By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

When it comes to jobs, news out of the oil and gas sector has been bleak lately.

As oil prices have fallen, companies have been laying off workers in droves. The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. reported recently that 40% of the 53,041 job cuts in January 2015 were due to tumbling oil prices, the highest in nearly two years. The January total was more than 60% higher than the 32,640 planned layoffs announced in December 2014. Among those eliminating thousands of jobs are oilfield service companies Schlumberger and Baker Hughes. Halliburton also has announced layoffs, as have others in the sector.

However, this cycle won’t last forever.

Realizing this, some companies are still pushing forward with programs to grow future talent—and they are having success. Paris-based Total brought a bit of good news this month with an update on its Young Graduates Program, an 18-month program that hires recent graduates on short-term contracts and provides them with six months of training in finance, business or operations at a Total subsidiary in Africa or the Middle East. After this, qualifying program participants are sent to another Total subsidiary in the same region to work for 12 months, the company said in a news release.

The program, formed about a year ago, aims to give young graduates in more than 40 countries in Africa and the Middle East a chance to gain hands-on professional experience, the company said. So far, 100 people have been recruited into the program, and more than half of them are women.

By 2017, the company estimates that about 500 will have benefited from the program.

“This program is visible and powerful evidence of our commitment in Africa and the Middle East, and of our willingness to tackle the concerns of these countries, as well as meet the expectations of young people living in them,” Momar Nguer, senior vice president Africa/Middle East for Total Marketing & Services, said in a prepared statement about the program. “For them, unlike young people living in Europe, finding an internship can be extremely complex—even if they have excellent university degrees.

“By giving them their first professional experience and their first taste of life in an international company, we are giving them a leg up the ladder and providing them with valuable support in establishing themselves on the marketplace,” Nguer added.

Christophe Mouret, vice president of human resources for Total M&S’s Africa and Middle East regions, said the company has received nearly 10,000 applications for the program.

"So far, more than 100 talented young people have joined the program, and around 20 of them are already in their second post in a different country,” Mouret said. “The first months have been very positive and the program is proving tremendously successful. … The program is set to be a long-term initiative.”

The program seems to be a sound way to introduce newcomers to the industry to gain some valuable first-hand experience during these tough times. Hopefully, these short-term contracts will lead to full-time jobs when market conditions improve. For the sake of all in the sector, let’s hope that comes sooner rather than later.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at