Associations, Companies Welcoming Women to Oil and Gas Industry
by Mike Kezdi
It is no mystery that companies in and related to the oil and gas industry are looking for employees to fill their ranks as baby boomers get closer to retirement age.
Looking at FMI’s white paper “Skills Shortages in a Booming Market — The Big Oil and Gas Challenge” released in February, it stated that in 2008, 3.8 percent of the construction workforce was involved with direct oil and gas construction, with the number growing to 6.4 percent by 2012. FMI estimates that by 2017, almost 10 percent of the construction workforce in the United States will move to this segment.
The report estimates that in the next four years, more than $330 billion will be spent on oil- and gas- related construction, double the amount spent in the last four years. This growth requires those who work in the industry to be on their toes for recruitment.
“The industry is making a major effort in Ohio and across the country in recruiting women, minorities and young people,” says Michael Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA).
“We have held events in Ohio focused on women and minorities,” Chadsey says. “The idea is if we continue to talk about the opportunities available and encourage folks to pursue those jobs and careers, we can, as an industry, better prepare ourselves for what many have called the great crew change.”
As the Marcellus and Utica shale plays have attracted increasing oil and gas drilling and pipeline activity, the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP) has been working with high schools and two- and four-year colleges to lure talent to the growing and changing industry.
Some women may shy away from what could be a long and successful career because they see the industry as a “boys club.”
That misconception is one that Rhonda Reda, OOGEEP executive director, is quick to dispel though she admits that was not the case when she joined the industry almost three decades ago.
“Being a female and being in the industry for 27 years, I can tell you that I was a lone duck out there for a very long time,” she says.
At her first industry board meeting, Reda was the only female in the room, and she recalls one of the board members jokingly suggesting there might be a sewing or cooking committee that she could chair.
“I’ve shared that at many of these events, and I don’t share that in a manner that it was a slam on me, but it was unusual for a female,” she says.
Reda added that she couldn’t just demand the respect.
“You have to earn the respect just like any other worker out there,” she says. “You are not any different, but sometimes you need to work a little harder and oftentimes you will be challenged on your knowledge in some cases more so than a male. Take the opportunity to learn.”
Learning, she says, is a key to bringing more females into an industry that is poised to grow as the shale plays and Canadian oil sands boom and pipeline projects blossom to move the spoils.
In her career, Reda took a downgrade in pay and position to entrench herself in the industry and learn the terminology. That paid off in the end and others should take note.
Throughout her career, Reda helped form the OOGEEP and its Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Foundation; she served as vice president of internal affairs and public information for OOGA. She also worked for several oil and gas companies and has garnered praise and awards both in Ohio and nationwide for her work in the industry.
Numbers Don’t Lie
A report, released in April by IHS and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute (API), projects that the U.S. oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries has a potential for 1.3 million new job opportunities by 2030. Of those opportunities, it is estimated that women will fill 185,000 of those jobs.
“The oil and natural gas industry pays wages significantly higher than the national average and can provide tremendous career opportunities for women and minorities,” says Jack Gerard, API president and CEO, referring to the study.
That is why organizations, trade unions and other associations — not just in oil and gas — are trying to educate women on the different job opportunities.
In April, the OOGA, API, OOGEEP, Marathon Petroleum Corp. and others worked with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta, Ohio) to present the first Women in Energy Summit for Ohio. Reda discussed scholarships and education programs available for women to prepare for careers in energy.
She says that her organization has identified 75 career paths from blue-collar work to jobs that require advanced degrees.
Where Reda sees many women headed are diesel mechanics, welding, engineering, geology and environmental sciences.
The FMI white paper estimates that demand across the 18 craft categories involved with the industry will grow from 254,600 in 2012 to an estimated 501,800 in 2017. Key shortages from 2012-2017 will be pipefitters, supervisors, welders and engineers with demand for each segment to be almost twice that of the cur-rent supply.
“Through scholarships you have an opportunity to encourage females in the industry. Our scholarships awarded to feamles were everything from a welder to an engineer. These are very relevant, whether it is upstream or midstream,” Reda says. “It is also making sure females out there understand that the jobs we are looking for are not just the four -year programs but it is definitely in the trades.”
Mike Gavlock, training coordinator for the National Pipeline Training Program, sponsored by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) and the Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA), estimates that 5 to 10 percent of the IUOE membership is women.
