Massive Downsizing In Oil Sector Brings Acute Pain For The Holidays The holiday season can be stressful, but for energy workers, December is turning out to be especially tough. Oil and gas firms have laid off close to 56,000 Texans in the past year.
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Massive Downsizing In Oil Sector Brings Acute Pain For The Holidays

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Massive Downsizing In Oil Sector Brings Acute Pain For The Holidays

Massive Downsizing In Oil Sector Brings Acute Pain For The Holidays

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The holiday season generates a lot of pressure, what with all the shopping and shipping and baking and bills. For workers in the energy sector, this December is turning out to be especially stressful due to industry layoffs. From Houston Public Media, Andrew Schneider reports.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: It's a weekday afternoon at the Fry's Electronics store in Stafford, Texas, just south of Houston. To judge from the light floor traffic, you'd never guess Christmas was just around the corner. Robin Ewan is a good indicator why. For more than 30 years, he worked as a test engineer for a global oilfield service company. Not anymore.

ROBIN EWAN: This the first time around Christmas that I've been laid off, and it has a bit of an effect because now, you know, you're wondering about who to buy presents for and what presents. You're going to make it more meaningful ones than expensive ones.

SCHNEIDER: Ewan started working for Schlumberger in Aberdeen, Scotland. He spent the last 20 years based in Texas. In February, he had to rush home to the U.K. to say goodbye to his dying mother. The day after he returned, he was told he no longer had a job.

EWAN: Basically, I've been doing odd jobs for people here and there. Electronic-related stuff, fixing computers, fixing cars, whatever. But as for looking for a real job, I basically haven't tried because I know there's so many people my situation in this town that are in the same boat.

SCHNEIDER: Crude oil prices have dropped to their lowest level in nearly seven years. Oil and gas companies have laid off close to 56,000 Texans since December of last year, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. That doesn't include cuts in industries dependent on the oil sector, like trade and professional services. Debbie Milks is chief operating officer for Brookwoods Group. The staffing firm specializes in finding jobs for marketing and communications workers.

DEBBIE MILKS: Some of them, this is their second or third time that they've been let go from different oil and gas firms service companies, and what we're seeing now is some are actually saying oh my gosh. You know, maybe it is just time to let it go and get out of here.

SCHNEIDER: Milks says her clients are now begging to be placed somewhere more stable than the energy sector, even if it means taking a pay cut of tens of thousands of dollars.

MILKS: They know the pink slips are coming and they hear the talk. There's a lot of stress associated with that, and then the holidays, it doesn't make it any better.

SCHNEIDER: Companies can take steps to manage that stress. If they make sure employees feel they're being treated fairly during layoffs, those who remain are more likely to concentrate on doing their jobs. But Brent Smith, who teaches industrial psychology at Rice University, says that's not happening.

BRENT SMITH: The magnitude of the downsizing is quite large. So it's very difficult to accomplish that in a manner that probably is going to be perceived as fair and equitable by the surviving employees.

SCHNEIDER: The Greater Houston Partnership is predicting Metro Houston will lose another 9,000 energy jobs in 2016. That will include more cuts at Schlumberger, which is finalizing its multibillion-dollar merger with Cameron International. Robin Ewan still gets together with his old workplace friends for meals regularly.

EWAN: They are very stressed. You can tell that they're just waiting to get chopped anytime.

SCHNEIDER: As for Ewan himself, he's still getting by with odd jobs. But he says he'll be looking for a more permanent position sometime in the new year, probably outside the oil business. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in Houston.

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