The Great Crew Change: 'Honey, How Are We Going to Train All These Kids?'

The Great Crew Change: 'Honey, How Are We Going to Train All These Kids?'

Rigzone Looks Back: The oil and gas industry is currently facing a major demographic shift: the Baby Boom generation is retiring, and nearly 71 percent of the workforce is 50 or older, according to a recent survey by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. As the industry prepares the next generation to take over, companies all over the world are shifting their focus to key recruitment trends to establish a knowledge continuity.

The petroleum industry is amid a tremendous wave of hiring that's occurring in response to the gradual retirement of the so-called "baby boom" generation, which was spawned in the wake of World War II.

Much of the hiring focuses on the very young—both blue collar labor and newly minted petroleum geoscience and engineering grads. Another important trend is on the re-training of mid-career professionals into more labor-tight technical and management positions.

The American Petroleum Institute says that it has no statistics on how much hiring is directed toward the young and middle-aged, but other statistics are compelling on how badly replacements are needed for aging "baby boomers."

For instance, by 2012, the peak (mode) age of petroleum engineers and geoscientists will be 60, versus only 45 in 2000, according to Pete Stark, VP of Industry Relations at IHS, a company focusing on energy, economics and geopolitical risk.

In a survey of technical oil company professionals age 55 and over by the recruiting firm Working Smart, the average intended retirement age was found to be 65, with only 23 percent seeking to work beyond retirement age.

Meanwhile, within a few years, the majority of new technical professionals in the oil and gas industry will have less than five years of experience, increasing the chances of serious, costly mistakes and accidents, according to J. Ford Brett, managing director of PetroSkills, a petroleum training company.

Training Intensifies

Such alarming trends have the industry focused on training programs while skilled, experienced people are still available. One much-discussed resource is the mentoring of younger people by older ones, including already-retired workers who either come back to the industry voluntarily to train – or sometimes, are recruited back specifically as mentors.

One example of a formal mentoring program is ConocoPhillips' Legends effort.

"The program brings back senior project managers from retirement to train younger hires," explained Carsten Alsguth, a professional engineer with ConocoPhillips.

Mentoring also is available through professional organizations, such as the Society for Petroleum Engineers (SPE). For instance, SPE has an online mentoring program, In addition, the group's Gulf Coast Section is considering a new program to match up the Legion of Honor (SPE members for 50+ years) with young professionals in a mentoring program that would swap hard-earned field experience for help from younger members with high-tech products.

Such mentoring programs are no doubt on the rise, although measurement of how much they've increased is difficult. Still, a survey by SPE's Young Professional group, which appeared in a 2006 group magazine called The Way Ahead, found that mentoring was a "common practice" among only 37 percent of survey respondents at the largest companies profiled (more than 3,000 employees), and was not practiced at all by 46 percent of mid-sized companies and 44 percent of small companies in the survey. While the survey is indeed dated now, it shows how badly mentoring needed to grow just within the past five years.

A separate briefing paper on the great crew change by Rigzone, found (among other things) that in addition to mentoring, some companies are stepping up the intensity and duration of in-house training while experienced professionals are still available to train newcomers. One such program is Chevron's Horizons initiative, a formal five-year training program available to recent graduates that provides a curriculum of technical courses and practical experience opportunities led by skilled and experienced professionals as trainers.

Offsite training programs are also experiencing growth. For instance: Boston-based International Human Resources Development Corporation (IHRDC) added several new courses for 2011; PetroSkills' new training center in Katy, TX, is burgeoning with students and SPE has increased the number of short courses offered from roughly two dozen to more than 80.

Some companies, such as ExxonMobil, also are hiring people not for existing jobs, but to be trained for anticipated future openings. One example is Andrew Wolke, 23, a construction engineering technician hired and being trained as a rig supervisor.

When asked if he was concerned about becoming a victim of layoffs in a future downturn of the highly cyclical petroleum industry, Wolke replied confidently, "Absolutely not. I'm not worried at all."

