UH Symposium Reveals Energy Industry's Unmet Needs for Skilled Workforce
The University of Houston Energy Symposium series culminated Tuesday night with a discussion about how to prepare for the future of the energy workforce. Guest speakers included John Colborn, director of Skills for America’s Future, an initiative of the Aspen Institute; Elaine Cullen, president of Prima Consulting Services; and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson.
The message from the evening was clear: current workforce candidates do not meet the demands of the workforce.
“Baby Boomers make up one-third of the U.S. population and a very large percentage of the workforce for the [oil and gas] industry,” Elaine Cullen, who spent 38 years as safety researcher for the U.S. Bureau of Mines and for the National Institute for Safety and Health, addressed the audience. “They will retire, taking with them, not only the skills they have, but the wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to do when things go wrong because you’ve seen it before.”
Panelists suggested a clear disconnect between institutions of higher education and the oil and gas industry.
“In general, when you ask colleges and universities how they’re doing in preparing graduates for the world of work, they tend to say they’re doing a pretty good job, but when you ask employers how colleges and universities are doing in preparing people for the world of work, schools don’t get such a good review,” said John Colborn. “At the Aspen Institute, we champion investing in community colleges – a place where a lot of working people gain their education and as an institution that is uniquely adapted to respond flexibly to the needs of employers.”
With the industry looking more for students who are ready to hit the ground running and begin work on day one, the old pedagogies of teaching someone in a classroom or training program and expecting them to be successful on day one are now obsolete, Colborn added.
The most effective ways to address this challenge, which is largely due to the Great Crew Change, are varied.
Cullen said it should begin with dialogue between academia and industry professionals to clearly define workforce needs and then meetings should be convened at the regional level. This would hopefully lead to eventual partnerships and creation of more academic programs aligned with industry needs.
She shared findings from a report published in April 2014 titled “Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industry,” which revealed that 63 percent of employers across several sectors, including mining and oil and gas, said entry-level workers need to have at least some college education. Additionally, there was also an identified need for soft skills such as the ability to learn, critical thinking and ethics. Cullen said these skills aren’t industry-specific.
The Question and Answer portion of the symposium touched on the current downturn and “declining enthusiasm” for both workers in the industry and those considering entrance into the industry.
“These kids looking for a job see this extreme fluctuation as risky,” said U.S. Rep Pete Olson. “Our job is to make sure they understand the risks but also see that there are some benefits. There are good-paying American jobs” in the oil and gas industry.
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