The Great Crew Change: How the Oil and Gas Industry Can Use ELNs to Prepare for the Next Generation
The oil and gas industry faces a major issue in the near future. No, I’m not talking about market volatility or plummeting crude oil prices. Sure, those are still concerns in the current uncertain environment, but what I’m referencing is something that’s gone overlooked in recent years. What is it? The Great Crew Change.
How Will the Great Crew Change Affect the Oil and Gas Industry?
The Great Crew Change refers to the large age gap in the oil and gas industry’s workforce. It means that the majority of engineers and scientists are either over 55 or under 35. Why is this a big deal? Those employees over the age of 55 are part of the Baby Boomer generation, meaning that they’ll become eligible to retire within the next 5-7 years.1 That’s about 50% of the workforce! Imagine how much institutional knowledge will be lost when those employees retire.
Estimates say that oil and gas companies could face a shortage of as much as 15,000 experienced engineers and geoscientists by 2016. That’s not an insignificant number. Add in a generation of millennial-aged workers who lack the depth of real-world experience as their predecessors, and the industry has a serious problem on their hands. How can the United States remain competitive with foreign companies under these conditions?
Preparing for the Generational Shift
There are steps oil and gas companies can take to prepare for the generational shift, however. The most important task is to ensure that as much institutional knowledge as possible is retained and passed on.2 They can do this by creating a plan that includes the following:
- Identify which roles and processes need to be retained.
- Capture the information.
- Develop a system to hand off the knowledge.
This seems like a tall order, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Digital tools exist that can make the transition easier. In this instance, I would suggest adopting an electronic lab notebook (ELN).
In the past, we’ve discussed how implementing an ELN can optimize productivity within the oil and gas industry. That still holds true, but it offers other benefits as well:
- Preservation of Knowledge
Laboratory notebooks are usually considered crucial for preserving data—and for good reason! From experimental data comes research breakthroughs and innovation. But things that sometimes get overshadowed are important protocols and formulas. These are two examples of institutional knowledge that must be passed on from one generation to the next. From my years of working in a laboratory, I know that time went into developing and optimizing those protocols and formulas. Why waste that effort by not ensuring your successors have that information? There’s no reason for them to start from scratch.
- Ability to Search
Most electronic lab notebooks have tagging capabilities. As a result, the time it takes to search through stored information is drastically reduced. A big advantage over paper notebooks! I’m not just talking about experimental data either. Procedures, formulas, and notes are all searchable. A very handy feature to have when you’re a new hire running a protocol for the first time and unsure of all the little tricks that can make things run smoother.
- Dissemination of Information
Electronic lab notebooks have sharing tools that allow collaborators to send information to one another, regardless of time and location. This feature becomes even more useful with passing on institutional knowledge. A retiring engineer can transcribe important notes for a protocol or formula and then send a notification to his successors that there’s something new for them to review.
It’s true that the Great Crew Change presents a major hurdle for the U.S. oil and gas industry during an already uncertain time (due to international competition). But easing the transition phase between the Baby Boomer generation of employees and the millennial-aged workforce can be made possible by using digital tools like electronic lab notebooks. After all, the new crew of millennials grew up on technology and expect to use it.3 Having them refer to an ELN for captured institutional knowledge shouldn’t be too difficult at all.
- “The Oil Industry’s Great Crew Change – Why It’s Even More Complicated Now,” May 4, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/drillinginfo/2015/05/04/the-great-crew-change-why-its-even-more-complicated-now/ ↩
- “The ‘Great Crew Change’,” April 10, 2015, http://www.ogfj.com/articles/print/volume-12/issue-4/features/the-great-crew-change.html ↩
- “Technology Innovation and Adoption in Oil & Gas Industry – Why Did It Slow?,” July 14, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/drillinginfo/2015/07/14/technology-innovation-and-adoption-in-oil-gas-industry-why-did-it-slow/3/ ↩