Building The 21st Century Workforce

September 2014, Vol. 241, No. 9

Kate Permenter, Pipeline News Editor

The oil and gas industry has a problem. With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, energy companies are facing a shortage of talent. In Mercer’s “Oil & Gas Talent Outlook and Workforce Practices Survey,” it was reported that many oil and gas companies plan to poach employees from competitors to solve this dilemma.

Philip Tenenbaum, senior partner and global leader of Mercer’s Energy consulting practice, said that poaching is neither a feasible nor sustainable option. Simply put, if there is a scarcity of workers, there won’t be enough to go around. The industry needs to find a way to draft fresh talent, and fast.

Razor Suleman is the founder of Achievers, a company focused on recruiting, retaining and inspiring top employees. He started Achievers 12 years ago in Toronto. The company also has offices in San Francisco and London. He graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University’s School of Business and MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters’ Program.

Suleman wrote an article “Top Five Ways to Keep Your Top Talent” that listed five key concepts for creating a strong workforce in the emerging job market:
a) developing their skills;
b) giving them a voice;
c) providing them with talented leaders;
d) increasing their responsibility; and
e) recognizing their contributions.

In this interview with P&GJ, he urges the oil and gas industry to bring Millennials (those in their 20s and early 30s) aboard to help boost the labor pool and showcase what they have to offer the industry. More than just a business entrepreneur or salesman, Suleman shows a passion for trying to make the energy industry better.

P&GJ: What is the Achievers’ mission?
Our mission is to change the way the world works. It is something that I have been passionate about since I entered the workplace. I looked at the “best practices” for human resources and how some companies operated. It didn’t seem to align with how Generation X (North Americans born from the early 1960s to the late 1970s) and Generation Y (North Americans born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s), who now comprise the majority of the workforce, would operate, let alone leverage their passion, and engage them to do amazing things for their organizations.

Achievers is centered around engaging employees, driving company performance, aligning these two groups, and getting people to feel recognized for their contributions. The number one reason that employees leave is because they don’t feel valued by their organizations for the work they do.

There is a huge opportunity for us to change that. If we’re successful at changing the way that the world works and engaging employees, when they go home their personal lives will be that much better.

P&GJ: When and why did you become interested in workforce issues?
One of my first customers, ING Bank, was motivating employees by using branded promotional products as their company rewards. Working together, we talked to their employees and it was clear that these promotional products weren’t motivating them to drive performance. Employees wanted to find meaningful work for a company with a culture they loved and to be rewarded in a way that was meaningful to them.

If they had an opportunity to be successful and be rewarded with an iPad, Coach purse or whatever was motivating them, then we could really help connect employees and companies through our social recognition platform. More companies are finding challenges around engaging Generation X and Generation Y, and we want to bring a new world of engagement to the Fortune 500.

P&GJ: Why are you focusing on the oil and gas industry?
We have had the privilege of working with BP Canada for the past five years and in that time I’ve learned so much about this business and the nuances. Oil and gas companies have some interesting challenges. Baby Boomers are retiring at an increasing rate and it is generally an older workforce. Across the U.S. about 20,000 Baby Boomers retire daily. They haven’t done a great job of recruiting that next wave of Millennials.

PGJ: With the class of 2014 entering the job market, how should the oil and gas industry tailor their recruitment tactics for the Millennial perspective? Since many jobs in the industry require relocation to less desirable regions, how can they encourage talented young people to work for them?
I think of that as a two-part strategy. First, there is an education that needs to take place – there are so many innovative things happening in this industry. The energy field is continuing to evolve and there exists a big opportunity for these leading companies. Companies should talk to their top employees and learn where they came from, whether it’s communities or colleges, and ask them to be their ambassadors, educate people with their experience and use the amazing social technologies that have emerged in the last 10 years.

That’s where Millennials and the class of 2014 are spending their time. Focusing on inbound recruiting strategies where people have peers and friends is beneficial because those are the best ambassadors. Once we get the education, social media usage and ambassadors’ part right, there is an opportunity to incentivize. We have seen this work effectively when there is a strong, trusting relationship.

We tell companies that their employees are the best source of talent. They know people like themselves who would be good candidates for the company, culture and industry. Companies should create a program that would reward current employees for referrals, whether or not they work out.

We recommend $25 in points for a point-based program so that employees can choose their reward. If the referral is hired, then make it $2,000 or $5,000 in points. The employee can accumulate points and set a goal. If companies can create the education in incentives, it is an effective strategy to get the Millennials into the industry.

P&GJ: If you were in charge of workforce issues at an energy company, what would be your strategy to recruit talent?
Most of the executives that we work with are baby boomers. I talk about the importance of social media but it often goes over their heads because they didn’t grow up with it. Companies could make their young, talented, passionate staff the community managers of social media. Someone who is passionate about Twitter can spend 5-10% of their time updating the community about what’s going on in the business.

