The oil and gas industry is currently facing a talent crisis on both ends: while recruitment and hiring is suffering from the prolonged talent shortage, companies are also being tasked with cost cutting, restructuring, and layoffs.

We asked oil and gas expert Mark LaCour, Director of modalpoint, LLC to join us for a webinar in which we discussed the talent challenges facing the oil and gas industry—and how we can begin to solve them.

Mark offered up incredible insight on oil and gas talent  in this Q&A:


RiseSmart: What are some strategies for targeting STEM talent?

Mark LaCour: That’s a good one. Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of that. Look at the military. The military has a lot of STEM talent, and they also have a lot of project management and logistics talent. That’s a good place to grab somebody you can actually plug into your organization. Other than that, the industries have to grow the STEM talent. There’s been a decline of it in the US, and there’s me, and about 20,000 others throughout the industry who are heavily promoting this and trying to turn that tide around.

RS: What is it about Exxon’s talent that you think differentiates them in the marketplace?

ML: Longevity.  If you’re at Exxon 20 years, and you’re an engineer, they still call you “the kid.” I’ve never seen a company that has people who have been there 30, 35, 40 years. And that type of hands-on experience is invaluable. You can’t replicate that in the classroom. You can’t transfer that knowledge to somebody that hasn’t done it before.

RS: What do you think we can do to stop attrition from employees who are leaving because all they see are layoffs on the horizon and don’t have the perspective about oil prices coming up down the line?

ML:  Hopefully the company has good corporate communications. If you’re big enough to have that, that’s where it needs to sit. If you’re smaller than that, your executives need to own this problem, because it’s about perception. If your executives are transparent and honest, usually employees repsect that. If they buy into it, they’ll stick around. It’s the companies that try to sugar coat this or they just ignore it where employees just get worried and go off on their own.

RS: How much of a hit will the human capital function have to take with the fall in oil prices?

ML: That’s going to depend on where in the industry you reside. And like I said, midstream, downstream, and parts of the service industry that don’t touch upstream, you’re probably still trying to hire enough people.  The upstream side of the house? It depends. If you’re on the expensive oil projects, like oil sands, it’s going to be pretty rough. It’s hard for me to put a number to it, but that’s going to be the biggest hit to your talent, with people who touch oil sands. The same way with deep water and ultra-deep water and some of the fracers. I don’t expect anything massive. I’m looking at the worst, around 10%, which is not massive—it’s still significant, but it’s not massive.

RS:  How do you think we can go about building the best pipeline of new graduate talent?

ML: That’s something I have personal experience with. I actually speak at a lot of colleges outside of Texas. Texas is one of the few places where kids go to school and actually want to go into the oil and gas industry. It’s a matter of managing perception. There’s so much misperception out there in the oil and gas industry. We’ve done a horrible job explaining how great the oil and gas industry is. Most college kids think we’re out there destroying the environment, that it’s dirty, that it’s low-paying. And we need to change that. If you show some of these young engineers some of the geo-modeling, they’re using petabytes of data on high-performance computing systems, you’re looking at cutting-edge technology, and they get excited about that. But the industry itself does a really poor job of promoting itself to these students.

RS: Is the solution to the industry talent shortage solution closer than we think it is?

ML: I would say no. We’re getting ready to have a bunch of people retire all at the same time. We call it the Great Crew Change. Everybody’s heard of that. And there’s not a backlog of people to fill that. At the same time, the industry is growing. So regardless of what’s happening right now with low crude prices, globally, we’re only have an increase in demand for oil and gas, which means that we have to produce more oil and gas, And we’re going to have to do that with less labor. That’s not a good recipe for success.

RS: How do you think social media plays a role in the Great Crew Change?

ML: The oil and gas industry as a whole has not jumped into social media. There are some exceptions out there, and they’re starting to adopt it. Unfortunately, the kids that we want to come work in the oil and gas industry are totally social media. To me, social media is the number one place we need to focus our efforts so we can get our message across effectively. You do the right Facebook posts and the right Twitter posts, and all of the sudden and you’re in front of 5, 10, 20 thousand people that see your information. You can’t do that with conventional media. I think that social media is going to make or break the solution to the Great Crew Change.

What questions do you still have about talent challenges in the oil and gas industry? Join us for our next oil and gas webinar: 

How to Communicate During a Layoff in the Oil and Gas Industry

02 March 2015

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