The Aging Workforce in Energy

Cycles in business

I’ve noticed an interesting trend among my peers lately. They are retiring! I’m not ready to retire, I’m still having a lot of fun. But, as companies change ownership and leadership, others get packages and encouraged to retire.

This could have a huge impact on our businesses!  So many companies that I work with send people just like me to the key decision-making meetings.  Where are the younger staff that are being groomed to take our positions? I was fortunate, 20-plus years ago, to be brought into the heart of some of the big changes that our industry was going through. At that time, the groups were made up of a mix of young business people like myself, who had good experience, though not deep, plus senior executives with deep knowledge. We learned so much from those senior executives, so that when they retired, we were equipped to step up and fill those shoes. But I don’t see most companies, today, sending those more junior staff into the decision-making processes along with their senior staff. They are still sending the senior staff but only sending one person and not growing someone to take that person’s place.

Yes, there is a cost involved to send two or more people instead of one. But there is a longer-term cost in only sending one person – the company isn’t growing a future generation to take the place of these senior staff. This isn’t true of all companies. I have worked with a few who bring the young people into the discussions with the senior staff, but there are still more seniors in the room than there are juniors.

And yes, I agree, that the younger staff of today are not the same breed that we were 20+ years ago. I think some of those people still exist, but they might be a little harder to find and a lot harder to retain. In recent years, I sent one of my employees to NAESB meetings, technical meetings for which he was well prepared. When he came back from the meeting he told me that if he had to go to those meetings again, he would quit!  What? I agree that it is difficult to work in a group such as NAESB because there are such long established procedures in place and so many long term relationships have been established. But don’t give up on the first try! Stick with it and make it work for you. Another associate, through NAESB, picked a successor to be trained up as a replacement upon her retirement. The person kept being a no-show at scheduled meetings and then claimed to not understand the process.

When I got started in NAESB, I already had 10+ years of industry experience and it was a tough organization to be a part of. Any organization that tries to build consensus on business processes among over 100 different companies is going to have some tough discussions! But the process works! During that time of getting started in NAESB, was also at the beginning of NAESB. To get all of the work done, many of us worked multiple 16+ hour days. Some of us even worked some 24-hour days. We did whatever it took to make the process successful. We need a new wave of this type of workforce in the gas industry. People who will work hard and are passionate about doing a good job and creating a better industry. We need to find those people, retain them, grow them, and prepare them for the future of our companies.

The question then becomes – what are these young people looking for in a company and how do we keep them? Is it benefits? Is it “work-life balance”? Benefits in companies are not the same as they were 20 years ago – and when I began in this industry I knew that these companies would grow ME as a person while growing me as an employee. Is this what recruits are looking for today? Or is it something different? We need to know what the current generation requires. We need to plan for succession.

Where do you Network? Is your net working for you?

It is important to network in natural gas.  Is your net working?

Why is it important? Three reasons immediately come to mind.

1 – To learn more about the job that you do. If you are a scheduler, accountant, contract analyst – it doesn’t matter.  Other people in your same position in other companies have something you can learn from.  They are dealing with the same counterparties. They are dealing with the same challenges.  Share the knowledge, share the problems and come up with smarter solutions!

2 – To learn more about the business you’re in.  There is much more to the business than your job.  Your job is a vertical position in the company – a slice of the business process.  Networking gives you the opportunity to learn what other positions do and how the holistic business process operates.  The more you know about the entire business process, the more effective you can be in your job.

3 – To become a part of the solution.  Things are always changing in the energy industry because of technology, market shifts, government regulations and IT solutions.  If you network, you can see changes that are coming and prepare for them rather than react to them.  This is when you become a part of the solution.

In Natural Gas, the FERC has asked NAESB to look at the options for scheduling gas on a more continuous basis.  NAESB will pick up that subject in early 2016 to explore the solutions.  By networking, we can get ahead of the curve, find out what each other is thinking in regard to possibilities in the business process and possibilities with technology.  We can know what the possible solutions are before we enter into those negotiations and we can know what the pain points are that we need to avoid.

Where do you network?  This week, I’ve been at LDC Forums – MidContinent in Chicago with OpenLink.  OpenLink brought me to the Forums to promote my new book – Contents Under Pressure. These folks are great at networking!  They set aside time specifically for networking and create networking venues. They hold multiple LDC Forums throughout the year in different locations in North America.  Where are the places that you network?  Share them so that they can grow and become more effective.  I’d love to get your input.