When asked why, Wolke explained, "I'm not even sure they need me now – except to be trained while experienced trainers are still available. They need people my age so badly, it's not even funny." (click here for full story)

Yet indications are that actual on-rig experience of newer hires is limited.

"Something ironic that I see is a number of my students who are being trained as rig supervisors, but have never been on a rig yet," said Dr. Leon Robinson, 84, himself a retired ExxonMobil physicist and renowned drilling expert, now a trainer with Petroskills.

Indeed, adds Petroskills' managing director, Brett.

"The aptitude, you can hire. The knowledge and skills, you have to develop. Solving the problem will require deliberate programs to develop younger talent," Brett said.


Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.

Greg  |  October 11, 2014
At the age of 60 every time I see these articles I raise my consulting rates another 10%.
Jon  |  October 20, 2011
24 years experience here I think that safety is important but there are grey areas. I'm working for shell up in Canada and they have the ten life saving rules, you break one, you're gone, doesn't matter how many years you have in. I lost my motorhand do to speeding on long change morning, he is gone and replaced with no experience, will the new guy get hurt, we will see. so the experience guys see this and they move on,they have had enough. the industry is doing it, its the policy makers,some of them have no idea what what its like around the rig, they need to get the experience around, that would be a safe bet, before they are all gone
sihotang  |  October 18, 2011
here in Indonesia, the same problem exists! esp. when more and more experienced guys leave for better paid be it domestic and overseas, the company doesn't help at all by being one of the lowest paying OnG company sadly, I work for support dept only (procurement)
Kenny  |  October 16, 2011
My son when he was in his middle twenties, he is now 30, expressed an interest for offshore drilling exploration which I have been in now for nearly 30 yrs. I arranged and paid for his survival course and HUET in Aberdeen and after he had his certificate took him around all the drilling companies in Aberdeen, some I had worked for, others I knew people that worked for them. Every door was closed to him as he had no experience offshore. Even the job agencies were closed to him. How the hell are the young to gain experience if we close our doors to them when they are willing to give up their time and money to acquire the certificates they need. This industry deserves all it has coming when the "old brigade like me retire or get fed up with the travel and the time away from our families". The industry is going to go into meltdown looking for the right people for the job when there is nobody there to hire. I for one would welcome a mentoring job but would want paid for it and have time off the same as I have now. I am not going to do it for free.
Bill Waldroop  |  October 15, 2011
This is what is happening!
Alvin Justelien  |  October 15, 2011
I have watched many organizations match two generations of employees together with instructions for the older employees to mentor the younger employees. The first time the younger person realizes they may know something the older person does not know, like the latest technology, the younger person looses faith int he older persons abilities. Both people become frustrated with this mono-directional communication because neither party was taught how a mentor-mentee relationship works or worse yet, how a reverse mentoring relationship can work best. Are these companies (industry) teaching both sides of the mentoring relationship, how to mentor and how to receive information from other people?
Mike Mesker  |  October 15, 2011
Training is fine and it helps but it will not replace the hard earned lessons learn. Talking and show is not nearly as effective. This Nov. I will have 34 years working in the drilling industry, from roustabout to rig superintendent. You send them to the finest universities, you train then you make them company men but they are still WORMS. I have two on the rig right now. You know what it ain't funny or easy...
Rocky  |  October 14, 2011
The hiring of personnel will not be a problem. You will be able to fill any spot with a pulse but what we are losing is experience. The higher ups are not learning the ropes from the bottom. Don't know what it is like to trip pipe in August with full slicker suit on and face shield due to Zinc Bromide. We will be losing the older wisdom and since this will almost be another mass hiring like 2005 and 2006, we will be getting that are rushed through schools and no hands on. This is the only problem we will have. There is nothing wrong with new minds thinking on a process that has been going around since the 1900s But too young and inexperience we will start reinventing the wheel without proper guidance
thomas b. smith  |  October 14, 2011
Part of my consulting business is training rig crews in the CARE AND HANDLING OF DRILL STRING.
