In mining, quarrying, and the oil and gas industries, minorities and women continue to be under-represented, a fact not lost on resource sector companies, governments, unions, and labour associations, leaving resource businesses scratching for solutions.
In the past two decades, the number of Americans retiring every single day has almost doubled, and is accelerating. And younger qualified workers aren’t entering the job market fast enough to fill vacant roles. All industries are feeling the pinch, especially resources, which is also facing a lack of minority and female employees compared to the overall North American job market.
Addressing the issues
While the oil and gas sector in Canada is attempting to diversity its workforce – including hiring better-educated persons and more Indigenous Peoples and visible minorities – success in hiring some other groups, including women, younger persons, and individuals with disabilities, has declined.
Just over two years ago, the Diversifying Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce: A Decade in Review report was released by Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI).
Covering the decade 2006-2016, data revealed that although the oil and gas industry made some advances regarding diversity hiring, there remains room for improvement. The number of Indigenous Persons in the sector increased marginally from 5.6 percent to 6.3 percent, while visible minorities went from 12 percent to 13 percent, and non-permanent residents jumped from seven percent to 12 percent.
Despite these advances, however, the number of women employed in oil and gas remained relatively unchanged, representing only 22 percent, or about one-fifth, of the entire workforce. This remains an issue not only in Canada and the United States but also other nations.
NES Global Talent, which focuses on providing talent to oil, gas chemical and other sectors, released the study Attracting and Retaining Women in Oil and Gas Engineering: A survey examining the gender talent gap. Among the questions raised in the report was: why, with schools worldwide focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and young women being encouraged to pursue these fields, are women still so under-represented in oil and gas engineering?
In Canada and the United States, other resource sectors, such as mining, are also in need of younger workers and greater diversity. Like oil and gas, mining also faces a crisis of exiting retirees.
The independent, non-profit Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) anticipates over 51,000 workers, more than a quarter of the present workforce, retiring by 2025. When veteran employees leave the resources sector, they take with them years of firsthand insight and experience, qualities not readily replaced when hiring younger staff.
The win-win of diversity
For the resources sector, hiring more minorities and women simply makes sense. Along with broadening the employee base, hiring persons from other races and genders introduces different, and often more creative, ways of thinking and problem-solving.
By deepening the talent pool, mining and oil and gas companies are also better able to serve customers who may also be of the same ethnic background or gender. These incentives, and others, create a more competitive environment, and greater profits.
At present, the American crude oil, natural gas, and chemicals (OG&C) sectors employ approximately 1.5 million, including field workers and specialists in engineering and chemistry. Despite fluctuations in the market for oil between 2014 and 2016 and, more recently, slowdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the market is transitioning. Heeding warnings of global warming and the need for a greener future, super-majors including Chevron, Exxon, Shell, BP, and others are investing in renewable energy projects as an alternative to oil and gas.
From wind and solar to automotive hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels, and carbon capture and storage (CCS), big oil and gas businesses are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into clean alternative energy sources.
In 2017 alone, BP spent $200 million acquiring a 43 percent share in Europe’s biggest solar development company, Lightsource Renewable Energy. Rebranded as Lightsource bp in 2018, the strategic partnership was “inspired by the recognition of a shared mission: to accelerate low-carbon energy access for communities worldwide,” according to Lightsource bp.
Recognizing the need for diversity, the push toward solar and wind brings challenges and opportunities. Much like oil, gas and mining, minorities and women are under-represented in renewable energy.
According to the 2020 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) – published with support of over 12 states by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) – the percentage of women in America’s energy sector (23 to 32 percent) is far less than that of women in the broader U.S. workforce (47 percent, or almost half of all American workers).
Despite the energy sector employing disproportionately fewer women, energy sector jobs are more racially diverse “because of the increased self-identification of employees belonging to ‘two or more races,’” according to the report.
Specific sectors such as coal fuels have a female workforce of 23 percent; natural gas fuels, 26 percent; nuclear fuels, 30 percent; ethanol and non-woody biomass fuels, 33 percent; and Electric Power Generation (EPG), 32 percent.
Women represent approximately 30 percent of the workforce in solar, 31 percent in wind EPG, 32 percent in combined heat and power generation (CHP), 32 percent in hydroelectric power, and 32 percent in coal EPG.
Of course there are other opportunities. According to the report, America’s traditional energy, energy efficiency, and motor vehicles sectors, while comprising just 5.6 percent of the U.S. workforce, “continued to outperform the rest of the American economy in job growth,” accounting for eight percent of the nation’s new jobs.
To welcome more minorities, women, and younger persons into oil, gas, and mining companies, these industries must become inventive.
These diverse groups represent a tremendous, still largely untapped talent pool, and a means to make up for the ongoing loss of older, retiring workers. Fostering a work/life balance, promoting and valuing inclusivity and respect for different cultures – including sensitivity training of existing employees – re-evaluating organizational policies, greater transparency, and bringing in more women and minorities from the field to the boardroom level makes sense.
It is estimated that in less than a decade, one in every five Americans will be aged 65 and older. By 2044, it is believed over half of all Americans will belong to a minority group. These long-term projections lay the groundwork for resource sector companies to invest in pro-development strategies.
With almost two million positions becoming available in the coming years to take advantage of, this is a wonderful opportunity to attract more minorities and women to oil, natural gas, and petrochemical industries. And it’s not just socially desirable, it will be become a necessity for the purpose of filling vacant positions.
“The nearly 1.9 million direct job opportunities projected through 2035 in the oil & natural gas and petrochemical industries speak to the continuing importance of these industries in the U.S. economy as a whole and to individuals and families looking for well-paying career opportunities,” says the 170-page study Minority and Female Employment in the Oil & Gas and Petrochemical Industries, 2015-2035 study.
“As seen in this report and other API research studies, minority communities, women, and other strategic partners represent critically vital and available talent pools to help meet our future workforce demands.” Failing to attract willing minority and female hires creates an imbalanced workplace, and will undoubtedly make companies less competitive compared to others embracing diversity.