Midland, Texas, is easily equated to the Silicon Valley of the oil and gas industry. Midland’s revitalization as a result of unconventional drilling in the Permian Basin has been spearheaded by countless entrepreneurs.
These entrepreneurs have adopted the Silicon Valley practice of hiring young people, today’s millennials, for key leadership positions. These bright, young millennials were typically recruited out of college to work as engineers for large oil and gas companies. Within a year or two, the best and brightest are quickly bored by the slow pace of larger companies and are attracted to the faster pace at entrepreneurial companies. Consequently, entrepreneurial companies are knocking the socks off the larger competitors by putting millennials in key positions and taking advantage of the new generation’s creativity.
What are larger, traditional oil and gas companies doing wrong, and how can the Midland experience be duplicated?
Taking an unconventional approach to drilling for oil and gas in previously declining fields has bolstered the economy, particularly in Midland. An unconventional approach to leveraging millennials can eliminate the impending skills gap for oil and gas companies.
The Boomer Training Model
Oil and gas companies have developed comprehensive training programs to plug the impending skills gap when baby boomers start retiring. Millennials spend months in classroom and office-based training programs. Rotational assignments meant to introduce the entire company continue to keep millennials from the field. Once field assignments are given, boomers micromanage the new arrivals in an effort to prevent mistakes. The micro-management training approach was successful for boomers, so it’s now being used to train Millennials. The rationale is that everyone learns the same way as boomers. Wrong!
Millennials have grown up in an information-rich environment directly connected to their neural network via smartphone. The social-media-wired millennials can play multi-player online games, talk to friends via headset, and text at the same time. As a result, millennials are used to absorbing massive quantities of information in a short period of time. When encountering unknown issues, millennials will automatically reach out to their network to find answers. They can speed up problem solving without involving management. Millennials find the traditional training approach of spending weeks participating in classroom activities and months working in the office under boomer mentors a waste of time. As a result, trained millennials quickly get frustrated and leave for other opportunities, more autonomy, and freedom.
It’s rare to have a discussion with senior executives of oilfield services companies without hearing laments of losing newly minted engineers. In our research, we found the most common reasons why newly-trained engineers leave large companies. Millennials want to be accountable, make an impact, and have more autonomy. The new, smaller oilfield services companies offer what they seek: the unconventional resource.
A number of Midland-based oilfield services companies have been successful by offering to provide the appropriate level of training, freedom of innovation, and ability to grow a component of the business.
New hires are put through an accelerated training program that lasts between a few weeks to a few months. The Midland oilfield service companies have learned that millennials can learn very quickly and are quick to leverage their personal network when they have questions. Millennials pick their mentor and are assigned to key field positions once they have learned the basics. Newly trained employees are expected to make mistakes but learn quickly from them. Mistakes are often celebrated because it means the millennial is trying new things.
Our clients continue to encourage millennials by providing the responsibility to help grow key components of the business. One of the oilfield companies in Midland has a millennial managing all field operations. At another company, a millennial runs the casing business. This ranges from $250-400 million in revenue a —not an insignificant amount. In both cases, the millennials crews beat industry benchmarks for time to complete service and quality of results. When asked, the millennial managers state that success is the result of improving what is learned from their peers in social networking and media.
Turnover in the Midland oilfield companies taking this approach is very low.
Millennials don’t want to be over-trained or over-managed. Millennials want to quickly learn the basics and be put into positions where they can add value to the company. Companies can take advantage of the new unconventional resource by providing millennials with more accountability earlier than boomers would have expected.