The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Generation Next: Securing Tomorrow’s Energy Industry Workforce

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 23, 2012

Recently, ExxonMobil Development Co.’s L.M. Tillman addressed a gathering at the Offshore Technology Conference on the subject of energy industry employment. Tillman, vice president of engineering, said that economic growth in the developing world will drive the demand for energy and with it, the demand for energy workers. Here’s a follow-up Q&A with Mr. Tillman on energy employment, opportunities for younger workers and industry’s efforts to secure the next generation of workers.

Q: Where are the best opportunities to work in the industry, and what kind of skill sets are needed to land jobs and advance rapidly?

A: For the industry to be able to meet the energy challenge, it needs engineers and scientists who can push technology and innovation, analyze problems and develop creative solutions, and think differently about the challenges that our industry faces. Engineering and science degrees will continue to be in high demand in our industry.

There are numerous challenges ahead, not least of which is the need for safe, reliable and affordable options to meet the world's growing demand for energy. The challenge for the next generation of oil and gas professionals will be to innovate and to accomplish what by today’s standards may seem impossible.  I believe that by applying technology and innovation and the great minds in this industry, the world doesn’t need to choose between economic growth and environmental stewardship.

Q: In an age when workers have tended to move from job to job, career to career, is there real opportunity for people to spend an entire working career in oil and gas, and what is the industry doing to attract and hold young workers?

A: The energy industry faces a severe human resource challenge.  In the U.S. alone, nearly half of employees in the energy industries will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years.  This human resource challenge has two separate but related elements—attracting the next generation of engineers and geoscientists and bridging the demographic gap in the industry created by our past hiring practices.

When you look at ExxonMobil’s demographics, which are largely representative of the industry’s, we have my generation moving toward retirement.  And a trough just behind us that must be bridged.  And that bridge can only be built using our young professionals, those less than 35 years old, and connecting them with the wisdom and knowledge of those senior professionals before they make their exits.   

Replenishing and developing the future workforce in the energy sector requires strategic thinking and a long-term approach, and one of the first steps is to prepare young people for a career in the energy industry.  At ExxonMobil, we're committed to fostering the next generation of scientists and engineers by encouraging students to take an active interest in careers in math and science through programs such as the National Math and Science Initiative. In 2010, we directed nearly $110 million to education worldwide.

We also take a disciplined, structured approach to developing all of our employees to their fullest potential. This includes everything from technical and nontechnical training, to robust mentorship programs, to exposure to cutting-edge technology and tools. We constantly strive to cultivate diverse and accomplished employees who bring passion and initiative to their jobs. And we seek opportunities to link our senior technical professionals to our early career professionals for wisdom sharing and knowledge transfer by making that interaction an explicit expectation of their roles. 

Q: How does the industry compare to others in terms of opportunities for advancement, gaining responsibility and moving into leadership roles?

A: In March 2011, the SBC Energy Institute released the results of its 2010 Oil & Gas HR Benchmark survey (based on the responses of 29 oil and gas companies and 77 universities).   The results highlighted two major trends.   First, that the major demographic shift now underway will markedly alter the age and experience profile of the exploration and production industry, and second, that technical talent is a strategic enabler for delivering production and future growth.

In terms of demographics, the most common structure of E&P companies in the last decade will soon no longer exist.   By 2015, the typical major or independent will have moved from a demographic profile where seniority tended to prevail to one in which young professionals are in the majority. This is a major shift for many companies in Europe, and in North and South America.

This demographic shift will have consequences in terms of management and leadership.  Just as technology is evolving and creating new ways of working, the new generation joining the industry is different from its predecessor with career goals, the image of the oil and gas industry, and lifestyle considerations being at least as important to early career professionals as compensation and benefit packages.   Upstream companies will need to adapt to the highest requirements of the new generation in terms of career management and mobility.  

The approach to leadership will also have to adapt. Younger leaders, younger CEOs, will emerge at the top of large oil and gas companies where traditionally top-level jobs were awarded more on seniority.
The mantle of leadership will be passed quickly as the demographic wave creates retirements for the more senior and opportunities for the more junior.  This is true in both the technical and management spheres.

Our industry, the oil and gas industry, will remain viable, essential and relevant for the next generation of young professionals and beyond.  These young professionals will see more responsibility, earlier; higher expectations of leadership, sooner; rapid development of technology, accelerating even more; and more scrutiny of their actions, instantly.   The path ahead will have surprises but the future is bright for those that choose to be part of the energy industry.

Q: How can someone be proud of working for the oil and natural gas industry today, and what is the industry’s draw to new workers, compared to other careers/sectors?

A: The energy industry is a dynamic, exciting place to work, and energy production, in my view, is a noble, yet often misunderstood, pursuit – one that makes a dramatic difference in the lives of people around the world each and every day.

It may be difficult to believe, but today there are more than 1 billion people around the world who lack access to even the most basic forms of energy – this is a challenge that each of us needs to embrace. In 2040, five-sixths of the world’s 9 billion people will live in developing countries.  More people, many in rapidly developing economies, means that more energy will be needed – and lots of it. We expect energy demand to grow at an average rate of 0.9 percent a year from 2010 to 2040 and to be about 30 percent higher than today's levels.

Delivering the energy that the world needs – energy that can lift people around the globe out of economic distress and into prosperity – is the fundamental challenge for our industry and failure is simply not an option.   It won’t be easy.  And it will require trillions of dollars of new investments, significant advancements in technology and talented professionals with the skills, dedication and desire to make a difference.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.