Will green jobs eat all the brown jobs?

The oil industry is not the sexiest place to be right now. The combined effect of the BP oil spill, competition from the highly-paid financial services sector and the emphasis from governments around the world on creating green jobs has left some in the industry worrying about how they can continue to attract top talent.

Oil companies are now rumoured to be offering staff huge incentives to come and work for them, especially if they are working in the field: DVDs, games, food, drinks, you name it they get it. Understandably so if the alternative for a talented science grad is to work in the air-conditioned offices of a bank or with a small start-up working at the cutting edge of green technology.

Some will not fret about this potential brain drain, saying it reflects the inevitable shift away from oil as the primary source of energy. But there could be serious consequences, not least in the short term.

Christine Tiscareno, an analyst at S&P, made this point to me:

The industry has a big problem with a lack of people. This could have implications for safety. There are, for example, about five people in the world who would be able to coordinate a response to a major spill. But what if more than one occurs at once? I don’t know if we would have been able to handle another spill at the same time as BP, for example.

She also pointed out that the problem has been around for a while, in part because the fall in the oil price at the end of the 90s and beginning of the 2000s left companies less profitable than they might have been and so less able to offer competitive wages. She said that meant there weren’t enough experienced staff available to take over from senior managers now retiring – another worry for safety.

When I met Accenture this morning, they pointed out another element to this dilemma. In the UK, at least, oil rigs are about to be decommissioned. This will take considerable skill and expertise, not least because the rigs were never meant to be decommissioned. But where will that talent come from, if the whole industry is struggling to recruit?

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