Millions of new jobs in the energy transition could be available to oil and gas workers in the next few years as the industry decarbonises, but these roles could come with lower — albeit more stable — salaries, and some additional training might be required.

As the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, the World Energy Council (WEC) and industry recruiter Airswift expect that decarbonising the energy sector will bring many job opportunities.

WEC secretary general Angela Wilkinson told Upstream that while the oil and gas industry will have to change, she is optimistic that jobs will be available because the energy sector is poised for growth.

“Looking ahead, new models of human and economic development — digital, circular, clean and just — will require more energy, at least in the medium term,” Wilkinson said.

An energy-sector agenda focused on accelerating sustainable development could create another 5.5 million transition-related jobs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

“Energy transition can represent a far-sighted investment when incorporated into post-Covid stimulus and recovery plans, helping to overcome the current economic slump and create much-needed jobs,” the agency said.


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Signs of recovery

Oil companies working to become carbon neutral will be able to provide good jobs in the changing exploration and production businesses, Wilkinson said.

“We need to have an upstream industry that looks (different) and does very different things than it used to do 100 years ago,” she said.

The second half of the year has already brought some signs of recovery, after the most severe lockdown restrictions dented demand for fossil fuels.

“We expect this trend to continue as more projects reach final investment decisions," said Janette Marx, chief executive of industry recruiter Airswift. "The outlook for jobs is cautiously optimistic for this year, and more so as we move into 2021.”

However, Marx added: “A concern around the skills shortage that the industry has been faced with for years is still there.

“This year due to the pandemic, it has subsided a bit, but as projects will reach final investment decision in the years to come, this concern will resurface.”

Job-security concerns

The Global Energy Talent Index (Geti), a survey of 21,000 energy professionals from 151 nationalities in 169 countries, stated in January that nearly half of oil and gas professionals were eyeing jobs in cleaner energy sectors, but that oil and gas industry salaries were still very attractive.

Then, Covid-19 hit demand, driving down oil and gas prices and prompting many layoffs. Exact figures on jobs losses in 2020 for fossil-fuel workers are not yet clear. The hardest-hit region has been the onshore North American shale patch, with reports of over 100,000 jobs being slashed.

In Europe, the UK North Sea region could see close to 30,000 job cuts, according to Airswift.

Over the summer, supermajors ExxonMobil, Shell and BP announced plans to cut thousands of jobs, including many in Europe.

As some governments' recovery packages focus on a more sustainable path for the energy sector, fear is spreading among many who have worked in oil and gas for years.

A survey by environmental groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace UK of nearly 1400 workers — nearly 5% of the UK offshore oil and gas workforce — found widespread low morale among workers who believe the hydrocarbons industry is “drawing to a close”.

Job security is the top priority for workers, the report said. More than half of those surveyed would be interested in retraining for work in the renewables sector, it said.

Future job growth powered by renewables

The renewable energy sector employed at least 11.5 million people, directly and indirectly, in 2019, with solar photovoltaics employing 33% of the global renewable energy workforce, Irena said in its annual review.

Bioenergy, hydropower and wind-power industries are also among the biggest employers.

If the energy transition accelerates, 5.5 million jobs by 2023 could be added to the employment generated by current plans and commitments, Irena said.

These jobs would be in renewables, energy efficiency, and grid/energy-system flexibility.

“Linking the short-term recovery to medium and long-term strategies is essential to achieve the sustainable development goals and fulfill the Paris Agreement on climate change,” Irena said.

"Spending $1 million on renewables creates 7.5 full-time jobs on average, almost triple the 2.6 jobs in fossil fuels," the agency said.

Training required

Issues around pay for workers moving into the renewables sector also need to be tackled, as salaries in oil and gas — although tied to the oil price — have historically been higher than those in renewables.

“Workers in the fossil-fuel sector often seem to earn more than those in renewable energy,” Irena noted, reflecting a “highly mature industry, with high levels of automation and economies of scale”.

And while there are transferable skills in moving from oil and gas to offshore-wind work, Irena said that transitioning would still require some “dedicated reskilling programmes”, including more vocational training and expanded use of information and communications technology for remote learning.