The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

STEM Study Highlights Opportunity

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 29, 2017

Working toward a more diverse workforce certainly is top-of-mind for the natural gas and oil industry. A new API study helps underscore the importance of training or education in one of the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – as a pathway to industry’s job opportunities and integral to efforts to draw more women and minorities into industry careers. Important takeaways from the study conducted for API by RAND Corporation:

  • Nearly 20 percent of all current U.S. jobs require STEM skills and/or training.
  • STEM jobs are projected to grow about 9 percent out to 2024.
  • A STEM bachelor’s degree nearly doubles the likelihood of working in the natural gas and oil industry.
  • Nearly half of all STEM jobs don't require a four-year degree, and a third of all STEM jobs are in blue-collar occupations. In our industry, more than 1 million blue-collar job opportunities are projected through 2035.
  • Those who work in the natural gas and oil industry earn more than those who don’t – almost without exception, across all education levels, degree majors, gender, race, ethnicity and occupation types.

The context for these findings is our industry’s specific workforce needs: to prepare for the retirement of 40 percent or more of the current worker base by 2035; and to continue adding women, African Americans and Hispanics to help ensure future industry growth and vitality. The first offers a golden opportunity to make significant progress on the second.

An IHS study estimates that the natural gas and oil industry could see 1.9 million new job opportunities through 2035 – because of those expected retirements and growth – and that minorities could account for 707,000 of those opportunities and women more than 290,000. API President and CEO Jack Gerard spoke at an event this week unveiling the new STEM study:

“We began this process by asking ourselves ‘Where are we when it comes to diversity?’ To help us find out API partnered with IHS to produce the ‘Minority and Female Employment in the Oil & Gas and Petrochemical Industries, 2015-2035 report,’ which projected what the workforce of the future could look like if we did nothing. … Our next question we wanted answered is, ‘What are the factors responsible for women and minorities’ underrepresentation in our industry? And how do we positively bend the curve?’ While the answers to those questions have many layers, the RAND study made clear that women and minorities, at all levels of educational achievement and skill level attainment, remain underrepresented in STEM subjects.”

Some of those details help illustrate the challenges:

  • Women are less likely to work in STEM occupations than men, with or without a STEM bachelor’s degree. Only 30 percent or so of women with a STEM bachelor’s degree work in a STEM occupation, compared to about 50 percent of men with a STEM bachelor’s degree. Men with a non-STEM bachelor’s degree are about as likely to work in a STEM occupation as women with a STEM bachelor’s degree.
  • Women and men actually earn about the same number of STEM degrees, but because women earn more degrees overall, their share of STEM degrees is smaller. As Gerard noted, less than one-third of the bachelor's degrees awarded to women were in STEM fields versus more than 42 percent for men.
  • The share of STEM bachelor’s degrees varies considerably by race/ethnicity. In 2015 Asians had the highest rate – 50 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to Asians were in STEM – while African Americans had the lowest rate, 30 percent.
  • African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to work in STEM jobs compared to whites.

Gerard said industry is focused on initiatives – including strategic partnerships, recruitment and support for education and training in STEM areas, where the U.S. trails many of the world’s developed nations:

“[T]hese trends, the positive growth in STEM occupations and the United States’ lagging performance in STEM degree attainment highlight the fact that this issue is bigger than any one industry. And that something must be done. For its part, the natural gas, oil and refined products industry will remain focused on finding the answers, some of which the RAND study highlights, with the goal of increasing the number of women and minorities who pursue STEM education and training and eventually join our industry. … We have a higher stake than most other industries in helping to prepare the next generation with the skills they’ll need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy, which increasingly will require strong skills in STEM areas.”

Other speakers at the study’s rollout said there’s great opportunity for progress, and that the relevance and advantages of STEM education and training must reach specific communities. Dr. Calvin Mackie, managing partner of the Channel ZerO Group in New Orleans, said millions of African Americans aspire to be one of 250 who are drafted each year to play in the NFL, or one of 60 who are drafted to play in the NBA. STEM education and training offers better opportunity, he said:

“If we’re going to solve this problem we’ve got to go into the communities and make sure that on every Saturday there are a million black and brown kids doing STEM, hoping and believing that 15 years later they’ll be one of 14 million millionaires in our world or one of 1,865 billionaires in the world. I have two sons. Why should I have them spending three hours a night playing football when I can give them the skills otherwise to change the world?”


Left to right: Dr. Calvin Mackie, Spencer Overton and Jack Gerard

Spencer Overton from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which co-hosted the study event, said elected officials have a “convening power” that can galvanize broad community support for STEM education and training, leading to opportunity in many fields, including natural gas and oil:

“This is a moment. There are these historic issues that we have had … and these issues have lingered with us for a long time in terms of disparities. And we have this moment where there is a time of great transformation where we can eliminate some of those disparities, maybe all those disparities based on what we do now.”


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.