Human resources

Innovative Cultures Drive the Future Energy Workforce

With oil and gas facing a talent gap in the wake of the Great Crew Change, the industry finds itself competing for young talent looking for innovative, purpose-driven work. How can energy foster the culture of innovation needed to attract the new workforce, and how does it sell that culture?


The Great Crew Change has been a hot topic of conversation in oil and gas for years. As the oncoming waves of older workers reach retirement age, the challenge of convincing young talent of the value of a career in the industry is ever more difficult. According to a 2019 Global Energy Talent Index report, 42% of European and 39% of North American energy companies say they believe the change is already happening, and nearly 60% of these companies say the biggest hit to their business from failing to address the talent gap will be seen in decreased efficiency.

To combat this shift, companies emphasize the career progression the industry can offer, but the climate is still difficult. Ernst & Young’s 2017 report on youth in the workplace showed that 62% of Generation Z respondents said they consider a career in oil and gas unappealing, and more than two out of every three teens said they believe the industry causes problems rather than solves them.

That report also examined the then-growing trend among larger oil and gas companies to recruit only at highly selective, top-tier universities, where graduates have a wealth of job opportunities in industries that are more attractive to younger generations. Two years later, this is still an issue. In a panel discussion at the SPE EnergyDot leadership summit, industry executives and consultants examined the issues in attracting young people to the oil and gas workforce.

“Everyone that’s looking for a new job has infinite options now in whatever city they want, whatever industry they want,” Sameera Moinpour, director of client services at the strategy management company Workboard, said at the panel session. “If they join a company they think doesn’t align with what they want, they’ll leave and go to the next place that offers them that. I think it’s important to keep that in mind. There’s an enormous amount of capital out there, and all of that capital is going into hiring and getting the right people in place. If your organization can’t immediately provide that satisfaction of impact and purpose, then they’re going to go to another company.” 

Deanna Jones, senior vice president of human resources, communications, and administration at Marathon, said the flow of young talent is not necessarily a negative thing for the industry, as long as it can tap into that flow. She used a sports analogy in discussing the topic; just as players who get traded from one team to another are still seen as adding value to a given league, young talent still adds value to the larger industrial ecosystem even if they don’t stay with a company.

“We’re competitive with each other,” she said. “I played sports. I wanted to be the best player of whatever team I was on, but I was also part of this team, and that’s how I think about it. I’m part of Marathon Oil and that company, but, on a broader scale, I’m part of the energy industry, and I want to do what I can to add value on that entire chain. If we thought about the talent flow more that way—that we can add value in a lot of different ways—it would feel less intense.”

The industry has often pointed to its work in leveraging innovative technologies as a selling point to younger workers. However, the panelists said the potentially high salaries and innovative nature of many technology companies based in Silicon Valley have become equally strong selling points.

“They pay well,” Pink Petro chief executive officer and founder Katie Mehnert said. “They do all the things we were all taught we had in oil and gas. The main difference is they allow people to be innovative and creative. What are we going to do to match that? We’ve got that tack. We invented that tack.”

Mehnert said industry must get people engaged and excited about the purpose of what the industry does. This means embracing innovation throughout a company’s culture.

“We’ve got to create cultures that can attract the kind of talent we need to move forward. That doesn’t mean creating an innovation lab on the third floor of your company while everybody else sits. We’ve got to get out of that move. We’ve got to embrace innovation,” she said.

The panelists agreed that systems are a key component in developing a viable culture for young talent. Jones said effective organizations encourage departments to develop curiosity outside their areas, ultimately creating connectivity to other parts of the business. Some of the biggest technical challenges, she said, can be seen differently through the lens of someone who lacks the necessary expertise.

“I would say my system is how do I bring other people to play at the table I’m at so that we can be better collectively as a whole? I think that system allows you to think in an evolutionary way. You’re never stagnant. You’re thinking about how all the pieces in the whole fit together. How do we transform that whole in a different way because everything is so interconnected now? You can’t just change one function or one part of the business,” Jones said.

Workboard uses the objectives and key results (OKR) method popularized by Google to help enhance employee engagement. The method involves setting ambitious goals with measurable results graded on a scale. Moinpour said methods such as OKR are ideal for aligning people within a team environment and establishing a process that allows everyone to shift into an outcome-driven mindset with a clear purpose.

“We see the smartest and fastest-moving companies have an innovation pillar at the top of the house that actively flows through the organization,” she said. “So, every team is innovating regardless of whether you’re a back-office function or you’re in an engineering world. How are you innovating and how are you constantly evolving within your own team?”