Many laid-off oil field workers have left industry behind, survey finds

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HOUSTON – Many of the laid-off mechanics and roustabouts that ran drilling rigs during the oil boom have found new jobs in construction, retail and other sectors and may not come back even if the industry recovers.

A small survey by research firm Evercore ISI shows that more than half of a group of laid-off energy service workers have found work in other industries, and 4 out of 5 have left the industry, saying they wouldn’t take a job in the oil patch again — even if they could get their old jobs back or could get a better one.

“Labor constraints will be an ongoing bottleneck that will slow and prolong the North American activity recovery,” James West, an oil field analyst at Evercore, said in a note to clients Tuesday. “As for the individuals that did not re-enter the oil field, an overwhelming majority have turned their backs on the patch altogether.”

The two-year oil bust left nearly 150,000 U.S. energy workers out of work. Nearly 80 percent of the workers in the survey of 40 former energy industry employees have found work in sectors like construction (11 percent), engineering consulting (11 percent), chemicals (8 percent) and retail (6 percent).

Another 22 percent got jobs in agriculture, technology, financial services and other sectors. About one-fifth of the group got work in the oil patch again, but many of them “were hired to lower-paying, ‘non-technical’ roles.” Another fifth remains unemployed.

About 13 percent, the largest share of the group, were unemployed for four to six months. More than half of the laid off employees had fewer than five years of experience.

“The result is a massive age and experience disparity between retirement-ready individuals and the recurring waves of ‘green hat’ new hires,” West said.