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This is the second installment in a three-part series that looks at the oil & gas industry age gap and how social media can be used to close it. The post consists of the highlights of an interview conducted with Joseph Triepke, Managing Director of Oilpro.com, an oil & gas industry social network.
Joseph, before we get into a discussion about social media, the first question we need to ask is: does an age gap actually exist in the oil & gas industry and, if so, where?
A gap does exist within the ranks of both middle and upper management and what we refer to as petro-technical professionals (the skilled engineers that do the technical work of getting oil and gas out of the ground and into a useful state).
Studies I’ve seen suggest that the average age is mid-50s, which means that in the next 10 – 15 years there will be a large exodus of people.
It’s not difficult to attract younger people among those who make up the less-skilled workforce – the roughnecks who work on the rigs – because they are drawn to the pay scale.
Younger people can often make three to four times more money working in the oilfield than they can at other jobs. The challenge is to find younger engineers who are interested in the industry.
What does the workforce shortage mean for the industry now and in the future?
If you talk to any oil & gas industry executive right now they will tell you their biggest long-term concern is a potential labor shortfall. It’s the bottleneck that will eventually lead to them not having enough people to staff projects.
The ability to conduct fewer projects has a residual effect. It means less deals will be struck. Share prices will suffer. The global oil supply could even be impacted. If the workforce gap is not addressed, it is possible that oil prices could rise as supply struggles to keep up with demand, which would lead to higher prices at the pump. And, considering the myriad of other industries that require petrochemicals in the manufacture of products, the implications extend far beyond just the oil & gas industry itself.
If you look at history, multiple economic collapse events have been preceded by higher oil prices, so this is a matter of great concern to everyone. If the O&G industry can’t grow due to a lack of skilled labor, the economy could potentially take a downturn.
Does this make use of social media for recruiting an imperative?
Social media is vital in attracting the attention of younger people, getting them interested in the industry and as a recruitment tool. Currently, a digital divide exists between the generations. Older people are not as social media-savvy while younger people are.
One reason we started Oilpro was to bridge that gap. Industry participants are more comfortable using it than other social networks because they are surrounded by content that makes them feel at home. It doesn’t seem foreign to them. As such, when a younger person asks a question on Oilpro, it’s not uncommon to have 15 – 20 older guys step in and answer.
Does the use of social media represent a shift in how the industry should communicate?
Its presence does somewhat alter the way the industry communicates, but it’s more of a shift in gears than a completely new philosophy.
For many years the industry has relied on press releases to win mindshare among stakeholders, the media and the public at large. It was a way to build brand awareness, which might lead to getting the next deal, and as a way to impress shareholders. It worked in a time when communication was largely one way and print was the primary media channel.
I won’t say the press release is dead, but with the advent of social media its influence has certainly lessened. Social media has taken over and changed the game, winning out because it’s global, instant and engaging. At Oilpro we find that people like bimodal, two-way communication. They want feedback. Building follower counts, one component of the network, offers advantages from a branding perspective.
How can social media be used from the standpoint of recruiting?
The industry does some cool stuff, truly mind-blowing stuff. Just the size of the structures being built, the numbers, and physical nature of the industry is impressive. However, people outside the industry have little or no awareness of that, which represents a huge opportunity for the industry to change perception.
As an example, take a look at what DockWise, a marine transport company, is doing on its Facebook Page. It’s using photographs and video to demonstrate the sheer size and scale of projects. We need to show people what we’re doing, and social media is a way to accomplish that.
In addition, having young engineers in the industry talk to their counterparts in other industries through social media can be advantageous as a way to influence their fellows and get them interested.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Joseph. It was very informative.
Learn more about Oilpro, the oil & gas industry social network, by visiting the website. To learn more about how social media can help close the age gap, download our white paper, The Big Crew Change: Using Social Media to Find and Retain New Talent (PDF).
Image: Flickr Creative Commons