This week will prove to be huge for the Keystone pipeline as legislation could be passed to proceed with further construction. If that doesn’t happen –which doesn’t seem likely– we won’t see the issue come up for consideration again until after the November midterm elections, or even as late as next year.
This got us thinking about what effect the Keystone could have on the still-pressing need for jobs in the United States.
Truth be told, the nearly 1,200-mile undertaking by TransCanada (NYSE: TRP) that stretches from western Canada and into Nebraska is only likely to create about 9,000 new jobs, according to The Washington Post, and that’s of the more optimistic predictions.
The bigger problem lies with the other 288,000 U.S. jobs created by the energy industry in April alone, found in existing projects and infrastructure that grows by leaps and bounds.
While the shale gas and oil boom here in the U.S. is creating a flurry of new jobs, the amount of skilled laborers is dwindling at an even faster rate. If the problem persists, the energy sector stands to lose billions of dollars.
For industries that have been a big part of turning the economy around, the search for qualified candidates to fill future energy sector jobs will prove key to keeping the growing economy strong.
If we look at the energy sector workforce, the average age of today’s utility worker is 46. Of these, 60 percent will be retiring in the next ten years, according to the Houston Business Journal. This means that in addition to the sector’s general growth, there is an impending change in the guard. The demand for energy-related jobs is going to soar.
But where do we get the talent? Executives can’t just hand over the reins to the young and inexperienced, and a lot of the jobs created today are being filled by the construction industry where the necessary skills aren’t there to fill most positions adequately.
Fifty-eight percent of energy executives say their company struggles to find the talent they need, and 75 percent of those polled say they expect it to only get worse in the next five years.
The answer to the problem is found in the number of STEM graduates that will burst onto the scene during this time. STEM is the acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Students pursuing degrees in one of these four fields seem almost guaranteed a position straight out of college in the years ahead. Future generations will rely on this crop of new professionals to lead America through the 21st century and beyond.
It’s imperative that the educators and counselors of today convey this message and show the significant opportunities of tomorrow that the oil and gas industries present, as well as a growing need in the renewables industry.
Women and minorities will play a key role in ensuring this preparation is a success. Under the current educational framework there will be 1.3 million new job opportunities by 2030 in oil, natural gas and the petrochemical industries, according to the American Petroleum Institute, 408,000 of which, or roughly one-third of the total expected growth will go to African American and Hispanic workers. Female employment will account for another 185,000 of the total job opportunities through 2030.
Compound those numbers with a boom in renewables and you see where our future is headed.
We’ve already witnessed first hand what gas and oil can do for an economy; just look at North Dakota. The once desolate state ranked 37th in growth between 2000 and 2010. Then it experienced a swift turnaround when its Bakken shale overflowed with oil and gas made available by the technology of hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Now it is the sixth fastest growing state, and has the lowest unemployment rate in the entire country.
An aging workforce without an adequate crop of new talent is the immediate threat to a steamrolling energy sector, but there is hope.
That hope lies with the future leaders of America – our children – from all walks of life, from all ethnicities and backgrounds. It’s going to take cooperation from all sides – companies, educators, the government – and you. But together we can help guide these young, aspiring minds into a bright and prosperous future.