Oil and Gas Industry Workforce Challenges: Can We Successfully Integrate the Millennials?

Today, the Oil and Gas industry faces major workforce challenges:

  • The immense wave of skilled personnel who will be retiring during the next few years, the so-called “Big Crew Change” or “Silver Tsunami,” will cause major challenges to corporate capabilities. The incoming young recruits are more diverse in gender, nationality and race, and their development and management require different skills than those needed when the current retirees were hired 25-30 years ago.
  • These new entrants to the workforce grew up with computers in their hands and access to nearly instant results and gratification; they are much more mobile than the previous generation, desire immediate answers to their questions, and do not want to wait to take on challenges. To appropriately address this behavioral gap, new methods of training, sharing, mentoring, motivating and communicating with their older peers and supervisors are required.


Are we doing enough to meet and overcome these challenges? Are our companies, organizations, and teams focusing on identifying, capturing, retaining and disseminating the know-how of the retiring generation and sharing it with the new entrants effectively? Are we using our most experienced personnel as mentors to the new arrivals?

There are several ways that we can manage these challenges:

The challenge related to workforce diversity is a huge one, given the growth of an ever more global, mobile, and diverse workforce. Today’s senior management comes from an earlier culture when the oil and gas workforce was not as diverse, and where the guidelines to acquire, retain, promote, and engage workers were simpler. Being an “organization man” was the receipt for success and long-term tenure was the norm. Aiming for inclusion is not only for “diversity monitoring,” but also requires new managerial and leadership skills that don’t necessarily fit the “cookie cutter” methods of the past.

oil and gas workforce, women, oil and gas
A student drives a seismic vibrator truck at the 2013 Summer Field Camp of the Geophysics Undergraduate Program of the Colorado School of Mines. Women comprise 40% of the current younger oil industry workforce. In the future, the trend of more women in the workforce will continue, as efforts to attract young girls into STEM careers progress and flourish.

Our current managers and leaders must become knowledgeable about what drives new recruits. They must have the flexibility to handle issues related to women and dual-career couples in this more diverse workforce. These leadership qualities are now a must. In less than 10 years, 40% of the geoscientists in the industry will be women and couples who take a parity approach to their careers (Sprunt et al., 2014). This was not the reality of the 70s, 80s or even the 90s, when current managers started their careers.  It is not enough to highlight female workers on company websites, or to make sure the recruitment teams are hiring women. It is fundamentally important that corporate policies effectively encourage the retention of women, allow them to manage the needs of their children while working full time, and enable them to be equal candidates for promotion to the highest ranks of technical and managerial positions.

The new incoming young workforce is also highly mobile; they move wherever they consider the best country option exists and are attracted not only by the national or expat-related benefits, but also by the technical challenges and development opportunities they will find in their assignments. Companies must recognize that transferring an individual implies much more for him or her than what was considered in earlier days of the industry. These individuals care about many factors regarding a change in work location, and making this information readily available prevents false promises or inflated expectations.

oil and gas workforce, women, oil and gas
Two young engineers of Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), at a rig in Burgan Field, the third largest oil field in the world, currently producing 1.7 Million Barrels of oil per day. KOC shares with all other NOCs in the Middle East the challenge of integrating an ever growing influx of female professionals into the workforce, in a setting where cultural values further challenge the promotion of women to the highest technical and managerial posts.

IOCs and NOCs face unique challenges related to nationality and diversity; the former try to be fair, implementing strict regulations in their promotion workflows, but generally only monitor statistics rather than true integration. The NOCs, however, have to establish their own nationals as the technical and managerial leaders by law or corporate policies. Both strategies, aimed to benefit the stakeholders or country interests, may prevent valued and skilled people from assuming leading roles, likely precluding optimal performance. Managers need to inspire and empower employees from every nationality to work together and form cohesive teams, not just incoherent jigsaw puzzles with pieces from different sets in accordance with regulations.

Finally, I want to discuss the evolution of the oil and gas industry towards integrating the young generation, the millennials, into their teams with more customized training programs. However, the profile of this new professional generation is so different than the prior ones that we need to ask ourselves if we, the oil industry, are truly ready for the challenges they bring:

  • What training programs are most effective for these fresh graduates?
  • Is the usual 5-day or longer course, which has worked so well since the 1950’s, still a valid format?
  • Or should the training rely more on engaging e-Learning and on-the-job assignments?
  • Will each new employee have his/her own competency model which, after self-assessment, will lead to Individual Learning Plans and identified learning solutions?
  • Is the same training required for youngsters, no matter their country of origin? What are the differences to be considered?
  • Do the communications strategies of the companies consider the cultural styles of the newcomers?
  • Do we allow the young generations to address their leaders with their informal and direct style?
  • Does the corporate environment facilitate fast-track careers that are as fast as expected by a millennial?
  • How and when shall we include the young perspectives in the decision-making processes?

I am convinced that the enhancement and optimization of the oil and gas sector starts with the enhancement and optimization of its workforce. New formats of hiring and contracting the workforce, more inclusion, and new training and communication formats should not be something we do in the future. They should be introduced now – there should be no delay! The complexity ahead in our industry demands it!

2 Replies to “Oil and Gas Industry Workforce Challenges: Can We Successfully Integrate the Millennials?

  1. This issue is also common to the developing country. We have been facing the same problem raised by Maria Angela Capello.

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