So many conversations around oil and gas talent have been circulating since the onset of the global oil glut that claimed more than 440,000 industry jobs: how to find specialty-skill workers, how automation will change employers’ needs, how to attract millennials …

The reality is that the industry has entered unchartered territory. The most recent downturn is one of the worst – in severity – to date. Many oil and gas workers have left the industry, some indefinitely and some for good. And while deepwater offshore work hasn’t picked up, onshore E&P (exploration and production) activity is on the rise. With a distinct shift toward more digitalization as well as a widening age gap in the workforce, energy companies and HR are having to look at their talent acquisition strategies a bit differently.

Adjusting Talent Acquisition

Tech talent is on the rise and often comes at a premium cost – which includes money and time.

“Frankly, we’re looking for a pool of unicorns that doesn’t exist in a lot of ways and we’re all going after the same pool of unicorns,” Bonnie Houston, National Oilwell Varco’s senior vice president, human resources and administration, said during the WorkforceNEXT Energy Summit March 29 in Houston. “It’s really difficult, so we have to get creative in how we build our teams and how we match skills to ultimately get the workforce we need.”

Traditional employment models are also being challenged. The oil and gas industry is competing for tech talent against other industries (think Google).

“And there are other disruptions, such as the GIG economy, when that hits the oil patch in a bigger way,” said Houston. “Retention will be another challenge and I think this has some strong generational components to it. We need to touch on what career development is … drivers for retention going forward are going to be much more about personal value.”

This will include recruiters being able to communicate to the younger workforce what the “entire story” is, said Gail Combs Oglesby, talent acquisition leader for Jacobs Engineering Group.

For example, what is your company’s social responsibility policy? How are you giving back to the community?

“iGen wants to know what technology you’re using … and be able to tell their families they’re using the coolest, sexiest new tools on the market,” Oglesby said. “Talent acquisition hasn’t been accustomed to having to know the whole story … our job was to hook them, get them in the door and let other departments answer those questions.”

Now, HR and recruiters are expected to answer those questions upfront to candidates, which creates another challenge for talent acquisition.

“It’s time. We’ll need to spend more time on the phone with each candidate in order to tell the full story,” she said. “They are going to use that information when determining what job they take.”

Millennials Uncovered

For many in the industry, millennials are still a wild card when it comes to the workforce. Companies have struggled in trying to find a place for the inquisitive, and at times, unjustly labeled ‘whiny job-hoppers.’ 

Are employers making talent attraction of millennials harder than it has to be?

“One thing [the industry] tends to do is look at the new workforce as a separate type of human with all these needs and wants,” said Madison Gray, a millennial who works as a process/specialty engineer for Fluor Corporation. “But the things we want are very similar [to older workers]. It’s not that millennials have any intrinsic differences. It’s that they manifest themselves differently.”

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Gray also addressed the idea that millennials are job-hoppers.

“I don’t think job-hopping is a product of a millennial generation, what they value or a lack of loyalty to their companies, but more so the internet has given us the ease to network … if you’re dissatisfied, you have the opportunity to look for something else,” she said. “Twenty years ago, you had to know somebody and go through a much harder process to get those doors open for you. So, it’s not necessarily a product of the generation, but more a product of the technology.”

Differences do exist in the work culture of baby boomers and millennials, however. Much of that can be attributed to upbringing, said Gray.

She said whereas baby boomers were raised a bit more militant (do as you’re told), millennials are encouraged to ask questions and why something is being done.

“Boomers’ purpose at age 22 was to get a good job and provide for their family. That was their fulfillment,” she said. “Many millennials are waiting later in life to have kids, so they’re sitting there saying, ‘yeah, keep throwing money at me, but what’s my purpose? I’m not providing for anybody, so I’m looking for something else to give me that sense of purpose.’”

When Merve Gol decided to pursue her master’s degree in global energy management from the University of Houston, she had already been working in the upstream sector for a couple of years. Gol, a millennial and native of Turkey, originally didn’t plan on an energy-focused MBA, but market conditions led her to it.

“I have a solid background in geological engineering and I actually wanted my master’s degree in reservoir engineering or geology,” she said. “Then I started hearing about people being laid off due to the downturn and someone asked me if I considered getting an MBA degree. I had never thought about it.”

What sold Gol on the global energy management degree was the fact that it was a great transition for her – having a solid engineering background and being able to understand the business side of oil and gas easier.

“I never wanted to digress from energy, specifically oil and gas. A regular MBA wouldn’t satisfy me because I’m obsessed with energy.”  

Invest in Your Leaders

During the energy summit, attendees (a majority who work in or closely with HR roles in oil and gas) were able to offer insight in real-time through the use of interactive polls.

The polls revealed a couple of key things: 1) companies plan to make the most strategic investments for their workforce in leadership development and succession planning and 2) the top critical competency necessary for future leaders is people management.

It’s clear that development of leaders is not only important to retention of the workforce, it can help your company either sink or swim.

And this just isn’t CEOs or senior leadership.

“The people interacting with millennials on a daily basis aren’t those people running the company. It’s your middle management,” said Gray. “Even if your company has a great vision and culture, it doesn’t necessarily always trickle to middle managers.”

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Gray said the same thing that will keep her at any job is the same thing that will cause her to leave a job – and that’s her immediate boss.

“Don’t neglect development training and EQ training of middle managers,” she said. “If companies are not investing [in middle management] and doing what it takes to retain the future workforce, it doesn’t matter how many programs we throw at people. If the culture’s not there, you’re not going to retain those employees.”