Oil, gas companies prep for ‘Great Crew Change’ | MyWindsorNow.com

Oil, gas companies prep for ‘Great Crew Change’

Nikki Work
For The Tribune

In a cover story called "twentysomething," Time magazine described a generation that is indecisive, lazy and has a nonexistent attention span. The year was 1990. The generation was Gen X.

In 2013, Time printed a cover article about millennials, those born from 1980-2000. The concept was the same. Many of the criticisms were the same. The difference? According to the article, millennials make up the biggest age group in American history at 80 million. That means whether the world is ready for the personality pitfalls associated with them, millennials are about to comprise the majority of the workforce.

In the oil and gas industry, that change is going to happen sooner rather than later, a phenomenon many in the business call "The Great Crew Change."

After the oil bust in the 1980s, millions of jobs were cut from the industry. As oil prices stayed low, few college students were entering energy-related fields and the number of new hires stagnated. Had they been hired, those people would now be in or on the trajectory to leadership positions in the industry. Instead, the age range for oil and gas employees is a U-shaped curve. There are many oil and gas employees near retirement age, and many — you guessed it — millennials.

"It's expected that half of the workforce is going to retire within a decade," said Sarah Sandberg, chief operating officer at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. "So there's a really fast approaching challenge of transferring knowledge to millennials. They're going to be asked to step up sooner rather than later, and that gap between the old and new workers needs to be filled in as quickly and effectively and efficiently as possible."

Swapping perspectives

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Sandberg said to do that requires a proactive approach now, rather than once the retirements begin. The way to do that is to embrace millennials, she said, and to look at the generation's traits as opportunities rather than challenges.

While millennials may be glued to technology, they're also born digital natives, Sandberg said. The potential for technological innovation is huge.

Millennials look for more flexible work environments and better benefits packages. These things, such as extra or flexible paid time off or more work-related recreational opportunities, require companies to make culture shifts and find the funds to do it, but they're things that benefit all employees, she said.

And finally, since millennials are known for a desire for instant gratification, Sandberg said the opportunity to solve problems — and solve them fast — is huge. For example, if the need for a new software, technology or kind of machinery comes up, that gap can be filled faster than ever.

In the Culture Club

At Liberty Oilfield Services, based in Denver, 53 percent of the workforce is already made up of millennials, according to Audrey Carlson, MarCom manager. And the company is thriving.

The company has done a lot of work to create a culture ideal for not only their younger half of the workforce, but also the older. A vibrant work culture is the key to retaining a generation that's notorious for being job-hoppers, Carlson said (though she points out that they've seen such marked loyalty from their millennial employees, she doubts there's much truth to that stereotype at all).

Liberty offers a Culture Club to their employees, which hosts social events, organizes volunteer opportunities and promotes at-work activities, such as yoga, shuffleboard and new-employee lunches. The company has a flexible paid-time-off schedule, beer and wine taps and every other Friday off. These benefits are cross-generational, Carlson said. Though they may have been brought on board to entice millennials, they're big draws for every employee.

"They all love the freedom," Carlson said. "Now baby boomers have grandkids at home, where millennials may be focused on their family life with their newborn kids or young children. They like the flexibility."

The big picture

But changing a workplace culture to fit a changing workforce isn't all beer taps and downward-facing-dog. To recruit and retain the number of millennials necessary to replace retiring baby boomers, the oil and gas industry needs to do an image overhaul, Sandberg said.

"It's the same issue that we face with the general public. The oil and gas industry can do a much better job of telling stories," she said. "This generation is incredibly environmentally focused, and we haven't yet shown (them) what our values are."

Sandberg said there's a lot of environmentally conscious efforts, research-driven development and a culture of innovation in the oil and gas industry now that does align with millennials' desire to do right by the planet, but the industry just hasn't told their story well enough yet. But the industry is working to increase the number of people globally who have no access to energy, while simultaneously decreasing land and water use, she said.

Fostering diversity

Another opportunity for the industry is to increase and foster a culture of diversity. While millennials are the largest generation to date, they're also the most diverse, according to Rebecca Winkel, economic policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute.

Energy information analysis company IHS projects that through 2035, nearly 1.9 million jobs will be available in oil and natural gas, and nearly 1 million of those will be filled by African-American, Hispanic or female employees.

The biggest obstacle to diversity in the oil and gas workforce as it currently stands is the opportunity for STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education for women and minorities. Winkel said the biggest thing the oil and gas industry can do to ensure millennials — all millennials — can help fill the coming seats at the table is to ensure equal opportunities to education.

"We want to attract and retain the best available talent, and that means encouraging more women and more minorities to pursue STEM fields," she said. "It means increasing awareness about the opportunities in the industry and the positive impact we have in people's lives every day. It means building relationships with women and communities of color in order to make sure we have the best generation of workers available to tackle the energy challenges of the future."

One of the biggest things the oil and gas industry can do to recruit millennials — and to help stop any job-hopping before it starts — is to make sure these young workers know what they're a part of is meaningful, Sandberg said. One of the common observations about millennial employees is that they often try to find a sense of purpose in their job. There's plenty of purpose within the industry — it's just a matter of getting that message out en masse, she said.

"Many people don't realize that oil and natural gas matter on almost every aspect of our lives. Everything from your lipstick to your vitamins to the football in your garage to every piece of plastic out there is made from products derived from oil and natural gas. Plus, affordable energy benefits everyone," Winkel said. "This is an industry for the future, and for millennials who want to be a part of changing the world for the better, this is the industry to do it."