Labour shortages have become an ongoing challenge for the resource industry. A tsunami of retirements and resignations has hit the mining sector in recent years and there is a lack of workers ready to replace these loses. Employee numbers are plummeting across all levels, from senior management positions to Fly In Fly Out workers.
The pandemic exacerbated the trend as employees took the opportunity to reassess their careers during the shutdown. Concern over the environmental impacts of mining and the potentially dangerous working conditions is often the motivation for choosing an alternative career.
Even though coal use is on the decline, the need for mining industry workers is greater than ever to meet the demand for critical minerals used in a wide range of products that include everything from smart phones, computers, and semi-conductors to fiber-optic cables, clean energy components, and medical devices.
Oil and gas is losing workers as well. Forty three percent of the energy industry’s employees want to leave within the next five years, taking critical insider knowledge and experience with them, a recent survey by Brunel and Oilandgasjobsearch.com reveals. And there are not enough skilled workers ready to make up for these losses. Only 400 petroleum engineers were expected to graduate from U.S. universities last year—a fall of a whopping 83 percent since numbers peaked in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Texas Tech University professor Lloyd Heinz and reported by World Oil.
As in mining, public perception of the industry is a major factor in this exodus and in the lack of workers willing to replace these losses. A recent Ernst & Young survey revealed that 62 percent of Gen Z respondents find a career in oil and gas “unappealing” and 39 percent find it “very unappealing.” Only four percent found it “very appealing.” More than two out of every three teens surveyed said that the oil and gas industry causes problems rather than solves them. Overall, the young people surveyed considered the industry to be harmful to the environment—and to society as a whole—and believed the work to be dirty and dangerous. In direct contrast, 66 percent of these teens considered work in green energy to be “appealing.”
Significant numbers of oil and gas workers are leaving the industry for renewable energy jobs. The Brunel and Oilandgasjobsearch.com survey found that 56 percent of oil and gas workers were interested in pursuing work within that sector. That is a 38 percent increase since the previous year’s survey.
Challenging working conditions are another major factor in the workforce shortage. Offshore projects and remote locations keep workers away for long periods of time, which can take a heavy toll on them and their families. Younger employees seem less willing to accept these conditions and are choosing work that is closer to home, less physically demanding, and in a more comfortable, less isolated working environment.
Money is arguably the most obvious strategy for retaining and attracting workers. Pay must be high enough to compensate for challenging work environments and compete with employers located closer to home who offer more comfortable workplaces. Bonuses or financial incentives that recognize good work can also help keep employees engaged and on board.
But money isn’t everything—a fact seen in the discontent among Fly In Fly Out workers, despite the high compensation. Employers must provide a positive work environment and promote a healthy work-life balance. This will likely require more flexibility from management and more time off. The end result is win-win, since well-rested, refreshed employees are more likely to be safe, productive, and positive-minded when they return to work.
Improving living conditions could also significantly improve retention rates among Fly In Fly Out workers. Reliable WiFi connectivity is necessary to give isolated employees access to their families and the outside world. Better dining options and amenities such as gyms, sports facilities, game rooms, and other areas for socialization could improve morale and mental health while onsite. Creating opportunities for employees to bond is also great for teambuilding and creates a sense of belonging.
While forming and maintaining connections is critical, so is privacy. Although not always doable, private living areas are a huge plus for workers who crave some peace and quiet while working in crowded, impersonal conditions.
Companies need to create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable telling management their needs—from better dining options to more flexible hours—so the company can meet them. This includes the freedom to communicate dissatisfaction and complaints so management can respond accordingly, before workers leave for greener pastures.
Safety is another major factor that needs to be addressed in order to retain and attract workers. Obviously, employees are more likely to jump ship for other, safer jobs if they aren’t being adequately protected. In addition, improved safety boosts morale and retention rates by reassuring individual workers that they are valued.
Another way to make workers feel valued is to offer a path toward advancement. Continuous training is an investment that will pay off over the long run, despite higher upfront costs. With fewer and fewer young people looking to enter the mining and oil and gas industries, it is important to give employees a strong incentive to stay with their company. And, with increasing numbers of management level employees opting out of the industry, there is plenty of room for advancement. Providing good internships can help attract potential employees who will eventually become skilled workers that stay with the company long-term.
Another strategy is to tap into a vast reserve of workers that have not been recruited traditionally. Less than a quarter of oil and gas industry employees are women, according to Catalyst and S&P Global. BNN Bloomberg reports that women currently make up around 16 percent of mining employees—a figure that has remained roughly the same since 2001. In 2013, the mining industry had the lowest number of women on company boards of any industry group in the world, according to the study “Mining for Talent” by Women in Mining (UK) and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Making a concerted effort to welcome women into the industry at all levels could make a dramatic difference in workforce numbers.
One of the most crucial factors for retaining and attracting workers is perhaps the most challenging: the mining and oil and gas industries must rebuild and revamp their image in order to maintain employee numbers. Today’s workforce does not want to risk contributing to climate change or harming the environment.
Educating the public about the state of today’s industry may help. For instance, many people still assume that North American mining is all about coal. So it is critical to spread awareness that essential products such as smart phones, tablets, and televisions cannot exist without mined minerals. Perhaps even more importantly, greener technologies such as electric cars require mined minerals. The public is more likely to choose a career in the mining industry when its connection to in-demand products and clean energy is understood.
The resource industry is in the midst of challenging times when it comes to attracting and retaining workers. But companies are not powerless in the struggle to maintain their workforce. Company leadership can make a concerted effort to improve the work environment, boost morale, improve safety, provide paths toward advancement, recruit and promote women, and educate potential employees about the positive aspects of the job. As societal values and expectations around the workplace evolve, so must the resource industry in order to forge ahead successfully.