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Most Canadian oil and gas workers fear for their job: poll

·3-min read

Ed Brost's three decade-long career with Shell (RDS-A)(RDS-B) spanned major energy projects from Houston, Texas to Canada's oil patch. But the now-retired engineer says he wouldn't pick the oil and gas industry if he were starting out today.

"I'd skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been," the 70-year-old told Yahoo Finance Canada in a phone interview, borrowing a well-worn quote from NHL great Wayne Gretzky. "I think oil and gas is a declining career opportunity for people at a time when the world is changing."

His remarks come as a new poll from Iron & Earth, an Edmonton-based worker-led industry group, shows climate-related fear is the norm among those employed in the sector.

Iron & Earth conducted an online survey of 300 Canadian residents working in oil, gas or coal between May 24 and June 11. According to the results, 60 per cent fear being left behind amid a transition to greener sources of energy without further training and career support. Virtually the same portion (61 per cent) say they believe Canada should pivot towards a net-zero economy by 2050, and 67 per cent say they recognize the threat of climate change.

"The world is not going back to the energy systems that we had in the 20th century," Brost said from his boat in Sarnia, Ont. on Tuesday. "Energy workers have an opportunity today. We need the skills that they have to help Canada meet its [climate] commitments."

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the number of jobs in the upstream oil and gas sector has fallen nearly 30 per cent since 2014. Ottawa and the Alberta government are exploring ways to retrain or upgrade the skills of oil and gas workers interested in other sectors such as tech.

Some 58 per cent of workers responding to the poll believe that they will thrive in a net-zero economy. However, most worried about needing to invest money (61 per cent) and time (64 per cent) in retraining. With a full scholarship, 75 per cent say they are open to retraining for up to 12 months, up from 56 per cent if no support is provided.

"Workers shouldn't be out of pocket for training that will enable Canada to cut its emissions and remain competitive globally," Bruce Wilson, board chair of Iron & Earth, said in a statement. "The federal government must not only actively invest in worker training but also include workers at the table."

Justin Carter, a construction electrician and former oil and gas worker from Newfoundland and Labrador, says retraining will be challenging for many in the industry without meaningful financial support.

"People are trying to save money, to put away what they can. A lot of people are out of work here, so the cost of retraining is a worry," he told Iron & Earth in a statement accompanying the survey. 

"People need to be retrained to transition, but they may not be able to afford to on their own."

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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