We all know what a game changer the Marcellus Shale play has been for our local economy. What you may not know is that the oil and gas industry may also be the golden ticket for financial independence and career satisfaction for women. Presently, and in the coming decades, the American Petroleum Institute sees vast employment opportunities for women: well-paying, life-long careers. API recently conducted a research project, Attitudes and Perceptions of Women about Seeking Employment in the Oil & Natural Gas Industry, which assessed how women perceive employment in the oil and gas industry. They found that when women knew more about the industry, particularly that the average yearly salary was almost $50,000 more than the U.S. average, and that nearly 60 percent of the women surveyed said they would be likely to accept an offer to work in the industry. However, salary alone is not the determining factor for women seeking employment. Health care benefits were foremost in the women’s minds, with 60 percent citing that. Job security followed closely at 59 percent, with job satisfaction and salary tying at 48 percent. Good work/life balance rounded out the top-five findings at 44 percent.
The study also found that the primary reason women did not apply for jobs in the oil and gas industry was because of a lack of awareness and understanding of job opportunities and career development within it. Rebecca Winkel, Economic Analyst, API, is intent on making those opportunities well known for women.
Popular Pittsburgh spoke with Ms. Winkel in June of 2015 to explore the employment opportunities for women in the oil and gas industry.
1. What is being done to make women more aware of the opportunities available to them in the oil and gas industry?
API spent 2014 working on the women’s research Attitudes and Perceptions of Women about Seeking Employment in the Oil & Natural Gas Industry. This year we have been traveling around the country to share what we learned: that women are holistic in their approach to employment, that they may not know much right now about our industry or the opportunities available, and that oil and gas has what women want! We’re hosting events for professional women leaders, for young women in college and high school, and for girls to introduce them to the industry, the range of opportunities available, and the education and training they need to get there. Our research shows that only 3 percent of women have applied to work in oil and gas, and the number one reason why is because of a lack of awareness and understanding of the opportunities available. We are trying to change that by starting the conversation and getting our work out there. So far this year, we have been in Denver, Pittsburgh, Savannah, San Antonio, Houston, DC, and New Orleans talking about this, and we are nowhere near done. We hope women are getting our message: we want you and we need you!
2. One of the concerns raised in the API report was that women expressed a reluctance to relocate for jobs in the oil and gas industry. For women living in the Pittsburgh region, they would not have to move across the county to land a job in the industry. Do you know how many women are working in the Pittsburgh area in oil and gas?
The study doesn’t project opportunities at the city level, but IHS projects more than 17,000 job opportunities for women in the Middle Atlantic region (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries through 2030. All across the country, more than 226,000 women are already working in all areas of the industry.
3. What kind of education or degrees do women need to pursue to work in the oil and gas industry?
This is a great question and is so often misunderstood for our industry. There is a very broad range of job opportunities available in the oil and gas industry, requiring wide levels of education and training. For positions in management or professional fields (e.g. an engineer, attorney, accountant, geoscientist, government relations specialist, etc.), you would typically need a four-year degree or potentially a graduate degree. There are projected to be over 290,000 job opportunities in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries through 2030 in these management and professional fields.
There are also significant opportunities available in blue collar positions for individuals with a high school diploma and some post-secondary training. There are over 800,000 job opportunities projected in these fields, including positions such as welders, carpenters, electricians, truck drivers, plumbers, and construction workers. STEM skills are extremely important in our industry whether you want to be a PhD chemist or a pipefitter. There are also many opportunities outside of the traditional STEM fields, for example, in communications, legal, or marketing teams. One of the great things about oil and gas is that because of the wide range of jobs, you may already fit better than you think. Women in particular have expressed concern that they don’t have a background in or are not qualified for jobs in oil and natural gas, but often that is not the case. Don’t ever count yourself out because you think you don’t fit!
4. For women who don’t have the required education, but who would like to make a career change, are there any retraining programs available?
Again, I would say that you may very well fit, so check first. But if someone was interested in pursuing a new opportunity, there are various ways to start that process. Many community colleges have programs that directly prepare students for in-demand jobs in oil and gas, and there are also apprenticeship programs available through the building trades where students can train and earn money at the same time. Another place to look is oilgasworkforce.com, which has sections on education, training, and certification to help connect people with these opportunities. There is also a section on jobs.
5. Often times women only view the oil and gas industry as supplying energy for cars and heavy industry. What are some of the other products derived from oil and gas that women use?
Oil and natural gas touch our lives in countless ways every day. Together, they supply more than 60 percent of our nation’s energy. They fuel our cars, heat our homes, and cook our food. Oil and natural gas also help generate the electricity that powers our daily lives. Can’t live without your iPhone? Oil and natural gas give your phone its charge and are part of what makes the pieces inside. Crude oil supplies the building blocks for everything from dent-resistant car fenders to soft drink bottles to camping equipment, as well as the comfy synthetic fabrics we wear year-round, the medicines that make us feel better, fertilizers that help our gardens grow, and just about every toy we play with.
6. In the report it stated that many in the industry, mostly males, will be retiring. Has that made it more welcoming for women to work in the industry?
The changing demographics of the country and of the industry are having a big impact. With so many individuals retiring, the oil and gas industry is in great need of new, talented workers. Women and minorities are a critical talent base to help the industry fill that need. We see in our research that women are holistic in their approach to employment: they are looking for good health benefits, job security and satisfaction, good work life balance, and a high salary. They want to do something they enjoy and feel like they’re making a difference. We’re a competitive industry, and we know that we are competing for talent. As the industry reaches out to more women to fill these vital positions, we are trying to speak to and create more of those things that women care about.
7. What has the experience has been like for women already working in the oil and gas industry? In decades past, men sometimes resented women who worked in male-dominated fields. One would think with all the labor laws that are now in existence that things would be much improved as compared to the past.
There have certainly been times and places in the industry that have been difficult for women, but I think we have come a long way, not just in oil and gas, but in many industries. The women I know who work in oil and gas are fabulous, talented and driven, and for the most part, don’t feel inhibited working in what is traditionally thought of as a “man’s field.” They love what they do, and they know they’re making a difference. I am one of them, proud to be a woman in oil and gas!