Former pipeline consultant  |  October 14, 2011
The lack of expertise is true but the actions of many companies is 180 degrees opposite. They hire the MBA-based McNutsy Company who advises them to lay off the most expensive (read that as experienced) employees and keep or hire newbies.Then the newbies demand or are given consultant positions after 5 years with the company, but what can they really consult on? A recent exchange with one of the newbies after he had thrown away the files that provided the documentation they needed: "don't worry, Ill just have IT scan the email archives...what, you didn't have email back in 1985?" The funny part comes when the experience that was laid off goes to work for the competition! And that costs the original company $MMs. One pipeline company was even stupid enough to hand out posters advertising that they dont punish for mistakes but rather for not trying. That was just before the state Attorney General sent a cease and desist letter for violation of the state PE laws.
Barbara Saunders  |  October 14, 2011
Thank you for your feedback. Very interesting perspectives & ideas for future articles!
Richard Bowie  |  October 14, 2011
I would not be the mentor I am today without the mentoring I received earlier in my pump career. Mentoring is the best practical education one can get but not every young engineer/technician wants to be mentored. There are those who seek out a mentor and those who think they already know it all. I have found that those who seek out a mentor rise to the top.
Andy Smith  |  October 12, 2011
I have just finished a 30 year contract with the Royal Air Force as an Electrical and Avionics Technician and have 15 years of middle management experience. I would love to get some experience in the Oil and Gas Industry with my ultimate goal to secure a position within the Alberta Oil Sands and relocate to Canada. Everyone seems to require that you have oil industry experience before giving you a chance to prove your worth. There are some programmes out there like Wood Groups "Re Engineer" training program to re-orientate and take advantage of skilled and motivated people from other industries. I hope the idea catches on!
Rob Pitt  |  October 12, 2011
I think its great to have the option to hire who ever you think would be the best suited for the job. However things are difficult for the people with education just as they are for those who don't. I am 31 years old been a skilled tradesman for over ten years. I see jobs related to my field all the time in the industry. I sit and think hay I could spend the next ten twenty or even thirty years, if the industry would allow it? I would love to be a part of something so vast and have the chance to go and work all over travel see new places. Skills are the tip of the iceberg. I think the mentoring programs are the best solution and I hope to be in one working under a skilled super. Leadership will offer a solid direction in this hiring situation.
stephen stewart akuteye  |  October 11, 2011
i think this is good news for young graduates like myself. i hope i get the opportunity to be trained just like our western brothers, hence i will entreat oil companies to also look at Africa for budding talents since we are often overlooked. But i must confess it is good thing that the oil companies are gradually moving in this direction since successive program is imperative for any serious-minded institution.
Dean Bourgeois  |  October 11, 2011
We here at South Central Louisiana Technical College along with Chevron and Shell have started a program called PROCESS PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY (GoM). Our program is an Associate of Applied Science degree course. The courses focus on offshore operation and the student has to complete 18 core courses along with 5 general education courses to qualify for the AAS. If anyone is interested in more information on this great opportunity, please give me a call at (985)447-0924 ext. 135  |  October 11, 2011
Good Morning, I have seen this coming for a while. I feel that between myself and us asking our Drlg Contractors to hire Roughneck Trainers that we can come out ahead of this issue. Have a nice day, Lance
Iain Percival  |  October 10, 2011
I have to confess that my reaction to these articles is increasingly to yawn. Just try to bring your experience and insights to bear - I sympathise with the observations made by Steve Thornhill. I have 35+ years petroleum engineering experience with a major, final position Chief Petroleum Engineer after working in many parts of the world, with many cultures and covering all the subsurface & operating environments you can think of. I have a particular interest in the development of our "next generation" and would have thought doors would have been thrown open. Forget it! (i) Universities - they say they are focused on producing the top quality geoscientists & (petroleum) engineers for the future of the business. Just try telling faculty that the curriculum does not