Oil workers seek more secure jobs

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Norway’s oil industry is no longer pumped up by profits or the confidence that comes with job security. The good times abruptly stopped rolling when oil prices took a dive last year, and other industries are now seeing a rush of job applications from oil industry workers who are trying to bail out.

Westcon i Ølen. "Cosl Promoter" til venstre og "West Hercules" til høyre.

Many wonder whether it’s twilight time for Norway’s oil industry. Lots of oil industry workers seem to think it is. PHOTO: Norsk olje og gass/Bjørn Vidar Lerøen

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week how the latest European Employee Index (EEI 2015) shows a startling decline in oil workers’ job satisfaction and confidence in senior management. EEI 2015 is the annual global work life survey used by personnel managers’ organization HR Norge and Ennova.

HR Norge itself reported that the survey reveals “dramatic changes” in the oil and gas sector, including the sharp fall in job satisfaction and a sharp rise in oil industry workers seeking new jobs in other sectors. That’s in line with predictions from state statistics bureau SSB that a decline in oil sector investment over the next three years will lead to a loss of as many as 30,000 jobs.

Jumping ship
Highly qualified engineers and other employees of petroleum-related operations are already fleeing the sector. The situation is most dramatic in western Norway (Vestlandet), the traditional heart of the country’s oil industry. Responses to the survey from engineers in the counties of Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland and Rogaland measured their job satisfaction at 66 on a scale from zero to 100, while their confidence in management was measured at only 49, “on par with confidence of workers in Eastern Europe,” according to the survey. In earlier surveys, Norwegian employees have scored among the highest in the world in terms of confidence and job satisfacton.

They’re also voting with their feet, and applying for new jobs. Large construction firm Skanska has seen a boom in job applications after years of losing out to the higher-paying oil industry. One recent “help-wanted” ad placed by Skanska resulted in a 2,150 percent increase in applicants, with another attracting enormous interest as well.

“It’s about time things are turning around,” Skanska’s recruiting chief Christian Scheen told DN. The construction branch has had a hard time competing against the oil and gas sector for highly qualified workers. Not anymore.

Pessimism and uncertainty
HR Norge reported that the new survey reflects pessimism and uncertainty among oil sector workers. That’s not surprising, given how fresh college graduates have been losing their jobs even before they began because of the rapid change in fortunes at oil and oil services companies like Aibel, Baker Hughes, Statoil and Aker Solutions. DN reported recently how engineering student Nick Svendsen of Tananger had accepted a job offer from Baker Hughes that he’d received before he graduated. When he was ready to start working last summer, the job had been eliminated. He’s been looking for work ever since and now must compete against more experienced engineers.

The oil companies are also seeing a marked decline in job applications, which have taken a dive in line with oil prices. The universities in Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim saw a similar dive in students attracted to oil-related studies from 2013 to 2014. Engineering and geology students, meanwhile, are expected to put more emphasis on a general education and refrain from being too specialized in any one field.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg hasn't lost confidence in the oil industry but sees a need to diversify the economy into other areas. She's shown here during a bright spot for the oil industry, when contracts were awarded for work on the huge new Johan Sverdrup oil field. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Prime Minister Erna Solberg hasn’t lost confidence in the oil industry but sees a need to diversify the economy into other areas. She’s shown here during a bright spot for the oil industry, when contracts were awarded for work on the huge new Johan Sverdrup oil field. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Workers haven’t only lost confidence in oil industry executives. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has been criticized for “talking down” the industry because of what her government sees as a need to make Norway less dependent on the oil industry. All the talk about omstilling (literally, “readjustment”) is making a bad situation worse, claim opposition politicians like former oil minister Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party. He remains bullish on the oil industry and claims he can’t understand why Solberg “speaks so negatively about an industry that will continue to be the most important for Norway in the foreseeable future.”

Others, however, praise Solberg’s efforts to make Norway’s economy less vulnerable to swings in the oil business. “We have to find new legs to stand on,” says oil analyst Thina Saltvedt at Nordea. “Solberg is absolutely correct in opening up minds to other industries.”

There are still some bright spots, however, not least as contracts are doled out for work on the huge Johan Sverdrup oil field of the coast of Stavanger. Solberg was pleased that Norwegian firms have won most of the big contracts on the Sverdrup project, worth billions of kroner. Aibel, which has had to lay off a thousand workers in recent months, won the NOK 8 billion contract awarded in late February to build the drilling rig platform for the Sverdrup field. Norwegian firms otherwise have lost out to competition from companies in, for example, South Korea.

The mayors of Stavanger and Sandnes, where Statoil and many other oil sector firms are based, think the region will emerge stronger after the current readjustment process to lower oil prices. “The locomotive has less steam now,” Sandnes Mayor Stanley Wirak told DN recently. “But we will build Johan Sverdrup and a lot will happen in the future. It’s important to make it clear the oil age is not over.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund