Money talks

Three oil and gas recruitment experts have their say on the findings from this year's Salary Survey

James Wilkinson is the MENA director for Eximus Group, which supplies expert talent to the energy, legal and financial services sectors.
James Wilkinson is the MENA director for Eximus Group, which supplies expert talent to the energy, legal and financial services sectors.

Oil & Gas Middle East: One of the main challenges for the oil and gas industry is its ageing workforce, and the relative lack of young employees being trained to replace them, leading to fills of a skills and knowledge gap in the years to come. Almost seven in ten (68.7%) respondents were aged 35 or over, reflecting the general trend. As specialist recruiters for the oil and gas industry, is this a problem you are also seeing, and how do you think the industry is addressing the issue?

James Wilkinson: Over the past five years in the Middle East, I believe we have seen a huge improvement with companies investing more into graduate schemes and training academies. The key issue in the Middle East is that while a lot of businesses are based here on a project or for an extended period of time, they are not committed to the region indefinitely as it is generally international businesses with head offices based overseas who have the bulk of the work. This seems to suit the Middle East well as many clients like dealing with the international businesses and the expertise they offer.

Mark Guest: The ageing workforce has been an ongoing issue for the industry since the last downturn, and what is happening at the moment is unlikely to help. When you have a downturn in price, what happens is that people leave the industry, and unfortunately those that do are often those who have the skills and would move upwards in normal circumstances. That obviously creates a skills gap and it becomes difficult to attract new people into the industry at the same time.

We have to continue to think longer-term and talk about the positive aspects of the industry, to attract talent to the sector and persuade them it is one they can stay in long-term. As an industry, I don’t think we speak enough about the positive aspects and the good, positive work that is done. I think speaking about those things would help to make a difference.

Marlon Atreides: There are a number of factors which contribute to the skills gap across many verticals in oil and gas. Firstly, when the oil price drops as it has done periodically over the years, the volume of graduate recruitment slows down. Secondly, there is an ageing workforce who have a huge amount of experience and who have learnt a number of lessons from an operational environment. But putting that information into a manual or simulator does not translate into practical experience. In addition, schools and the energy companies need to collaborate to raise awareness.

O&G ME: Just one in ten respondents was female. How does this finding reflect with candidates who you are helping to find a role, and do you think enough is being done to make it an attractive sector for females to work in?

MG: I think that over the last ten years the industry has done a lot and part of that has to do with advances in technology; the old image of the roustabout covered in oil on a drilling rig or platform isn’t that realistic anymore. That ‘hard man’ is no longer as appropriate as it was in the 1970s and 80s. I think that message has got across, and women have realised there is a lot of opportunity in engineering. Look at Saudi Aramco, for example, they have a very positive programme to encourage female engineers. There are a lot of positive steps being made in this area – people are waking up to the fact that if it is not a manual job, there is absolutely no reason women shouldn’t be given the same opportunity as men.

MA: I believe only 3% of the oil and gas workforce in the Middle East is females, so clearly more needs to be done to attract females to the work place.

If you read the news and industry press this issue is definitely getting more visibility now, and I believe companies are addressing this issue by having career development programmes, promoting gender diversity and by improving the internal support infrastructure.

JW: Over 70% of students enrolled on sciences courses in education across the UAE are now female, so the interest is definitely there. There are some National Oil Companies across the Gulf that even offer extended benefits for woman working in the field to not only see female employees within these companies but working across all dimensions within them. There is no doubt though that it is definitely more challenging for females to progress in this industry to position of high seniority, I believe this will change over time.

O&G ME: The range of salaries were widely mixed, but it was the ‘$150,000’ bracket that accounted for the largest proportion of respondents, at almost 17%. Is this a surprising finding or do you feel it is representative of an industry that is offering high salaries?

MA: The oil and gas industry always pays well due to the technical complexity of projects from field development study right through to the operation and maintenance of assets.

What you have to remember is when $billions of capex are invested into a project, you need to make sure the best people are working in each role required to ensure delivery of results but as close to time and budget as possible. Otherwise, as we have seen previously, costs can spiral out of control, profitability is lost or significantly reduced.

MG: The $150k doesn’t really surprise me given it is reflective of the Middle East; a lot of expatriate workers go there as they know the salaries are high. It’s a high wage sector and that is one of the challenges it faces at a time when the oil price has fallen. There is no other industry where a company’s earnings call be cut in half in a matter of months.

O&G ME: More than 35% or respondents said they were either very likely or quite likely to change their jobs in the next 12 months while 28% said they were undecided. What are some of the main reasons people are looking for other opportunities in the oil and gas market?

JW: As most of the employees within this industry in the Middle East are expatriates, it would not be too unrealistic to assume the main motivator for being in this region is to earn more money and money is the key motivator to change job. We do see a lot of frequent job changing in this region must unlike the loyalty one would expect in countries like Japan. There is a number of ways to reduce this, the main one being employee salary reviews, something which is commonly overlooked in this region. Whilst this region is leading the world in many areas, real HR is something which does require more attention, we see HR in some businesses being treated as a support service rather than an integral part of the growth of the business.

MA: I think in the current climate there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in the market because of the oil price being low.

But generally people look for a variety of reasons such as: career development, cultural fit within the business they are employed, change of leadership and how they are managed.

Other reasons are being headhunted by recruiters presenting them with better opportunities, financial pressures outside work, or their family not settling into country they are a resident.

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Oil & Gas Middle East - September 2020

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