Building a career pipeline: new generation of industry talent awaits.

Author:Nemec, Richard
 
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As Mark Miller, a senior oil and natural gas executive with years of experience, was addressing a Baker Hostetler Shale Symposium in Houston in mid-2015 he could not resist the opportunity to talk about a favorite subject, "the transfer of knowledge to the next generation of workers" in the industry and an industry-backed program in Houston schools. It involves early energy education for high school students.

"It allows young people to learn a career as early as the ninth grade," Miller told a group of mostly young professionals at the shale symposium. "They're learning about geosciences, engineering, land applications and geophysics. Think back how much further ahead you would be if you had a chance in ninth grade to be exposed to the careers you're involved in now."

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As president of Louisiana-based Merlin Oil & Gas and vice chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), Miller credited IPAA with starting a decade ago to address the now more imminent challenge of ensuring the next generation of engineering and technical talent in the energy industry through what is now called The Petroleum Academy in the Houston schools.

"If you're 15 years old, and that fire is lit inside of you, then you can enter college knowing exactly what you want to do. These kids are starting younger and they're getting it," said Miller, calling the effort "an amazing success story" made possible by various companies providing money and site visits.

What Miller and other experienced energy industry leaders are saying and reflecting is the profoundly different businesses that oil, gas and pipelines are today, 16 years into the 21st century. A lot of the guesswork and gambling is gone and it's a lot like 20th century manufacturing. The influences on the developing intelligentsia making the sector go are no longer found in silos embedded in global companies, but in horizontal networking with stakeholders, operators, regulators and interest groups.

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The approach in Houston is just one initiative addressing where the talent will come from to replace a graying workforce that is projected to have hundreds of thousands of new jobs by 2030. It is a conundrum facing both the private and public sectors worldwide, particularly in North America. Efforts in California and Canada, as well as Houston, recognize the challenge and are addressing it.

A recent Harvard/Boston Consulting Group (BCG) economic treatise found unconventional energy development will be a critical piece of the future U.S. economy, contributing $430 billion and 2.7 million jobs in 2014. The report called unconventional gas and oil resources [shale and tight oil/gas] "the single largest opportunity to improve the trajectory of the U.S. economy."

"Today, this industry has moved from an environment of exploration/production into one more closely aligned with manufacturing," said Mike McGonagill, retired COO from Alliance Pipeline, whose father and grandfather worked in oil and gas in New Mexico. "That's the downhole side. Due to the decades of drilling and mapping they know where the reservoirs are and now it's pure manufacturing, efficiencies of scale, scalability, requiring up-down adjustments as we experience in shale plays today. It is very similar to the supply/demand economics of any commodity."

That, in turn, is changing the pipeline industry as it "repipes" America for this new economic environment, McGonagill said.

The Harvard/BCG report, which examined energy broadly, including renewables and efficiency programs, said general public support for the energy sector is lacking, and listed 11 goals for fully developing U.S. potential, including "timely development of new infrastructure" and "delivering a skilled workforce."...

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