Hydrocarbon Processing Copying and distributing are prohibited without permission of the publisher
Email a friend
  • Please enter a maximum of 5 recipients. Use ; to separate more than one email address.

WPC ’14: ExxonMobil leader sees growing shortage of skilled workers

03.26.2014  |  Stephany Romanow,  Hydrocarbon Processing, 

A growing US shortage of skilled labor will only get worse when new shale-enabled projects try to move forward, according to the president of ExxonMobil Chemical.



HOUSTON -- A growing US shortage of skilled labor will only get worse when new shale-enabled projects try to move forward.

That is the view of Stephen D. Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical. Pryor offered his longer-term views on the global petrochemical industry in a keynote address at IHS Chemical’s 29th World Petrochemical Conference.

This shortage of skilled labor is not limited to energy and chemicals. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that two-thirds of all US manufacturers are experiencing moderate to severe worker shortages, with up to 600,000 jobs going unfilled.

How is this possible? US students continue to show declining interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In 2008, only 4% of US bachelor's degrees were in engineering; in China, it was 31%.

The STEM disciplines are the foundation for innovation and economic competitiveness. And increasingly, good manufacturing jobs require proficiency in one or more of the STEM fields, especially in high-value-added industries like energy and chemicals.

Building a workforce

The energy and chemical industries are built on math and science. Strengthening STEM education and expanding the pool of skilled labor is needed. Pryor affirmed that the energy industry must take steps to partner with educators and focusing on quantifiable results.

ExxonMobil helped launch the National Math and Science Initiative back in 2007. This initiative takes innovative, proven programs and scales them up to a national level.

One of the key goals is to increase the number of highly qualified US math and science teachers at the high school level. So far, more than 60,000 existing teachers have completed training, and by 2020, nearly 10,000 new math and science teachers will be certified.

The other skilled labor group

Skilled jobs like instrument technicians and machinists do not require a four-year degree in most cases, but they do require math and science skills. ExxonMobil recently partnered with nine Houston-area community colleges in a new program to expand vocational training in a program is labeled, "Houston + Natural Gas = Jobs."

The goal is to prepare thousands of high school graduates and returning military veterans for skilled jobs in the Texas chemical industry. This Houston training initiative has received both state and national recognition.

ExxonMobil was named Employer of the Year by the Texas Workforce Commission and will receive a leadership award from the National Association of Workforce Boards.

In closing, Pryor affirmed that  the petrochemical industry has tremendous opportunities. With shale oil and gas developments, the US can take a leading role and support the growth of a new generation of high-paying, middle-class jobs.

But strengthening the US math and science education and expanding the skilled workforce is the longer-term challenge. By embracing shale energy, the US can meet the needs of a growing middle class overseas and revitalize the domestic economy.

Cover photo by F. Carter Smith, Bloomberg

Have your say
  • All comments are subject to editorial review.
    All fields are compulsory.

Frank Parth

As Ed Merrow points out in his book "Industrial Megaprojects" these same students saw ExxonMobile, Shell, Chevron, and the other majors hire their parents for a specific job, and then lay them off when the job was done. The industry has created its own long-term problems with short-term cost cutting decisions.


Study the situation and the way you court a good evaluation includes them in the formation of the technological machine operating station and means of prevention and nappy on the quality of production and profitable thanks

Paul Hodder

I totally agree with the Exxon view. I train personnel to become Analyzer Technicians. My clients (Mostly Oil Refiners) tell me as the use of Process Analyzers grow, suitable applicants are increasingly difficult to find. Many resort to training their existing Instrument Technicians as these craftsmen are easier to replace. I also see trainees that cannot solve relatively simple math problems and their problem solving is not up to current requirements. I personally do not yet see an end to this. Secondly, most refineries had their own in-house training centers, however these have mostly disappeared due to cut backs in the past. If this system could re-constituted it could solve many of the supply of skilled personnel problems.

Bob D

We've been hearing this Kennard in cycles for at least the last 40 years during the booms. Of course this is not a problem Exxon faces as an engineering student must be super-dean's list just to get an interview. For the design company job-shop type of jobs, they will just have to compete with each other by raising salaries and lowering their standards, giving tasks that don't really need a degree to applicants that don't have a degree as Mr. Pryor claims to be doing at least in some isolated instance. It is more their practice to seek getting engineers who are overqualified.

Does Stephen Pryor not live in the real world? If not, I can show him many qualified engineers graduating colleges other than MIT or Duke who have a GPA a little under a B average who cannot get an interview with EXXON.

Giridhar Natarajan

Unless the pay scales and perks are increased for STEM based jobs, we cannot attract the talent. why would somebody break their head and get less paid, that's the logic.

KMA Consultants, Inc.

The reason we are where we are is because of actions that have taken place over the years. Coporations say they value employees with technical skills and pay them well, but because they do so, there is an environment created that does not provide the respct and status that the engineering profession once had. Upcomming engineers and students see this and are tuned way form entering the profession especially since it does take a lot of hard work.

Brian Davis

I'll second Bill's comment. Also, have your HR department stop using computers to filter out resumes from otherwise qualified applicants becuase they didn't use the correct buzz words and writing position descriptions for "purple squirrles" (like asking for 5-10 years experience with technology that has only been around for 2-3 years)!

Bill Jenko

Mr. Pryor -
Need more graduates with strong STEM training? Show them the money!

Related articles


Sign-up for the Free Daily HP Enewsletter!

Boxscore Database

A searchable database of project activity in the global hydrocarbon processing industry


Is 2016 the peak for US gasoline demand?




View previous results

Popular Searches

Please read our Term and Conditions and Privacy Policy before using the site. All material subject to strictly enforced copyright laws.
© 2016 Hydrocarbon Processing. © 2016 Gulf Publishing Company.