Energy industry staffing company Swift Worldwide Resources says the best-paying oil and gas jobs are located in Australia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, and Angola. Noticeably absent from the list is the United States, which is going through what some are calling an energy renaissance. That has major implications for the U.S. and global energy industries in a world with an increasingly mobile workforce.
Those five countries account for the top 10 jobs, which are all supervisory positions such as completion manager in Australia (No. 1) and project services director in Nigeria (No. 4), according to Swift. While there's clearly a lot of room under the top 10 jobs, those high-level positions are exactly the type of employment for which a person would relocate. And, even lower down the staffing scale, there's a lot a pressure on wages in the energy industry.
For example, Deloitte's John England specifically highlighted talent as a significant long-term issue for the energy industry. His big concern, according to a 2014 industry outlook, is that government statistics indicate that as much as 50% of the domestic industry's workers will be eligible for retirement over the next decade. But that's not the only problem.
For example, since the start of 2010, U.S. private sector employment has grown roughly 7%, but the oil and gas industry has seen an increase of more than 25%. Moreover, since 2006, hourly wages in the oil and gas industry have jumped over 27%, versus roughly 18% across the United States. This led England to predict that "Controlling fixed costs for projects, including wages, will increasingly be important for the industry as companies look ahead to the 'big shift change.'"
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the oil industry jobs are more complicated today than in the past. Operating drill rigs is becoming increasingly complex because finding oil and gas is getting increasingly difficult. With more technical skills comes more pay.
Around the world
Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is probably one of the companies most exposed to this issue, even though its size and prestige will help it attract and afford higher-priced employees. This drilling contractor has roughly 77,000 employees across the globe. It specifically highlighted finding and retaining employees as a business risk in its latest annual report, as well as the wage inflation that might accompany a tighter job market.
How big an issue is this? In 2009, Halliburton had 51,000 employees and salary and benefit costs of roughly $4.8 billion. By 2013, employment had grown roughly 50% to 77,000, but salary and benefit costs had increased by over 75% to $8.4 billion.
Wages are obviously just one of the many costs Halliburton faces, and improving technology has allowed employees to become more productive. But what happens as U.S. employees start to retire? With wages outside of the United States. already leading the curve, the answer isn't reduced wage pressure.
Looking at the other end of the industry spectrum, Newfield Exploration (NYSE:NFX) has seen its general and administrative expenses rise in each of the last three years. And that's as the company has been trimming its business to focus on just the domestic market. All but 68 of the company's 1,548 employees (at year-end 2013) were located in the United States. And while some of the increase was related to severance expenses, the direction is clearly higher. Industry trends suggest that's not going to change anytime soon.
Watch this cost
If you are investing in the oil and gas space, domestically or internationally, be ready for the impact of an increasingly tight labor market. Domestic industry growth is already pushing wages higher here. And with the best-paying jobs all located abroad, there's no reason to expect lower employee costs from here. Technology will help improve the productivity of employees, strengthening results and offsetting higher wages to some extent, but it also increases the skills needed to work in the industry. Add in an aging U.S. workforce on the brink of retirement, and finding and retaining skilled employees could become a big headwind for the energy industry.
Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Halliburton. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.