POLITICS

As oilpatch downturn continues, job seekers wrestle with career change

06/12/2015 02:33 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - Eight months into his search for a new job in the oil and gas industry, Rashad Bayramov says he's open to switching industries.

But it's not so simple.

"There are some perceptions from employers," said Bayramov, who previously worked in cost control. "They prefer people with experience in the specific field. It's not easy to change, even if you wish so."

Bayramov was one of close to 2,000 people who showed up at the Global Energy Career Expo in Calgary that ran this week. But with only about a quarter of the number of companies looking to hire compared to last year, job offerings were slim.

"The oil and gas market is so down," said Tarang Jain, a 25-year-old finishing up his master's degree in petroleum engineering at the University of Alberta.

"It's really tough to get the job right now."

Since September, an estimated 25,000 have been laid off in the oil and gas industry, according to BMO Capital Markets analyst Robert Kavcic.

While that may leave many of them considering switching careers, recruiters say jumping from one industry to another isn't easy.

Brenda Cullum-Shergold, a recruiter with the Bowen recruitment agency, says many employers worry about how committed people are to such a change.

"If you're an employer in a transportation company for example, and you've got someone in oil and gas that comes to you looking for a job, the first thing that you're going to think is, 'How long before they jump back to oil and gas?'"

But with the oil price downturn in 2008 still fresh in some people's minds, some are interested in getting out, she said.

"I had a candidate say to me, 'I've had enough. I've had enough of the roller-coaster ride,'" Cullum-Shergold said.

The mining industry is one potential sector where many oil and gas skills are useful. But Jim Fearon, vice-president for Central Canada at recruitment firm Hays, says there are other factors to consider.

He says while many oil and gas positions are fly-in, fly-out jobs — where people board flights from their homes in Calgary, Edmonton or even the East Coast to work in the oilpatch — the mining industry is generally based on living full-time in relatively remote locations.

"They're not really prepared to take the conditions that go with the work," Fearon said. "Their expectations are not in line with the requirements of the job."

Fearon said companies are looking to hire people who have been out of work longer, as they may be more willing to relocate and commit to something more long term.

For those with specialized oil and gas skills, starting from scratch in a new industry means giving up on an expertise and the pay that comes with it.

Jain, who will finish his petroleum engineering degree in a couple of months, hopes the oil and gas markets pick up.

"Maybe not now, but after six months the market will recover and hopefully we'll have some more jobs."