Wages are up and confidence in future hiring is surging despite lingering concern for the global economy, an annual survey of employees in the oil and natural gas industry has found.

According to the “Oil & Gas Global Salary Guide 2012,” a 32-page report released Wednesday by the Australian consulting firm Hays plc and Oil and Gas Job Search (OGJS), an industry jobs website, global permanent salaries in the industry averaged $80,458 a year in 2011, a 6.1% increase from 2010’s average of $75,813.

The survey also found that 26.7% of industry employers had “extremely positive” confidence in the current employment market, compared to 9.7% in 2011. Another 46.8% of employers had a “positive” outlook for hiring, meaning that a combined, 73.5% of employers believe they will add jobs in the near future, compared to 54.8% in the previous survey. More than 14,400 people were interviewed for the survey, including 5,400 employers and 1,200 employees from 53 countries and represented 24 energy industry disciplines.

“This level of confidence has far surpassed that which we have seen over the last few years and contrasts significantly with the wider economic outlook,” said Hays spokesman Matt Underhill.

About two-thirds of the survey’s respondents (66.1%) said their salaries increased at least 5% over the last 12 months, compared to just less than half of the respondents (49.8%) last year. Most respondents (83.3%) also said they believe salaries will continue to climb by at least 5% per year.

The local average annual salary at oil and gas companies in the United States totaled $124,000, a nearly 6% increase year/year from an average of $117,000. The United States had the sixth-highest average annual salary, behind Norway ($180,300), Australia ($164,000), Brunei ($140,500), the Netherlands ($138,500) and Canada ($128,700).

“The year saw a flurry of activity from most corners of the globe as countries sought to take advantage of a high oil price and pushed through new developments, and rejuvenated the old,” the report said, adding that “huge projects” in Brazil, Australia, China and Iraq drove “significant” salary increases.

The report also broke down annual salaries by discipline area, with the lowest-paid estimators and cost engineers making on average $28,000 a year and the highest-paid business production managers averaging $260,700. When the salaries were broken down by company type, equipment manufacturers at the graduate level made $28,300 annually on average, compared to $222,800 for executives at global super majors.

“These positive developments are not to say the industry is without its concerns. Skills shortages have become the most significant of these, and economic and political instability also remain prominent,” Underhill said. The report added that “without a European-induced collapse in the global economy, we will inevitably be faced with skill shortages in more than just a few select locations. This will drive salaries up further, and in this scenario we would expect a larger increase than the rise we have seen in 2011. With this said, and when considering the alternative, it would be a ‘nice problem to have.'”

Employers identified skills shortages as the largest concern in the industry going forward, polling 30.6% in the survey. Economic instability was a close second (29%), followed by environmental concerns (13.3%). Skills shortages are “being felt most acutely in Australia and South America, the two hotspots in the world where local resources are most stretched. North America and Europe are following close behind,” the report said. Of environmental concerns, the researchers said they “can only assume, as time passes by so does the memory of the oil spill in the Gulf [of Mexico], and the issues surrounding the cause of that event attract less attention.”

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