At OTC, sales of boots, hard hats among signs of energy job-market comeback

Over the last few months, the surge in U.S. shale drilling has kept Red Wing Shoes busy pumping out boots, hard hats and safety goggles for roustabouts heading back into the oil patch.

In North America, oil companies are finally conducting so-called manpower studies – reviews of how many workers they’ll need for new oil and gas projects – and filling out orders for workers’ protective gear, said Robert Warren, vice president of global sales and distribution for Red Wing Shoes, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of safety wear.

That’s a big change from early last year, when oil prices hit a dozen-year-low of $26 a barrel and oil companies laid off tends of thousands of workers.

“There weren’t any manpower studies last year. It was about how many people they needed to get rid of,” Warren said on the expo floor of the Offshore Technology Conference. “Now they need to hire.”

On Monday, Red Wing Shoes was one of several vendors at OTC to say they haven’t seen many unemployed oil and gas workers dropping off their resumes at display booths — another sign that the oil and gas job market has improved since last year’s grim offshore summit.