reflect the current & future needs of the business and you will be adjudged to be disruptive. One (premier PE Masters degree programme in the UK) told me "we are not a parking place for oilfield retirees looking for an easy sinecure" (ii) Industry - they say they welcome folk with the drive / interest to be technical mentors and then a host of terms & conditions will arise to complicate the issue. After a lifetime in full time employment, the potential mentor is looking for some flexibility - ummm, flexibility, whats that? (HR speaking - and when has HR ever had responsibility for business performance?) In addition, there is the company way of doing things (whether it is right, wrong or appropriate is not up for debate) so alternatives are not always welcomed. If it is not invented here, well..........! There has been so much spoken and written on the topic of the Great Crew Change and potential solutions - but words come cheap. The actions required to address require investment in developing the deliberate programmes Dr. Brett speaks of, flexibility and $$. Now that is no longer cheap. I rest my case.
Clyde Monlezun  |  October 10, 2011
The old oilfield, Amoco specifically, required six months minimum in field operations before coming into an office or supervising. This was some of the best training I ever received, and has helped me to be successful for over 40 years. I can not imagine how inexperienced supervisors will be able to supervise hazardous work, safely.
Natasha Shelyukh  |  October 10, 2011
Good article. True statements. Out of my 17 years in recruiting business, this is my 5th year in the upstream oil and gas search. With main focus being in engineering I am seeing seeing the same things Barbara is talking about. Some companies want "build up the bench" but are not willing to sponsor (try that for R&D engineering in the US!), some want to hire only those with the sweet 5-10 years of experience (with the list of must haves longer than my kids' Christmas wish list). At the end none of the above is what they end up hiring... Sometimes I wish I could apply Steve Jobs theory and create a professional just like he designed new products. "Building a bench" is very different from buying a product from the shelf - can only hire someone that exists.
Chester Coen  |  October 10, 2011
I have 5 years as a landman and 15 years in welding so where are all the jobs?
Anatoly POLYAKOV  |  October 10, 2011
In Russia and former Soviet republics the problem is even worse. In addition to the lack of trained personnel those who have O&G training do not speak English. The mature, close to 55-60y.o., are discriminated and we at NefteGasKadry agency as recruiters are asked to scrape the bottom of the labor pool to find nearly extinct species - drilling supervisors and superintendents with 10 year experience as supervisors or superintendents and fluent English. the older generation do not speak English, the younger generation have no enough years in the industry. We are looking for international partners to launch re-training programs for O&G and Power industries here but so far unsuccessfully. Even China starts feeling the lack of trained labor of all levels. I thought in US you guys were aware of the coming change in the availability of trained personnel but it seems that everybody pushed that problem aside everywhere.
Norman Carnahan  |  October 10, 2011
In response to the need for improved education and skills for "The Great Crew Change", the American Institute of Chemical Engineers has formed a special upstream-oriented entity, The Upstream Engineering and Flow Assurance Forum. The goals of the UEFA Forum include providing training and education opportunities for member at all skill levels. The focus is on better understanding of chemical engineering principles, fundamentals and practices relevant to upstream practice, in reservoirs, in drilling fluids, in flow assurance and other aspects of energy resource development and production. For more information, please see: Join us and help develop the UEFA Forum. Call 1-800-242-4363.
Steve Thornhill  |  October 10, 2011
So the oil industries crying for help. Let’s see, I’m a geologist/geophysicist with 32 years professional experience in two industries, I’ve applied to over 300 jobs, to 30 jobs at ConocoPhillips and about the same at BP and I typically can’t even get a turn-down email much less an interview. It appears that being over 60 is a mortal sin. Now the industries cavalier attitude towards people all these years is turning around and biting it in the butt, and the oil industries crying as if it doesn’t deserve it. When my son was in high school he expressed an interest in becoming a geologist, I advised him of the pros and cons, work in environmental or for the government and not earn much, or work for the oil industry and get laid off every time the economy farts. Thank God he went into another profession. The sad part is, oil exploration and production gets in your blood, I still love it!

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