Diversity in the Workforce

a-diversityThe Petroleum Human Resources division of Enform (PHR), continues to tackle the big questions facing oil and gas industry human resource departments, with two pivotal reports released in 2014 that offer insight into Saskatchewan’s unique labour situation.

The PHR division measured Aboriginal employment trends in their report Aboriginal Employment in Saskatchewan’s Oil and Gas Industry – funded by the Government of Saskatchewan. The PHR division followed up with HR Trends and Insights: Diversity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce, funded by the Government of Canada and released in late-2014, which offers a broad perspective on immigrants, women, youth, and disable persons working in the oil and gas industry across Canada.

Both reports aim help solve the critical skill shortages that challenge industry during ideal economic times. The reports compare statistics from the 2006 national census and the 2011 National Household Survey.

With the price of oil per barrel less than half what it was a year ago, the PHR division acknowledges key recruitment strategies aimed at diversifying the workforce could face pressure on budget cutting room floors. Strategic cuts that preserve access to diversity recruitment capacities can help support a recovery with the anticipated future return of commodity prices, says Claudine Vidallo, project manager for Labour Market Information with PHR.

“With companies being forced to re-evaluate their budgets, we’ve heard that some companies are cutting back on workforce initiatives by as much as 50 per cent,” confirms Vidallo. “There’s going to be implications of that going forward. That said, if the situation does turn around, you could see that being refreshed and budgets and resources put back in place. Industry has gone through several cycles of ups and downs. This is just a phase that you need to be surviving at this point in time.”

Aboriginal focus

5 - Aboriginal Employment in SK - Chart 1

The Aboriginal Employment report found aboriginals comprise six per cent of the oil and gas workforce in Saskatchewan, an encouraging number that is double the aboriginal participation rate in the Canadian labour market as a whole. Multiple factors contribute to the higher participation rate of aboriginals in oil and gas, including: communities in close proximity to project worksites; high wages; opportunity for career advancement; as well as specific recruitment and attraction initiatives.

“There’s always room for improvement, but it is a good statistic to start with,” says Vidallo, adding though that when compared to local populations, six per cent may not necessarily be adequate representation in some areas. “It’s good that we have access to that talent there, but when you look at regional stats, maybe what we’re doing is not enough.”

The report notes aboriginal employment numbers in Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industry plateaued between census periods; however, company surveys suggest numbers may be on the rise since 2011, as employer surveys reported success in new recruitment and retention strategies.

The PHR division found a number of companies offer solid aboriginal relations programs. Best practices include delegated personnel to support aboriginal recruitment and retention, face-to-face interaction with aboriginal leaders, carefully planned initial contact with an aboriginal community, and fostering collaborative relationships with aboriginal communities.

Successful companies, the report notes, established relationships with aboriginal communities for mutual benefit, and recognized building trust takes time. Successful companies also employed strategies to plan for retention before hiring, such as: mentoring; new worker on-boarding programs to help acclimatize recruits; and tailored benefits like transportation or celebrating career accomplishments.

Diversity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce credits award-winning Savanna Energy for developing strong partnerships with aboriginal communities through joint-venture agreements, as well as its Green Hand Training program. The report also recognizes Syncrude’s 30-year relationship with aboriginal communities, and its strong representation of aboriginal people at nine per cent of its workforce, higher than industry overall.

Companies with effective recruitment strategies recognize that aboriginal employment is crucial to achieving business goals, the report notes. However, many companies do not have a corporate policy aimed at increasing the recruitment of aboriginal people, and many do not measure the level of aboriginal employment in their organization.

Diversity in the workplace
The PHR division found representation of key diversity groups within the oil and gas labour force increased modestly from 2006 to 2011 – with the exception of youth demographics. Among companies interviewed in the Diversity in the Workforce report, most stated that having a fair and inclusive environment is considered a given in today’s workplace, and that it is an ingrained part of the company’s practices.

The bottom line continues to be that diversity initiatives can help meet business goals.

“There has to be a strong business case for doing any kind of program,” reflects Vidallo.

Diversity and inclusion strategies help provide employers with access to new and larger talent pools, as well as meet regulatory and social requirements to operate. Diversity can also be an important strategy for achieving a social license to operate.

The report highlights the success of partnerships that have increased attraction to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. For example, Imperial Oil’s Enhancing Opportunities in Post-Secondary Students and Graduates with Disabilities in Science and Technology Related Fields program emphasized investment in education of math and sciences, environment, and civic and community programs.