Someone else can be responsible for the Facebook page, Glassdoor or LinkedIn. It’s a neat way to stretch some of those new talents. For the company, they now have a presence. Especially in the oil and gas industry, where not a lot of people have embraced the power of social media, this is the best time to do that.

P&GJ: Have you found any energy company that has a successful workforce model?
BP is the one that I am closest to. It’s amazing how passionate people with the company are about the industry. They had a rough patch and they’ve done a good job of recovering. It’s interesting how their employees really came together in that time of crisis. They started to embrace some of these social strategies we’re talking about. Their strategy has been around engaging and retaining the employees they have because after that rough patch they were at risk. They’ve done a good job at focusing on their internal brand, partnering with Achievers, living their values and reminding people of their purpose.

P&GJ: Many jobs in the industry also involve hands-on labor and occasionally getting dirty. How can this be made less of an obstacle in hiring skilled technical people in a competitive hiring environment?
There are many diverse jobs in the industry. Oil and gas companies are some of the biggest companies in the world. Part of the education strategy is to let people know there is a lot of opportunity and job diversity.

What we’ve seen work well for people that are in what might not be perceived as a desirable job is profiling employees. Maybe they’ve dropped out of college but now have a high-paying job on a rig or pipeline and are financially doing better than they initially expected; then they’re being recognized by their peers, whether it be through a promotion, lateral move or other opportunities. Finding those heroes, profiling them as stars, and showing how their careers have evolved are the most emotional ways to connect with people who can relate to them. That’s what motivates people to want to follow in their footsteps.

P&GJ: And then what should the oil and gas sector do to keep young people motivated and engaged upon employment?
We have three things that we focus on at Achievers – recruiting, retaining and inspiring our employees to keep them engaged and motivated.

Start by recruiting the right people. Who are the successful people? Where do they come from? How do you connect the people you have with the people you want? Start with the right expectation and education so that they understand how difficult some of these jobs are. We are all about being targeted and thoughtful with our recruiting strategy.

Once they’re onboard, it’s often about the internal culture, the mission of the organization and the relationships they make. It is a community. Especially if you’re in a remote place, that’s your family. Those relationships become really intense and are unique and special. Companies haven’t embraced that aspect of community and leveraging their employees to engage with one another, whether it’s through a platform like ours, or face-to-face and getting managers involved. That’s the key. We have this saying that people join companies – they leave managers.

P&GJ: Achievers mentions the importance of a metrics-driven work environment on employee performance. What kind of a metric system is the company referring to?
We are data nerds. We measure everything. Many of our company partners come to us because they have a certain problem. They’re either not recruiting the right talent, not retaining talent, have low engagement scores or maybe safety is an issue. Our approach is to understand our client’s business and come up with a scorecard. We want to understand what these five things are that matter the most. Then we’ll design programs.

We designed a recruiting program that would help increase employee referrals. We embedded analytics in the technology that would measure program effectiveness. A company can’t wait a year to realize that a recruiting strategy didn’t work. That’s too late. We want to iterate every month or every quarter if we need to. It is important to have the data to support decisions.

Every manager on our platform has access to Manager’s Corner. Manager’s Corner has an analytics suite so that they can check their performance on smart phones, tablets or computers. Awareness and accountability are key factors for making anything you measure successful.

P&GJ: How would you address replacing the oil and gas sector’s senior and middle level staff as it is now reaching retirement age at a rapid rate? What should companies do to encourage them to at least stay long enough to ensure a smooth transition and an exchange of their knowledge?
We would encourage companies to create mentor programs for the new crop of workers and to make it a part of the senior and middle level staff’s job function to help develop the next wave of talent. The senior and middle level staff should also be learning. New employees can teach them how Twitter works or how to build a LinkedIn profile so that they can stay relevant and there is something in it for them. Unilateral relationships tend not to last as long as when they are mutually beneficial.

P&GJ: Many pipeliners go to welding school but graduate with no work experience. Even though the pipeline industry in North America is experiencing an unprecedented boom, many laborers remain unemployed. Do you have any suggestions on what the oil and gas sector can do to fix this conundrum?
Experience is a six- to twelve-month problem that companies could use to attract employees. Xerox built a sales army by hiring young college graduates with no experience and making them sales representatives and sales managers of their photocopiers. They built a giant business doing that. There is a huge opportunity for these oil and gas executives to create a program where employees can get experience. Companies can compensate them a little less for that first year, use the program to make them aware of other opportunities and promote from within as an apprenticeship/internship culture.

P&GJ: What would you say to a potential client?
There are a lot of businesses going through this transformation. From my experience, the oil and gas industry has been a little on the laggard side. For the executives reading this, if there’s anything I want to encourage them to do, it is to act now. They’ve got to change the way they’re doing things. There’s an opportunity for companies to build an innovative ram to recruit the next wave of the workforce. The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is right now.

By Kate Permenter, Pipeline News Editor