Oil Giants Make a Play For Millennial Hires

Oil Giants Make a Play For Millennial Hires
New ads by the lobbying arm of America's oil giants are all about millennials.

(Bloomberg) -- “This ain’t your daddy’s oil,” the commercial proclaims, cutting to shots of spray paint being made and a wall covered in fanciful graffiti. “Oil strikes a pose. Oil taps potential. Oil pumps life.”

Oil, in short, is cool, the industry’s branding braintrust has declared. The 30-second spot rolled out this year is part of a broader American Petroleum Institute campaign  to “raise awareness about the role natural gas and oil has in economic growth, job creation, environmental stewardship, and national security.” Dubbed Power Past Impossible, the ads by the lobbying arm of America’s oil giants are all about millennials, the generation of roughly 21 to 35 year olds which out-sizes any other and makes up the largest chunk of the American workforce. 

“It’s a shift in our messaging and our target that’s been in the works for several years,” says Marty Durbin, the institute’s chief strategy officer.  “There isn’t a company out there that isn’t chasing the elusive millennials.”

That may be true, but there are few with the kind of uphill battle the oil industry faces in catching them. Millennials often frown on companies whose main products play a key role in global warming. A 2016 poll by the University of Texas found that 91 percent of those under the age of 35 said climate change is occurring and just over half supported a carbon tax. About two thirds of millennial-aged voters said energy issues influenced how they vote and that they plan to by an alternative fuel vehicle.

“What exactly were you guys thinking making a commercial aimed at young people?”

The spray paint ad, it turns out, got a decidedly mixed a reaction.

“What exactly were you guys thinking making a commercial aimed at young people,” tweeted one viewer. “Every time I see it I’m reminded of how [expletive] of a resource petroleum is ecologically and how dumb it was to advertise ... that way.”

Millennials prefer brands that come across as “conscious capitalists,” explained Jeff Fromm, an expert in marketing to younger Americans. “Any mature industry has to think about the fact that there’s a new sheriff in town with new values, new spending habits,” he added, referring to millennials. “Legacy brands often have that challenge.”

Beyond reintroducing the brand, the Big Energy ad blitz has a more daunting task: convincing millennials to work for the industry. In the coming years, fossil fuel companies expect “to see a big turnover, sometimes called ‘the big crew change,’” Durbin says. “We started to reach out to different demographics—women, veterans, minorities—to educate them on what the industry does and to learn what would pique their interest.”

Getting millennials to take these jobs, which tend to pay well but come with their own risks, won’t be easy for an additional reason. Unemployment is at a 16-year low and talented engineering graduates are flocking to Silicon Valley for internships and first jobs that pay more than the median national wage. This adds even more pressure on the oil industry to spiff up its image, insofar as it can, to lure young workers with lots of choices.

Asking a millennial to work for an oil company instead of Tesla is a tough proposition.

“Oil and gas companies may need more profound changes to meet demands for meaningful work and social responsibility to attract the next generation of top engineering and leadership talent,” McKinsey & Co. wrote in a September 2016 report on the future of the oil sector. Asking a millennial to choose between a green-tech company like Tesla Inc., which makes cars that don’t pollute, and an oil company, which fuels those that do, is a difficult proposition.

The consulting firm found 14 percent of millennials would reject a career in oil because of the industry’s image. That’s the highest of any industry it polled. Only 2 percent of American college graduates list the oil and gas sector as their first choice for a job, according to research by Accenture, a professional services company. 

Even among those unsure of their path, the news isn’t good. Less than half of millennials without a set career find appeal in oil and gas, according to the recently released EY U.S. Oil and Gas Perception poll. Women were more likely to reject the industry than men. And its only going to get worse as time goes on: The generation after millennials, commonly referred to as ‘Z’, turned their nose up at oil jobs even more frequently. 

Part of the issue, EY found, was a disconnect between what millennials want from a job and what oil executives think they want—and it has nothing to do with the environment. Asked what they prioritize in a job, 56 percent of millennials said salary, followed closely by work-life balance, job stability, and job happiness. Industry executives thought far more millennials were driven primarily by salary, an anachronistic viewpoint that may illustrate the generational challenge faced by their  branding campaign.


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Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News.

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BJ | Jul. 23, 2017
Oil execs believe that they are not in a bind, there answer to the problem is in artificial intelligence. They have convinced themselves that what is needed is a group of spread sheet jockeys to provide input and press the magic button, DRILL HERE. Hiring young folk is just another way of reducing overhead. Sad state of our industry

Andy Bush | Jul. 22, 2017
In the 90s I found myself mentoring university graduates new to the oil industry. They all asked what my main advice would be. I said find another job in a more stable industry before you get laid off. All but one got laid off due to a single problem. The oil industry executives want to contract out the grunt work. So they dont train the workers. The contract companies can only afford to train workers in the good times. Catch 22.

Kevin | Jul. 21, 2017
Dats what Im talking bout!! Whats wrong with experience, a tinge of grey hair and proper work ethics - after 30+ yrs - from those who wont whine about not enough meditation breaks or work life balance???

Mark | Jul. 21, 2017
Bla bla bla, really ? This article makes no sense, who would want to get into this turbulent industry and what about the experience professional they have been getting rid of for the last 2 years. Give it a rest !

Any Guy | Jul. 21, 2017
For crying out loud - there are tens of thousands of unemployed Gen X out there with decades of experience. You want to get back to drilling? Theres an army of us wanting to get back to it. You dont need to persuade Millennials, were sold on it, eager.

tim | Jul. 21, 2017
Typical oilfield, they cut the throats of tens of thousands of workers and then want to hire a bunch of over privileged kids with no work ethic. There needs to be a revolt of sorts, fire the pencil pushing suck-ups who have managed to keep their cushy corporate jobs and hand it over to the hard working men and women who have sacrificed decades of time away from their families. Let the people who have earned their stripes succeed.

Jacob | Jul. 18, 2017
These entitled and spoiled little shits dont know the meaning of hard work.

Jim Mclennan | Jul. 18, 2017
Exactly dennis, and we outperform them 10-1

Jonathan | Jul. 17, 2017
I am with Dennis B and have 35 years of mixed oil and gas and investment banking experience. Given that we likely still have a good 20 years left in us, we would appreciate being given the opportunities currently punted at a somewhat less than grateful group of prospective employees.

Dennis Blackwell | Jul. 17, 2017
They could hire some of the many thousands of professionals that they fired over the last few years. I have 40 years of petroleum engineering experience and no work available.


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