Another example featured Enbridge’s Engineering Futures Partners with Braided Journeys, which provided female aboriginal high school students an opportunity to learn about engineering careers with a female engineer mentor.

The report also highlighted the Shell partnership with Actua, a network of universities and colleges, which builds confidence among girls to pursue STEM careers, as well as engages northern youth.

Diversity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce found the best success where diversity programs had a champion at the executive or leadership level, as opposed to solely the human resources department.

“If you don’t get an executive engaged in this or buying into this, then sometimes it won’t work because it’s not going to be implemented across the board,” says Vidallo.

The report recommends diversity training for all employees of a company, as well as employer-sponsored resource groups and diversity and inclusion networks as effective strategies for encouraging a fair and inclusive work environment.

Another challenge facing industry is measuring the results. “If you’re not measuring results, you don’t know whether it’s improving or not, or even if it’s working,” notes Vidallo.

Youth, women, immigrants, and persons with disabilities

Diversity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce shows a decline in youth employment in oil and gas sectors between 2006 and 2011, falling from 15 to 11 per cent. Prior research from PHR found many youths harbour negative views and misconceptions about the oil and gas industry. At the same time, the report found the number of employees over 45 increased from 34 to 38 per cent by 2011, making the challenge of youth recruitment that much more crucial in the years ahead as a generation of skilled workers prepare for retirement.

Vidallo attributes the youth statistics to barriers to participation on both the demand and supply sides, and to an overall lack of education on the complexity of industry. Companies often require a higher level of education and experience than youth possess. For example, many pipeline projects require applicants to not only have an engineering degree, but also several years of job experience, which excludes much of the youth workforce.

“We are kind of creating a top heavy workforce,” comments Vidallo.

On the other hand, youth may not be aware of the types of entry-level jobs that are available in the service industry. The nature of field-based work and exposure to the elements may dissuade youth from entering the oil and gas industry.

High turnover continues to hinder industry. While the average turnover rate is 30 per cent, high turnover in service jobs – as high as 100 per cent for some companies over a year – is costly. Education can inform career-seekers of the employment opportunities available that match their skill sets.

“It’s quite expensive and really onerous for companies to fill in these roles. So if people come prepared and understand what the work is like that they are applying for, that really would help the companies and would result in cost savings,” advises Vidallo.

Overall participation of women in the industry as a whole increased modestly from 20.4 to 21.3 per cent by 2011, far short of the 48 per cent of the total workforce comprised by women in Canada. Employment trends for women in the oil and gas industry are encouraging though when considering the number of women qualified for core oil and gas occupations nearly matches the employment rate in core industry jobs.

In the 38 core occupations for oil and gas, the number of women qualified for these occupations is 11.3 per cent, close to the number of women that are actually in those occupations at 9.8 per cent. A longer term look at narrowing the gap between the total workforce available and the number of qualified women for core oil and gas occupations requires enhancement at the recruitment and training stage, explains Vidallo.

The report notes barriers to female employment in the oil and gas industry include safety and security concerns, conflict between family and job responsibilities, an unwelcoming culture, lack of mentorship, negative perceptions of their ability, and lack of flexible work arrangements.

Immigrant representation in the oil and gas workforce improved the most and increased from 10.3 per cent to 12.1 per cent in 2011. In Canada, immigrants comprise 22 per cent of the total labour force, indicating there is more work to do, says Vidallo. Around 20.8 per cent of immigrants are qualified for core oil and gas occupations, which reveals a disparity between the qualified immigrant workforce and the actual number working in the oil and gas industry.

“From a qualifications point of view, Canada is attracting the right kind of immigrants that will serve our industry,” adds Vidallo.

Further recruitment could be accomplished by addressing barriers, such as the lack of recognition of foreign education and work experience, limited understanding of Canadian work culture, remote work locations, and English language proficiency.

The number of disabled persons in the oil and gas workforce stood at 11 per cent in 2011, compared with 13 per cent total representation in the Canadian workforce. In a separate study, the Petroleum Industry Human Resources Committee found some students do not pursue certain careers because of their disabilities, and in particular, are concerned over a lack of accommodation. The report recommends offering programs to support access challenges and integration into the workforce.

For more information

Both Aboriginal Employment in Saskatchewan’s Oil and Gas Industry, and HR Trends and Insights: Diversity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Workforce the Workforce, can be found online. Visit the Labour Market Information Section at www.careersinoilandgas.com for access to the PHR reports.

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