How to Become a Toolpusher
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Oil and gas extraction is a subsector of the mining industry that employs 4,470 first-line supervisors called toolpushers. You can become one of them if you are a fast learner with rugged stamina. The path to becoming a toolpusher starts with landing a manual laborer job in the industry and then working your way up through the ranks to a supervisory position. You will also need industry-required certifications as you climb from roustabout, roughbeck, derrick hand, and driller to toolpusher.
Toolpusher Job Description
A day in the life of a toolpusher can vary from ordering equipment and setting weekly schedules while sitting at a comfy desk, to working hands-on outdoors in harsh weather conditions. The toolpusher also acts as a foreman. Much of this individual's time is spent checking on drillers, operators, pumpers, rotary drillers (roughnecks) and general laborers (roustabouts). Toolpushers are problem-solvers who work closely with the company’s on-site representative, known as the company man, to ensure smooth and efficient operations.
Education and Training Requirements
Toolpushers typically start out as entry-level roustabouts. A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement to get your foot in the door as a roustabout, but prior training is advantageous. For example, the Oilfield Training Program in Louisiana provides 150 hours of instruction for those seeking entry-level jobs in the oil and gas industry. Participants work toward certification in areas such as OSHA Basic Safety Training, First Aid and marine water survival.
Training is essential to ensure safe operations of a rig to prevent explosions and fatal accidents. Toolpushers acquire various types of certifications as they rise through the ranks, starting with a Basic Offshore Safety Induction Emergency Training (BOISET) certificate. They must be well-versed in OSHA regulations, firefighting, well control and safe handling of hazardous materials.
Many oil rigs operate around the clock, seven days a week; 12-hour work shifts are common. Offshore workers may live on a massive oil rig with the amenities of a hotel. Workers are separated from their families for weeks at a time. Toolpushers earn their administrative promotion by proving themselves through working hard in physically grueling jobs and acclimating well to life on a rig.
Prior to hiring, oil and gas companies typically require a drug and alcohol test, background check, and a physical. Rules prohibiting smoking and alcohol are common for safety reasons. Applicants must be able to follow strict policies while working on the rig for weeks or months at a time. The tool pusher must be a good role model.
Years of Experience and Salary
Promotion to toolpusher is a hard-earned, well-deserved accomplishment. The toolpusher is paid well to supervise less-experienced workers in a hazardous environment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates first-line supervisors in oil and gas extraction earned an impressive $97,430 per year, or $47.24 an hour, as of May 2018. Salary is commensurate with the high level of responsibility, long hours and dangerous working conditions.
Only a few states are major producers of gas and oil, so temporary relocation may be necessary to find a good-paying job in the gas and oil industry. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. oil reserves are the largest in Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, California and Alaska. Louisiana is also a large producer and employer. Experienced toolpushers who are willing to work offshore in the U.S. or around the world have the highest earning potential.
Job Growth Trend
Employment opportunities for oil rig workers, including toolpushers, are affected by supply and demand for petroleum and gas. According to 2019 International Energy Association forecasts, the U.S. will be a world leader in oil production for the next six years due to the strong shale industry, a producer of shale and sand oil. According to the DataUSA website, demand for first-line supervisors of construction and trade workers, including toolpushers, will increase by 12.6 percent from 2019–2029. DataUSA projects an 11 percent growth of construction and extraction occupations overall for that same time period.
- DataUSA: Firstline Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
- API: Oilfield Training Program
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
- IEA: Oil 2019
- EIA: U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2017
- Oilscms.org: Life on an Oil Rig
Dr. Mary Dowd brings decades of hands-on experience to her writing endeavors. Along with general knowledge of human resources, she has specialized training in affirmative action, investigations and equal opportunity. While working as a dean of students, she advised college students on emerging career trends and job seeking strategies. As director of equal opportunity, she led efforts to diversify the workforce and the student body.