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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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Energy students anxious for future amid historically low oil prices


The collapse in oil prices serves as a threat for Houston and Texas economies, according to the Houston Chronicle. Economists originally predicted that Houston’s unemployment rate would hit 10 percent by the end of the month. | Katrina Martinez/The Cougar

The collapse in oil prices is a threat for Houston and Texas economies, according to the Houston Chronicle, and will increase an already dreary prediction for the area. Economists had predicted that Houston’s unemployment rate would hit 10 percent by the end of the month. | Katrina Martinez/The Cougar

The price of U.S. oil for the first time dropped below zero on Monday as demands for crude fall due to the coronavirus pandemic and storage tanks are nearing capacity.

As many companies in the energy sector have been forced to freeze hiring and lay off workers, UH seniors hoping to enter the industry have been left with a tough start to their career. 

“The energy sector is a place that I did want to stay in and I enjoyed,” supply chain management senior Robert Gonzales said. “However, I’m starting to think about other options just because I’m starting to see the dynamic aspect of the industry — going really high to really low in just a short period of time.” 

In a UH-led survey of energy workers from March 25 to April 1, 53 percent said they were worried about job security due to the pandemic, and almost four out of 10 are worried about paying their mortgages and other bills. 

Gonzales currently works at Oasis Petroleum. His contract will end at the end of April, but due to the slowdown in the energy sector, the company won’t be able to extend him a full-time offer. 

“(The crisis) has definitely made it a lot tougher to find a job, especially for graduating seniors,” Gonzales said. “I’ve actually talked to some friends of mine and they said their internships have been pulled or they were unable to be hired at the time.” 

To ensure he still has a job upon graduation, Gonzales is exploring other supply chain opportunities. He’s been in touch with his former boss at H-E-B who reached out for his help because of the grocery store’s surging demand.

Gonzales hopes to eventually join the supply chain department in their corporate office. 

“It’s good to have a backup plan just in case because this could be something that affects us for the foreseeable future,” Gonzales said. 

Despite the decline in oil prices, Jamie Belinne, assistant dean for career services at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, believes the energy sector will be able to bounce back from its current crisis.

“We’ve had a downturn in the energy industry before,” Belinne said. “Energy is actually better prepared than most industries to handle it. In the 1980s the sector had a downturn that caused a gap of energy leaders, so they learned they need to keep their pipeline full.” 

Energy companies, who have been forced to freeze hiring or rescind offers, tend to keep the door open and encourage relationships with their prospective hires to bring them on when times get better, Belinne said.

As a mechanical engineering senior, Karim Fakhoury is thankful to have a post-graduation job offer that still stands. Fakhoury will start a three-year rotational program with an energy company later this year, despite hiring freezes.  

“This is an opportunity to asses what you want to do and why,” Fakhoury said. “I’ve just been staying positive although they did delay my start date. I still have the job, so I am happy.” 

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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