The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

One Millennial's View of America's Energy Industry

Brian Sanders-Smith

Brian Sanders-Smith
Posted August 10, 2018

As a Millennial with unruly hair who hikes and fishes through national parks, few could have expected me to work for the natural gas and oil industry. But three months ago, I started at the American Petroleum Institute (API) as an intern. It would be generous to say I had any knowledge of the industry when I arrived, but during my time at API I have been able to see and experience a new perspective of natural gas and oil.

The week I began work, I was sitting in my friends’ apartment talking to them about my internship. When I told them where I was working, they were shocked. They wondered why I would ever choose API over my other options with education foundations, and they proceeded to describe for me their less-than-positive opinions about the natural gas and oil industry.

While this small group of Millennials isn’t the voice for entire generations, my friends’ concerns mirrored in the results of a survey published last year by EY, in which most Millennials and Gen Z’s described industry careers as unstable, blue-collar, difficult and dangerous. Teens, especially, told EY that oil companies don’ t care about what’s best for their generation. 


It’s hard to pinpoint which of the many generational influences has given us Millennials these misconceptions, but what the data shows is that Millennials and Gen Z’s tend to steer away from the industry. Many members of our generation are looking to work in industries that they consider to be clean, innovative, and high-tech, and most don’t see natural gas and oil that way. What I’ve seen has been quite a different picture from the one that has been painted for our generation.

My impression is that natural gas and oil not only has plenty of lucrative opportunities for Millennials and Gen Z’s but needs us to lead the industry into the future. The United States has grown into the world leader in natural gas and oil production — and it keeps growing. Jobs are consistently being added.

In addition to this rapid growth, in the next seven to 10 years there is an expected “crew change” where many current industry professionals are expected to retire, leaving a wide-open door for those who are looking in the right place. This industry is offering a well full of opportunity that millions of Millennials and Gen Z’s could miss.

This is important because it’s getting harder and harder for new college graduates to find good stable jobs. I have many friends with college degrees who are forced to work in coffee shops or data entry to make ends meet. This isn’t because a lack of good jobs, but because we aren’t looking in the right places. But once we fight through the cloud of misconceptions about the natural gas and oil industry we will find a gold mine of opportunities.

Whether you’re educated in the STEM fields or, like me, are educated in liberal arts, there are plenty jobs with natural gas and oil — jobs of all kinds and not just blue-collar jobs. There’s opportunity for engineers, environment and conservation specialists, computer techs, communicators and more.

Since I started at API three months ago, three other millennials were hired just within my department. The industry has proven to me countless times that it values the innovative and progressive nature of our generations. Time and time again, I have seen veteran employees seek the insight of young employees. Once, they even brought in groups of college students to hear their ideas. The industry has shown that it’s committed to change and progress, but if we don’t take the helm, then we won’t be able to steer the ship.

I was only here for a moment, but if this moment is any indication of what the industry is doing then the future is in good hands. But these hands are getting ready to pass the torch, and they are looking for people to take it.

We as a generation need to put our preconceptions aside and realize that this isn’t our daddy’s energy, it’s ours.


Brian Sanders-Smith is an intern for the American Petroleum Institute. He is also a student at the University of Utah, where he is studying communications and sociology. Before he began his education, Brian spent two years supervising volunteer efforts in Portland, Oregon, and teaching in Tanzania. Brian loves to travel and has been to over 25 countries.