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Monday, 13 June 2011

Oil and gas industry ponders its future work force as wave of retirements is on the horizon
June 12, 2011

Tulane professor Eric Smith has some advice for college-bound high school seniors unsure about a career path.

"There's a pretty short list of unemployed entry-level engineers" in the oil and gas industry, said Smith, an associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute. "And when they come out of school, there tends to be a bidding war for their services."

Thirty years after the last employment spike in the oil and gas industry, the energy sector is preparing to replace much of that same crop of workers as they approach retirement age. And after decades of minimal hiring activity, the looming exits promise to create a gap in the sector's skilled work force that some colleges and businesses are looking to fill.

Industry officials say hiring levels have ebbed and flowed since peaking in the early 1980s. In 1982, about 708,000 people in the United States worked in oil extraction, with an additional 176,000 in refining, according to statistics from the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Since then, those employment numbers haven't been matched, hitting 438,000 in extraction and 90,000 in refining in 2009.

"They see this coming in the future, that they're looking at a lot of people retiring over the next 10 years, but their hiring is not only driven by the work that they need now, this year or next year, but recognizing that they've got to start bringing people on board and training them to take the place of these more senior people once they do start to leave," said Stephen Sears, chairman of the Craft and Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering at Louisiana State University.
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