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Thrive During the Great Crew Change: Tips for Companies and the Professional Workforce

With the economy on a hopeful rise, 2012 is shaping up to be a good year for oil and gas.  Petroleum engineers are in demand for upstream projects, and universities are turning out promising young graduates by the thousands.

But there’s one problem:  The low oil prices from the 1980s through the mid-1990s resulted in a low demand for engineers.  So, few petroleum engineers graduated during this time period – leaving most companies with a 15-year age gap in their workforce.  This situation is called the Great Crew Change, and it is causing two prominent issues:

  • The baby boomers are retiring, and there are an insufficient number of experienced workers able to replace them on projects.
  • Many companies fear that it will result in a sudden loss of tribal knowledge – no matter how hard they work to recruit new employees.

However, The Great Crew Change isn’t as alarming as it sounds – companies just need to prepare by following these guidelines:

Transfer Tribal Knowledge

To sidestep the issues that come with the Great Crew Change, oil and gas companies must successfully transfer tribal knowledge from retiring workers to the younger generation.  Many oil and gas companies are establishing a strong mentorship program that matches new engineers with experienced workers.  Companies are also taking steps to ensure that tribal knowledge is available long after employees retire.  For example, Chevron requires that all written papers be scanned into a computer on a monthly basis for record-keeping and training purposes.

Keep Experienced Workers Involved in Projects

Oil and gas companies will still be affected by the mass retirement of the baby boomers – no matter how well they train the next generation.  An annuitant program can keep experienced employees involved with company projects.  Offer experienced workers an alternative to full retirement:  Many experienced workers will jump at the chance to become a contractor and work fewer hours instead of leaving altogether.  An annuitant program can also be offered to retired company alumni, who may be ready to start working again on a smaller scale.

Use Intangible Benefits to Attract In-Demand Candidates

The Great Crew Change has created a special situation:  Only 75-85% of industry jobs can be filled with the skill set of the existing workforce.  This means that companies have to work harder than ever to keep skilled contractors.  The highly experienced are already highly compensated in any oil and gas company – so competing for in-demand contractors means focusing on the intangible benefits that raise their quality of life instead of simply offering them more money.  For example, Marathon Oil offers four weeks of vacation and spa benefits.  Other companies might promise more interesting assignments, or recruit in a city where they can offer a shorter commute to work.

A Great Opportunity

The age gap in our industry presents a unique recruiting problem.  However, oil and gas companies can use it as an opportunity to train new talent and transfer tribal knowledge to an eager and younger generation.  They can reengage alumni who might return to work with a new enthusiasm, and experienced contractors can take advantage by finding a company that pays them well and offers benefits that change their quality of life.

How is your company preparing for the Great Crew Change?

Clover specializes in placing professionals in the oil and gas industry. If you are an Operator seeking to augment Project Teams, contact Jeff.W@clovergs.com

If you are an experienced professional looking for opportunities in the Upstream Industry (Alaska, Eagle Ford Shale Play, Bakken Formation, Deepwater Gulf of Mexico), send your resume in complete confidence to Chris.S@clovergs.com 

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