Recruiting the next generation

 By Peter Ward

Peter Ward looks at the process of recruiting the next generation of oil and gas workers. What skills do they need now? How does the industry attract new staff? What skills are needed and how they work with the industry…

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Automation may make some oil and gas jobs easier, but nothing in the industry runs without the legions of talented employees who ensure enough energy is brought to the masses.

But the industry is facing a number of challenges to attract the best talent and to guarantee professionals stay working in the oil and gas sector. As oil and gas goes through a number of changes, how have recruitment methods changed, and what does the future look like?

As oil prices have declined, the nature of recruitment has been altered significantly, and the number of personnel in the industry has fallen.

“We’ve seen huge cuts in terms of reduction in personnel, and we’ve also seen huge pay decreases from 5-30 percent in rates being cut for our contract workforce. We’ve seen a lot of projects canceled or pushed back or put on hold. All of our clients are driving for more efficiency. I do think our industry probably was heavy with people, it was overstaffed for many years but we had super high production so it all offsets,” explains Sam Cross, Senior Vice President, North America at Airswift, a recruitment company with a strong focus on oil and gas.

As the number of jobs in the industry is down, people are less inclined to make moves to other companies.

“The best candidates aren’t moving or leaving their existing employer because they don’t want to leave greater certainty for uncertainty. Simply the last-in first-out scenario comes to mind! Every firm has let go of many staff and as such everyone has heard negative press and why risk moving to a firm that may have reputational issues (wrongly or rightly)?” says Andrew Speers, CEO of Petroplan, an energy talent company that concentrates on oil and gas.

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Another challenge for the recruitment companies is oil and gas firms looking for more skilled workers to do more jobs. “The feeling is that they’re stretching their current employees, a lot of people are doing more than one job, there is a higher expectation on individuals to do more,” says Cross, who also states that the number of contractors has remained constant as they are a variable cost for oil and gas companies. Airswift provides contractors to these firms and Cross says that this gives companies the chance to bring in the skills they need without adding fixed costs.

One way to overcome these challenges is technology, although when it comes to finding talented individuals to do specific jobs, there’s only so much that new tech can help. “We use a combination of networking, social media and referrals to widen our network to find all the very best candidates. Currently over 1 million people a month see the opportunities our clients have available and then quite simply it comes down to having a clear brief from our clients, a good dialogue with clients and candidates and then individually screening the best candidates in the most rigorous way and only putting the very best forward,” says Speers.

Cross agrees. He says that LinkedIn recruiting tools in particular have changed the game in the past five years, and is an excellent resource for resumes. But, he adds, some professionals in the industry still do not have resumes, let alone LinkedIn accounts, instead relying on a referral network to source new jobs. This is why it’s important for an oil and gas recruitment company to have a global reach and a local delivery.

One technology that Airswift has developed, along with Accenture, is Total Talent Insights, a technology platform that allows oil and gas companies to track their contracted employees. Oil and gas companies hire a huge number of contracted workers to do different jobs, and in a large company it can be difficult to measure how many there are and how much is being paid for them.

“All of those things are becoming much more critical with the lower price of oil and to get better returns from the barrel, to get better visibility. The alliance with Accenture is based around our market knowledge and their technology knowledge and consultancy,” says Cross. “We’re finding that is one of our fastest growing business lines at the moment because everyone is trying to get their house in order, and get to grips with what they have and where they have it and how much it costs and how they can better manage it.”

Employment in the oil and gas sector is beginning to show small signs of a recovery. For the first time in 19 months, upstream oil and gas employment in Texas increased slightly in June this year. There were an estimated 203,425 Texans employed in oil and gas jobs in that month, an increase of 100 from the previous month, according to data from the Texas Petro Index.

Until the recovery starts in earnest, employment will stay low. But when it does pick up, there are doubts that there will be enough talent on the market to do the jobs required. One reason for this is that some engineers and oil and gas professionals have crossed over into other sectors, such as processing, chemicals and infrastructure, where their skills are transferable.

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“We’re doing a study for our clients now, they want to know where has the talent gone and will it come back,” says Cross. “It’s a concern for our customers. It has a lot to do with which companies they worked with and how they were treated during those layoffs or pay cuts or job changes. The concern is will all of those engineers come back? Even if day rates were to go up by 20 percent, you still don’t know if people will come back in because it’s been a tough road, they may choose stability over an attractive rate.”

The best hope for the industry now is to attract young, smart graduates from the best universities. In order to do this, there will need to be a rebranding of oil and gas, to make it more clear how exciting a profession it is to work in.

“We do have a talent shortage in oil and gas, the price will come back and that talent shortage will be an issue again. There is the great crew change underway and the older workforce that’s retiring and not enough young people coming through: unfortunately, the recent oil drop has catalyzed that issue. The oil and gas industry is going to have to reinvent itself,” says Cross. “We don’t present ourselves as an exciting place to work, and it is. Oil exploration and production is all over the world in exotic locations, with very difficult and advancing technology, constantly trying to do more, so it has a great potential to be branded well.”

The low oil prices and contraction in the industry has presented oil and gas companies with plenty of challenges. But there is also an opportunity, as Cross states, to remind younger engineers of the excitement of the industry, and ensure the next generation of oil and gas workers take the profession forwards into the best possible future.

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about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.