Freelance, contracting, gig work, consulting… It gets called different things, but for oil and gas industry professionals the end result is normally the same – you get paid twice as much, but have to give up on holiday pay, job security and health care etc. For some, a risk too far even when times were good, but most talented engineering specialists will spend a large chunk of their career as a freelancer for the financial benefits they gain.
Now the industry downturn is coming to an end, people are once again able to choose a freelance job or staff position. But is now a good time to go freelance? or should we all be trying to secure a permanent oil and gas job. To answer this we need to consider the below:
- RATES – the industry is currently paying the lowest contract rates it has done for years. Recent positions TalEng have filled include a principal process engineer who took a role at £200 a day, and a CAD designer charging $15 an hour. There are still highly lucrative positions out there, but your skillset needs to stand out from the crowd or you will be beaten down to rates that were last seen in 1984. On the other side, an experienced reservoir engineer can still walk into £750 a day roles.
- COMPETITION – the reason for the above is the number of engineering specialists looking for work. If you need a mechanical engineer, just advertise on an oil and gas job recruitment board and a thousand will apply, all with similar skills and all desperate to find work.
- CONTRACT LENGTH – Freelancers have always had a weeks’ notice hanging over their heads, but the reality was often that you would stay on an oil and gas project till completion, meaning years on end if you found a mega project and kept your head down. This is not happening now, with long term projects filled by staff people, and contract lengths creeping down to a few months at a time.
- SECURITY – When work dries up, contractors are sent home first. However staff layoffs were massive over the previous few years, while good contractors who added value to projects generally stayed busy. Companies are currently scared of making future layoffs, so when they win projects positions are filled by freelancers. In some ways, freelancers are in a more secure position than staff people as companies want a flexible workforce and managers are scared of having someone book a single hour to overheads.
In conclusion, in order to maintain a good rate and keep winning work, you now have to stand out from a large crowd of oil and gas job seekers, and should only take contract positions if you have a niche skillset that makes you uniquely able to work on a project. If you have 6 years’ experience filling in datasheets it is unlikely to get you £100,000 a year anymore, and it might never do again.
On the other hand, TalEng is now helping to fill the work gaps for oil and gas consultants, by allowing them to work on worldwide projects one task at a time. We predict that as companies increase their use of talent portals like TalEng, oil and gas freelance jobs will be based on lots of smaller projects instead of single long term roles.
So negotiate hard, get the best rate you can, and as soon as you begin a contract start looking for the next one. Not as easy as before, but if you can stomach the risk there are still opportunities to earn a decent payday in the oil and gas freelance world.