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Grads always told to ‘strive for oil’ find fewer openings as companies slash spending

Photo courtesy Tegan Dutton/NAIT Nugget

HALIFAX (CUP) — The drop in oil prices is affecting more than the price at the pump.

Engineering students report fewer job advertisements and reduced co-op programs as a result of company cutbacks. Students who are either months from graduating or looking for their next work placement find options slim.

Dalhousie University chemical engineering student Michelle Otutu said both existing jobs and future prospects are being eliminated quickly. “The jobs that have already been confirmed for a lot of people are also disappearing,” she said.

The drop in crude oil prices is predicted to mark a national loss of $40 billion in profits, according to a Conference Board of Canada report published Feb. 9. Although prices are expected to rise to $60 a barrel from the current $45, that’s still a 40 per cent decline in one year.

Companies are cutting spending, halting construction, and laying off workers, leaving fewer jobs for technical and scientific professionals, said Julie Ades, a senior economist with the conference board’s national forecasting team.

Otutu, who graduates in May, said she’s lucky to have a job lined up. Many of her classmates are in a different situation.

One who was offered a job had it rescinded when the price of oil dropped, she said. Others are applying to grad school and some, currently looking for work experience co-op placements, have gone home for the semester or enrolled in electives to fill the time.

“People are exploring those options as well and trying to open up the opportunities to those other fields, but it’s kind of tough when all along over four, five years, you’ve been told (to) strive for oil, that’s where you should be,” said Otutu.

Click here for the original story from the Canadian University Press

One such job for Syncrude Canada Limited, a large oil company, was cancelled after a Dalhousie University student applied. “Due to a re-evaluation of business need, we have had to adjust our workforce requirements and cancel the search to fill this position,” said an email sent to the engineering student.

Syncrude is not alone in cutting back on hiring. Suncor, another major oil and gas company, announced Jan. 13 it would cut $1 billion from capital spending this year. Suncor also plans to lay off 1,000 people. The company posted on its co-op page the following day: “As a result of yesterday’s corporate announcement on Suncor’s accelerated spending reductions we will be postponing our live chat on student opportunities.”

As of Feb. 9, only one job—first announced in September—was posted for engineers on Suncor’s site. For Syncrude, no jobs at all were posted on its online job bank.

Oil and gas companies are expected to cut back on construction by 24 per cent in 2015, according to Ades. Jobs for technical and scientific professionals, the sector that includes engineers, are “not expected to fare very well,” she said, but more are expected in 2016 as business investment picks up.

This is all on top of a bad year for employment growth in general. 2014 was the second worst year on record in two decades, said Ades. But she said 2015 is expected to see about 1.1 per cent growth in employment, and a bit more the following year.

Students need to know this context, said Otutu, and it’s not being explained in their classes. Many feel “stressed or embarrassed” because they’re expected to graduate with several job offers following the recently high demand for the degree.

“There seems to be a lot of shying away from discussing about the fact that people don’t have jobs right now,” said Otutu. “No one is getting offers. Interviews are really a lot harder to come by. I feel like you still need to have that discussion more openly.”

Engineers Canada, the sector’s national organization of regulators, is set to release a comprehension labour market survey of engineering students including an enrolment report and student exit survey in the next few months.