As seen on 6/9/19 in the Midland Reporter Telegram op-ed article:
If you graduated high school in Midland, Texas in the late 1980s or 1990s, chances are good you did not want a career in oil and gas. As you flipped through the course catalog of your chosen university, sitting there in your stonewashed jeans and floppy highlighted hair, I would bet you tried to skip right over engineering and geology. Am I right?
As a child of $8 oil, booms and busts, layoffs and transfers, you knew the consequences of a career in such a cyclical industry and so you likely chose a different life path. Why? Oil and gas seemed too insecure and uncertain.
Fast forward to today and consider Midland. We have an industry almost completely void of an entire generation of professionals. Look around you. Where are the 40-55 year-olds? In our office, at Octane Energy, we call these people the Unicorns of the Oil Business. They do exist, those brave few who pushed into oil and gas during a time when everyone else said “no way,” but they are the exceptions. If you are one such brave Unicorn, please allow me a moment to generalize about this issue.
Every E&P company and every service company in the Permian today is looking to hire professionals who have 20+ years of experience in the industry, but who are not yet at retirement age. These Unicorns simply do not exist in the numbers necessary to meet demand.
Since the mid to late 1990s, the oil and gas industry has been lamenting what it calls “The Great Crew Change.” Forbes, The Houston Chronicle, and many industry publications have discussed this impending moment when the Baby Boomers of O&G will decide to retire and leave us with a dearth of knowledge and experience. We have seen this problem coming and I am certainly not the first to remark upon it.
My purpose here today is not to solve the industry issues surrounding The Great Crew Change. Rather, let us evaluate the societal strain this phenomenon is placing upon our community in Midland. Because our city population has historically been so tied to industry norms, we are facing the same problems of generational community involvement and leadership the industry faces.
Baby Boomers are ready to retire to their lake houses or to their mountain houses in Colorado, ready to play with grandbabies and travel and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Many of these folks are still working and providing much needed expertise in their careers but they have begun to pull out of leadership in our churches, civic organizations and community at large. If they haven’t left yet, they are preparing. This is a reasonable and normal transition of life; we should expect it.
The problem in Midland is that when these folks take it to the lake or to the mountains, they are leaving us void of huge numbers of leaders. For various reasons – some legitimate and some false – many leaders in Midland have failed to groom, disciple, and prepare younger leaders to take over the responsibilities of our community. And the generation of Midlanders who should naturally be expected to take up this mantle of leadership – those from 40-55 years-old – do not even exist within our community in large enough numbers to cover the leadership needs.
I propose three possible solutions. First, existing leaders within our community must make sure you have found and trained your replacement. I don’t care if you are leading in a preschool Sunday school classroom or if you are leading a committee or leading in an elected office or leading a billion dollar company. Make sure you can leave your position, knowing your shoes are well-filled by your successors. The fundamentals of leadership theory tell us one key mark of effective leadership is that your organization can sustain itself healthfully even after your departure. Do your part and get the next generation of leaders ready to step up in your place.
Second, for all of you Unicorns out there, Hurrah!! This is your time to shine. We need you in our companies, our non-profits and in all facets of our community. Press forward and do the hard work of bridge-building between the (dare I say it?) entitled Baby Boomers and their entitled Millennial children.
And, finally, we thirty-somethings and twenty-somethings must step forward into roles we may not yet feel prepared to manage. We cannot wait for the forty-somethings to leap into leadership because there simply aren’t enough of them in Midland to fill all the roles. It is incumbent upon us to seek out the training and mentorship we need to lead well. Let us humble ourselves, look for leaders we want to emulate, and place ourselves in the way of learning from them before they all head to the lake.
As I stated in my previous op-ed, Midland is at a massive inflection point as a community. If we are to progress into a new era of strength and success as a community, we must pull together in collaboration, to raise up leaders among all generations for the benefit of our collective future.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have other solutions to suggest.