes representatives from oil and gas and oil field services firms, including Schlumberger Limited. (NYSE:SLB), BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP), and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (NYSE:APC).