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Oil & Gas careers: solving the looming skills gap

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Although talk amongst hiring managers in the Oil & Gas industry is focused on the coming recovery as oil prices rise and drillers stand-up rigs, there is a subject that looms persistently in the background of these conversations; the Great Crew Change.
The forthcoming Great Crew Change could lead to a major skills gap in the Oil & Gas industry
The Great Crew Change refers to the imminent retirement of thousands of older workers (predominantly baby boomers who made a huge contribution to the industry over the last few decades) and a lack of younger workers to take their place.

The roots of this skills gap lie in the great industry downturn of the 1980s, which meant that many young engineers and graduates opted for careers in the aerospace and automotive industries (amongst others), perceiving them to offer more stable career paths.

As a senior executive at Apache Corp (a Houston headquartered petroleum and natural gas exploration company) has stated, “There’s a big gap from 1985 to 2000 when not very many people entered the industry.”

Although this dearth of hiring activity may have been expedient at the time, it puts operators in a difficult situation today. Indeed, many operators are now rapidly having to adopt one or all of the following strategies to rectify the looming skills gap:
  • Training and upskilling young employees.
  • Training and upskilling mid-level workers to fill the gaps left by retiring high-level workers and executives.
  • Recruiting from outside of the industry.
  • Enticing industry veterans to stay in their jobs past retirement age.

It’s a delicate situation. Operators have simultaneously had to shed thousands of jobs in recent years as oil prices collapsed, whilst also trying to hold on to hard-to-replace scientists and engineers, and keep an eye on future workforce requirements in the event of an upturn.

The changing global order of Oil & Gas talent

To add to the issue, we are also observing a global shift in the geographic sources of talent. Andrew Gould, former Chairman of BG Group summarises this new shift succinctly, stating that the skills gap is at its worst in the US and Europe, “If the West loses the ability to attract the brightest minds into the oil industry it is going to gradually skew control towards Asia and the Middle East, where there is no problem attracting talent.”

For Hiring Managers and Recruitment Companies alike we can expect to see talent pipelines and candidate sources changing radically in the coming decades should Gould’s analysis come to fruition.
If the skills gap is not closed operators will see a significant increase in the cost of hiring
Can the skills gap be closed?

If the situation persists, operators should expect a significant increase in the cost of securing and retaining talent when the upturn comes. As costs increase, the incentives to solve the problem become greater.

What is to be done?

Progressively minded operators are looking beyond the purely cyclical hiring patterns of the past and making long-term commitments to consistently hire and nature young engineering talent despite any market downturns that may occur.

ExxonMobil offers just such an example. They have made a deliberate decision to keep hiring young people throughout the current downturn to avoid a repeat of the 1980s “lost generation”. As Exxon’s former CEO Rex Tillerson said last year, “We’ve stayed on university campuses and continued to bring in new talent because we’re going to need them.” 

Clearly, taking such a long-term view to talent attraction and hiring will play an integral part in solving the current skills gap.

Repairing perceptions

In addition to long-term talent attraction and hiring strategies, it will be vital for operators and recruitment companies alike to take measures to repair the poor image that the Oil & Gas industry has in the eyes of many graduates and young people.

A 2016 report by PWC that surveyed the views of ‘millennials’ (the age cohort now entering the job market) found that the Oil & Gas industry was the top sector in which people would not want to work solely because of its image. That the Oil & Gas industry earned this dubious distinction ahead of commonly maligned industries such as defence and finance, should be concerning.
The Oil & Gas industry needs to repair perceptions to attract future talent
The solution? Positive advocacy.

Together, we need to extol the virtues of the Oil & Gas industry. We must highlight the vital part it plays in powering the modern world; the comprehensive efforts the industry takes to be a good environmental custodian; the employment it provides both directly and through its supply chain across the world; and of course, the exciting global career opportunities on offer to ambitious, intelligent graduates.

Above all we need to convince young people and new graduates that this is an industry with a future. An industry worth joining.

By embracing these strategies, we can close the looming skills gap and ensure that the Oil & Gas industry has a quality, talented and passionate workforce to meet the global energy challenges ahead.
Recent Comments
There is big gap in the skill. As the oil field workers are ageing, the new generation needs to be trained to take the operation forward. The oil companies should utilise the expertise of the retired employee to train the new generation.
Dr.Shrikant Kumar Mahapatra, 27 April 2017
we should be more careful with the oil we use
mikayla , 12 December 2018
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Oil & Gas careers: solving the looming skills gap - Time to read 4 min
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