Poaching workers becomes business strategy for oil and gas as boomers retire

HOUSTON — Energy companies know they’re facing a shortage of talent, especially in engineering, plant management and geoscientific fields.

But instead of trying to develop more workers with those key skills, many companies are planning to buy their way out of the problem, according to a survey by Mercer of 112 companies worldwide that employ more than 1 million workers.

Nearly half of the companies indicated they plan to rely on their ability to “steal and poach” to fill their job openings, said John Koob, who leads the energy consulting practice for North America for Mercer.

That strategy doesn’t surprise Koob, who works out of Mercer’s office in Houston. He’s been hearing the same plans from his clients for years.

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Last week, he hosted a roundtable discussion with several oil and gas clients in Denver.

When it came time to talk about where they’re going to find enough experts as the aging baby boomers retire – in what’s become known in the industry as the “great shift change” – the company representatives looked at each other and pointed fingers: “My strategy is to steal from you.”

That approach isn’t sustainable, Koob said, pointing to a five-year forecast that shows a shortage of 300,000 to 500,000 workers worldwide in eight critical areas including geosciences, petroleum engineering and plant management.

“There won’t be enough to poach, ” he said.

There has to be some fundamental shift in strategy to expand the pool of available workers, whether increasing training, relying more on immigrant labor and contractors or fundamentally changing staffing models, Koob said.

He said the argument hasn’t gotten a lot of traction. Clients say: “We’ve been talking about it for years, and it hasn’t happened. How is it different this time?”

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Koob has been trying to show his clients the magnitude of risk they face, pointing to the big wave of retirement-eligible employees. Between 40 percent and 80 percent of those in the technical and engineering positions could leave in the next five years as they near retirement age, according to Mercer’s data.

The survey also found the shortage of experienced and new petroleum engineers and plant/operations engineers will be the most acute during the next five years.

Plant managers, geoscientists, upstream product managers, finance managers, sales, traders and marine shippers will also be in short supply.


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