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Oil and Gas Industry: Labor Shortages & Industry Sustainability
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For two impactful days in September some of the oil and gas industry’s top leaders came together in Houston at the HR and Talent Management in Oil and Gas USA 2014 Conference with the goal of developing strategies to mitigate the labor shortage and ensure industry sustainability.

This undertaking represented a significant challenge but the individuals entertaining the task possessed a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience which is unsurpassed and was more than adequate to the mission.

While the conference focused on the oil and gas industry, many of the strategies developed apply across industry lines throughout the business community. The statements listed below represent the chairman’s insider view and a cross-section of the results of two-days of presentations, roundtable sessions, and behind the scenes discussions with business leaders whose responsibilities span the globe.

I had the opportunity to chair this conference, and here are some of the lessons learned throughout.

Ensuring adequate flow into the talent pipeline

We do not wait for oil or gas to fill our pipelines; we go out and find it. There is no logical reason every company shouldn’t be involved with and supporting the development of young people in high school and college, preparing and guiding them into the talent pipeline needed to keep our lights on, our doors open, and our businesses productively operating. Our success in recruiting top talent in the future depends on the success of our schools to inspire top students today.

Seeking top talent on college campuses

When recruiting on college campuses, you can’t follow the model of a lazy politician and only show up just before the election if you expect to win! Good politicians are visible among their constituents all year long. Likewise, the corporate brand needs to be visible and seen by students and their families as a positive influence in college communities throughout the school year.

Attracting, recruiting, and retaining top talent

Top talent often has options on where to work. The task of attracting them becomes easier when the word on the street supports the idea that your company offers a stable, attractive, and supportive work environment. When recruiters or former employees report a different story, top talent may look elsewhere. If they do accept an offer to work for you, what do they experience once they walk in the door? Is it what they expected? Does you brand have authenticity? If not, they may never fully engage with the work as they keep one eye on the door ready to jump ship as soon as the next opportunity avails itself.

Sustaining peak performance

In a non-supportive work environment management efforts to operate efficiently often fail and every task seems harder for employees to accomplish. Everyone suffers! But who is responsible? Through implementation of policies and behaviors, management sets the tone for the work environment. Employees hold responsibility for managing their levels of motivation. Management’s ability to leverage employee productivity derives from the type of workplace environment it creates either by design or default. A supportive environment embraces productivity, a non-supportive environment repels it. Efforts to sustain high performance in a non-supportive work environment create a certain path to employee burnout. Due to the dynamics of situational performance, peak performance is only sustainable in a supportive environment.

Acquiring talent

Three strategies exist for acquiring talent: buy, build or borrow. Buying talent means paying for experience. Building talent means implementing effective training programs to develop skills. Borrowing talent means contracting with support service companies for skilled labor. The best approach depends on need, budget, and situation of the organization.

Managing risk in terms of top talent

Most business leaders are adept at managing risk in terms of safety. The bowtie chart is a common tool for displaying an undesirable event, the measures in place to prevent that event from happening, and the measures in place to mitigate the negative impact if it does happen. A comprehensive assessment of risks allows safety professionals to prioritize budget allocations for the best ROI. Talent management professionals in progressive companies take a similar approach to managing the risk associated with losing top talent and aptly focus their efforts on keeping top talent in place.

Retaining top talent

A learning environment lays the foundation for leadership development and continuous improvement. Serious consideration should be given to the question: How do we treat people? The answer to this question forms the basis for what employees experience every day on the job. If employees are treated fairly and with respect then the question becomes, how willing is the employee to perform above and beyond what is considered adequate in terms of time, thought, and energy? The level of productivity demonstrated by a given organization results from a confluence of the answers that flow from these two questions.

Engaging smoothly with each other

The weather we experience results from a complex interaction between molecules as they continuously bump into each other. How roughly these interactions occur determines the severity of the weather patterns. To some degree, the temperament of the workplace is driven by all the interpersonal encounters of people working within close proximity to each other. How smoothly people engage with each other on a one-to-one basis impacts how efficiently work progresses.

Involving Gen Y when discussing Gen Y

When discussing the impact of the Gen Y employees on the workplace, it is useful to have the voices of Gen Y employees represented. This guidance applies equally well to other workplace issues involving other groups. For example, when business leaders and HR professionals discuss the challenge of rolling a compliance or assessment program out to field supervisors, it is useful to involve field supervisors in the planning.

Surveying the employees

Employee surveys are the most common way of accessing issues in the workplace. However, as a standalone device, employee surveys may not always yield accurate results. In non-supportive work environments, employees may not trust how their responses to surveys will be used even when the surveys are conducted by independent third parties. Therefore, some employees may not provide honest answers. When surveys are used, corporate leadership should be prepared to act upon at least some of the results to demonstrate their willingness to address employee concerns.

Knowing what employees want

Astute business leaders make it their job to understand what employees experience. Knowing the indicators that elevate flight risk allows management to minimize that possibility and mitigate its impact should preventative measure fail. Regardless of other factors, engaging employees produces employee engagement and engaged employees are always the most productive.

Maintaining expat and domestic workforces

Differences between domestic and foreign cultures vary greatly. Foreign deployment of expat workers requires detailed attention to local laws, traditions, and political issues. Most domestic workplaces do not embody such drastic cultural differences but few workplaces are totally homogeneous. Therefore, the same types of attention to detail used to sustain an expat workforce may prove beneficial when applied to resolving the concerns of workers in a domestic operation.

Thinking outside of the box

HR professionals often need to analyze challenging workforce issues and develop creative solutions. Serving in a partnership role with operations personnel, lets HR staff and leadership anticipate and solve many situations before they rise to a problematic level.

While considering strategies to mitigate the labor shortage and ensure industry sustainability, we as professionals must always be cognizant that it is people who keep the lights on, the doors open, and who perform the work. Which strategies serve best in a given situation depends on the needs of the organization, the capabilities of management, the skill level of the employees, and the prevailing conditions in the work environment.

However, when experienced, knowledgeable professionals come together in common purpose to share best practices and discuss relevant issues, workable solutions to problems that challenge the business community can be found. And, it is through events like the HR & Talent Management USA 2014 Conference, produced by Inside Intelligence based in London, where progress truly becomes possible.

Do you agree/disagree with some of those learned lesson? Let me know in the comments below.

About The Author
Fred Stawitz
Fred Stawitz, a national award-winning educator and writer, is the author of the inventive new book on employee engagement Don’t Run Naked Through The Office! He has developed effective training programs for the American space shuttle program as well as Shell’s natural gas pipeline and headed up the development of online technical training for one of America’s largest pipeline companies. He has been the featured guest on several television news/talk shows including CNN Headline News – Local Edition in Southern California and a PBS local affiliate special in Pennsylvania, has chaired national HR and HSE conferences, and was quoted in a special Congressional Quarterly Report.

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