School of Rock

Some call it a demographic time bomb. Others, “the great crew change.” But, something inevitable is about to hit the oil and natural gas industry – the truth about its aging workforce.

The pioneers who built this industry into the great force it is today are ready to turn over the reins. The leaders and visionaries who have helped lead us into a new petroleum revolution will soon be looking to pass their knowledge into younger hands.

The question across the country is whether those new hands will be there.

The OERB has been focused on preparing the next generation of energy leaders since 1996. Through our outreach in 95 percent of Oklahoma’s school districts, children are learning about the oil and natural gas industry as early as kindergarten. We use one-of-a-kind energy and science curricula, provided free to teachers, to introduce the industry to students in a hands-on, scientific method-based way.

Knowing the coming need our industry would face, the OERB created a college scholarship program and a technical program in the mid 2000s. The goal was to attract students to study in petroleum-related fields. Many of these bright, new energy leaders are on the job before they’ve even left the classroom.

And, others are catching on. Our student education efforts and programs have been mimicked in states like Kansas and Illinois.

In Ohio, the state department of education has started a specific oil and natural gas training program at one of its high schools in Alliance. The two-year program is taught by a retired industry professional who teaches the “skills oil and natural gas employees need to make it in the industry.”

Students learn everything from bulldozer work to oilfield terminology to mapping.

“I see a lot of opportunities in the industry and this program is teaching us the diverse skills we’ll need,” said student Darrian Nelson.

These skilled students may be able to write their own tickets once they graduate – they will be in high demand. The Houston Chronicle reports the need for petroleum engineers will rise 17 percent by 2020.

Ross Buckner, human resources manager for Plains Exploration and Production Co. says people with strong business acumen and communications skills are perfect for the job.

“We expect the demand for engineers with the right skills to accelerate as technology and opportunities to find and produce oil expand,” said Buckner.

The skilled worker crunch is expected to last 10-15 years for the industry. And, it’s not just oil and natural gas that is affected.

Construction foremen across the northern states and into Canada say they need strong, hard working people to help execute building projects associated with increased petroleum production in the area.

A senior advisor for the Canadian Building Trades – a workers’ union – says that country is nearing a critical phase in its labor market. In fact, 200,000 new workers will be needed by 2018. These workers are needed to keep oil and natural gas projects moving.

He says changing the perception that construction is a “last-resort” career option will be their toughest recruiting hurdle.