Attracting talent to the oil patch

July 13, 2017
When we're honest with ourselves, most of us would agree that the oil and gas industry badly needs an image makeover.

WHEN WE'RE HONEST with ourselves, most of us would agree that the oil and gas industry badly needs an image makeover. The petroleum sector's cyclical nature often results in deep personnel cuts during downturns and hiring frenzies during up cycles, which turns off a lot of young people who might otherwise be attracted to a fascinating, high-tech industry. Often, these wild swings result in the loss of promising talent that leaves the industry forever. And some of these professionals leave with a bitter taste in their mouth.

The industry also gets a black eye due to the common perception that hydrocarbons, although necessary, are bad for the environment. There is the popular belief that the industry is dirty and the people who work in oil and gas are somehow tainted. It's interesting that people who hold these beliefs often drive vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel fuel and don't seem to see the connection between drilling for oil and pumping fuel into their gas tanks, but that conundrum is for someone else to analyze.

The petroleum industry is well aware that it hasn't done a good job in terms of public relations, but it still hasn't found a way to overcome the anti-hydrocarbon bias that exists in the United States and most of the developed world. We have to do better. We must convince the public that oil and gas is an essential part of our economy and that the industry is working hard to explore, drill, develop, and produce natural gas, gas liquids, and crude oil in the most environmentally-sensitive way possible. We need to make the public aware that the world will continue to run on oil and gas for many decades to come. And, finally, we have to get the message across to young college graduates that finding and developing petroleum reserves is a rewarding, exciting, high-tech business that is crucial to our future.

I'm a strong advocate for developing cleaner fuels and renewable energy resources. However, I'm aware that even if we launch a Manhattan Project-type initiative to increase the pace of renewable energy development the results will not be sufficient to keep up with global energy demand. Yes, we need to be environmentally conscious, but we will still rely on hydrocarbons for most of our energy needs throughout the 21st century. It would be foolish to walk away from an abundant fuel source and merely hope something else comes along to replace it.

Clearly a divergence exists between what consumers want and the public's understanding of the oil and gas industry. This gap appears to be widening rather than closing. Today, many cities, states, and even investors are turning their backs on an industry they perceive to be dinosaurs with respect to environmental issues. This is why the industry needs to do a better job explaining exactly how it is tackling these difficult issues.

Let's be frank. The oil and gas industry must attract digital-savvy professionals and recent college graduates who may not be looking at the sector as a potential career choice. There is a growing need for highly intelligent people with strong IT skills in order to make the digital oilfield a reality, so the challenge will be to recruit fresh talent from outside the sector, as well as upgrading the skills of existing staff.

UK-based Petroplan, a global recruiting and contractor management service with 40 years of experience in the sector, recently conducted a survey about industry talent needs. More than 2,000 industry professionals took part in the survey, including workers employed on a permanent basis, contractors, and those out of work but actively looking for roles in the industry. They represented a broad range of disciplines at oil centers worldwide.

The results reveal a recognition of the significance that technology will play in the industry in the coming years and that companies will need to do more to attract and develop IT expertise, from recent graduates to mid-career professionals who may never have considered working in the oil and gas sector.

Rory Ferguson, CEO at Petroplan, said that the survey shows a clear opportunity for both the oil and gas industry and specialist recruiters. However, companies will need to build a brand that stands out by offering training and a variety of work opportunities to both existing staff and new hires, including contractors and permanent employees.

"There is also a recognition of the significance that technology will play in the industry in the coming years," said Ferguson. As the industry recovers from the downturn, he added that recruiters will need to be proactive with their resources and networks to ensure that companies continue to be supported as the demand for talent starts to build again.

Full findings from the Petroplan report can be accessed at