In his 39 years in the industry, Gavlock says he still remembers the first time a woman was on a pipeline job. “It was an engineer’s daughter and everyone was shocked,” he says. “Now, it’s not uncommon at all.”
He says there are still a few “old school” workers who resent the women on the jobsite, but mostly those workers are all gone.
“That’s the thing, once they prove themselves, they are very accepted,” Gavlock says. “I know this from talking to our bending instructor. She said, ‘You know I had a hard time out there but I never let up. Once I showed them I knew what I was doing and could take care of my business, they accepted me’.”
When looking at all of the trades associated with the oil and gas industry, women make up 7 to 10 percent. The numbers flucuate based on the population of the area where work is conducted. Gavlock says the IUOE and United Association (UA) 798 have the most women, followed by the Teamsters and then the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).
Most IUOE members enter the union via an apprenticeship program and applications for those programs are available at local unemployment offices. The union also works with the Helmets to Hardhats program, highway construction careers training programs, the Spanish Coalition for Jobs, Hispanic Resources Development, and targeting female workers specifically through the National Association of Women in Construction and the National Council of Negro Women.
The IUOE also hosts open houses at its training center twice a year aimed squarely at women. This allows them to look at the equipment and sit in the driver’s seat so to speak before applying for the apprenticeship program.
“What’s hardest for most workers is the nomadic life you live,” Gavlock says, referring to both men and women. “It’s one of the biggest hurdles to overcome — being away from home and finding a place to stay — it’s a strain on the family.”
Reda agrees and that is one of the reasons OOGEEP first approaches students from fifth through 12th grade via Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fairs. Many of these fairs require experts to help the student with their projects ,allowing mentoring to take place.
“It’s probably more females than males that we engage at the STEM fair level,” Reda says. “My very first science fair winner 20 years ago was a young ninth-grader with a fabulous environmental science project and she went on to work for me and she has since moved on and is doing wonderful things.”
Reda added that mentoring or shadowing gets the student excited about a potential career in the oil and gas industry. In some cases, it also shows the student that a career in the industry is not for him/her.
In 2014, OOGEEP awarded 45 scholarships, 20 percent of which went to females.
The scholarships are open to Ohio residents and those who are attending schools in Ohio related to the oil and gas industry. One 2014 recipient, Gabriele Travers, is a New York native attending the well-respected Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, proving that the work to beef up the oil and gas industry workforce is not constrained by state borders.
The OOGEEP program, Reda points out, started 17 years ago long before the shale boom was a thought in anyone’s mind and because of that, OOGEEP has shared its knowledge and expertise with states experiencing booms of their own.
“Everybody has the same goal. I don’t care if you’re in North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio or New York, a welder is a welder,” Reda says. “One of the other things we have worked on with other states is making sure there is consistency in the curriculum.”
Resources for Prospects
In its constant effort to educate, train and certify workers in the oil and gas industry, API launched its oilandgasworkforce.com website in June.
In the press call announcing the site, John Modine, API vice president of Global Industry Services, says that the growth in the industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, many of which have wages significantly higher than the national average.
“The bottom line is that in order to maintain America’s status as a global energy leader, we will need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to recruitment and retention of the next generation of oil and natural gas workers, which is the fundamental goal of www.oilgasworkforce.com,” he says.
The site features four sections:
• Jobs: Leads job seekers to job listing resources from around the United States, particularly with drilling companies, manufacturers, oil companies and service and supply companies.
• Education: Allows workers to browse by name of educational institute, type of education or
• Certification: Shows how specialists in the oil and natural gas industry can become certified, allowing workers to search for certification organizations
• Training: Allows people to browse by name of training organization or by the type of training, such as API training, e-learning and instructor-led courses.
“And it builds on existing recruiting initiatives by API and companies to reach veterans’ groups, labor unions, African American and Hispanic communities, and colleges and universities,” Modine says. “We want www.oilgasworkforce.com to be a tool for the industry to recruit the workforce it needs to sustain American energy leadership. It will also serve as a reminder to lawmakers and the administration of how seriously our industry takes its role as top job creators and fundamental drivers of a strong American economy.”
Mike Kezdi is assistant editor at Benjamin Media Inc. and a contributing staff editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.