The petrochemicals employment trends to look out for in 2021

February 8, 2021

Over the past year, the petrochemicals sector has experienced mixed fortunes. The industry’s response to the pandemic has led to a number of diverging views on future prospects, pay and even the notion of a ‘new normal’ for petrochemicals. 

Every year, we work with Energy Jobline to produce the Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) report, which is based on survey responses from professionals within the energy sector. This year we have collected data from 16,000 industry employees, providing substantial insights into the biggest trends in energy recruitment. 

Read on to find out what the report’s data means in terms of the petrochemicals sector’s salaries, global mobility, challenges and more. 

Salaries are expected to increase over the next year


The petrochemicals sector normally performs very well in terms of salary. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, salary increases weren’t as common for the sector in 2020 as in previous years. 39% of GETI respondents said that their salaries remained the same, with 20% saying their salary decreased by more than 5%. 

However, employees in the petrochemicals sector are optimistic that pay rises will occur this year, with 40% expecting a salary increase of more than 5%. 

While these expectations are positive, organisations within the sector will need to make sure they’re meeting them for both current and prospective employees. This will not only help to retain staff, but also close the energy skills gap by attracting new talent. 

Sector mobility is likely


Despite previous high levels of engagement and a workplace loyalty, the events of 2020 have left petrochemicals feeling uncertain. 

51% said that they felt less secure in their jobs than they did a year ago, primarily due to COVID-19. Only 9% said they feel more secure, and 23% said they felt less secure, for reasons other than the pandemic. 17% felt the same as they did a year ago. 

With this in mind, 82% of petrochemicals professionals said they would change careers to work in another energy sector within the next three years. The most popular sector to switch to was oil and gas, which has a significant amount of transferable skills from the petrochemicals sector. 

The biggest motivator for moving sectors was opportunities for career progression, followed by interest in the wider industry. 

These statistics suggest that the availability of career progression opportunities needs to be taken into consideration if employers want to retain their talent. 

Petrochemicals professionals are willing to relocate for work


In addition to sector mobility, the survey also highlighted a willingness to relocate to other locations among petrochemicals staff. 87% said that they would consider relocation, with Europe topping the list of desired areas to move to. This was followed by the Middle East and Australasia. 

The main reason for being attracted to a particular location was opportunities for career progression, suggesting that organisations should be placing more importance on career development to avoid the risk of losing employees to competitors in other regions. 

A ‘new normal’ for the petrochemicals sector


The global pandemic has caused organisations across the world to adapt to new ways of working in order to stay active and COVID-compliant. 

48% of workers in the petrochemicals industry feel the global pandemic has led to a ‘new normal’ for the sector, while 38% feel it is still in a transition period. 14% said they expect the sector to return to the way it was before the pandemic. 

In terms of what a new normal might look like for petrochemicals businesses, the biggest changes cited by respondents were:

  • Social distancing
  • Workspace flexibility 
  • Reduced headcount 
  • Reduced international travel 

The events of 2020 have also left petrochemicals workers feeling anxious about an impending talent crisis for their sector. 32% reported feeling quite worried about this becoming a possibility, and 25% were very worried. 

That said, employees are still optimistic about the sector’s growth, with more than half of respondents saying that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of energy transition. 68% said they expected to see growth over the next three years.

Employers in the petrochemicals industry need to do what they can to contribute to the sector’s growth and alleviate concerns over a potential talent shortage. 

Challenges and opportunities for the petrochemicals sector in 2021


During the 2021 GETI survey, petrochemicals professionals told us the most important opportunities and biggest challenges they feel the industry faces over the next three years. 

The top three opportunities identified were:

  • Advances in engineering techniques and technologies 
  • Economic outlook 
  • Transition to cleaner energy 

The top three challenges identified were:

  • COVID-19 or similar public health factors
  • Economic outlook 
  • Availability of capital 

It is interesting that economic outlook was highlighted as both an opportunity and a challenge. Petrochemicals was the only sector to experience positive oil demand growth in 2020, and that growth is predicted to accelerate by 4% in 2021. This will be driven by a recovery in durable products and demand for packaging. However, the growth in demand for packaging compared to the reduction in gasolene demand could cause regional competition in feedstocks. 

Energy transition strategies in the upcoming years will rely on digitalisation. Advances in engineering technology and techniques offer more scope for remote operations and human-machine collaboration, as well as playing an important role in setting near-term emissions targets, tracking accountability across companies and more.

Get the full report

To get all the latest insights into employment trends in the petrochemicals sector and the energy industry as a whole, download the 2021 GETI report now.

Download the 2021 GETI report

This post was written by: Toby Brown, Contract Recruitment Director