By Sarah Terry-Cobo
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s not often that oil and gas industry executives agree on a single point. But one thing is true, leaders from Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources and Devon Energy said: There aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill the jobs available at their respective companies.
Energy and aerospace executives spoke about how educators can shape the next generation of employees to best prepare them for the Oklahoma workforce. On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin hosted a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Summit at the Cox Convention Center, to allow business leaders and educators to identify how to improve education.
The skills gap in the oil and gas industry isn’t new. There is a 15-year gap between those in the industry who got in during the boom of the 1970s and 1980s and those who began entering the industry in the early 2000s. Hundreds of middle managers and executives will soon retire from the oil industry, so young employees have more demands on them.
That requires a new, more diverse set of skills and expectations, said Jack Stark, senior vice president of exploration at Continental. Leadership and communication skills are crucial, he said.
“Young people are put in leadership roles much quicker than they have ever been, so they have a lot of demands on them,” Stark said.
Universities and technical schools are doing an excellent job of providing science and engineering graduates with the technical skills they need to perform their jobs, he said. But they need a more well-rounded education, so they understand how business works and the perspectives of their colleagues in different departments.
Dave Hager, chief operating officer of Devon, recommended basic business courses for any student interested in petroleum geology or petroleum engineering, including an overview of economics, finance and accounting. In addition to learning about their own specialties, Hager said an ethics course should be required.
“Students should take an ethics course because it is a fundamental value that is important for everyone, whether in science, technology, engineering and math or other disciplines,” Hager said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the technical areas of education and lose sight of the core values in society.”
Hager said he doesn’t think there is an ethics problem in his industry, but it’s a necessary value that educators should emphasize. Incorporating diversity of perspectives is important for both the energy and aerospace industry, said Sophia Kim, senior manager of strategic relations with Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor.
Northrop Grumman CEO’s strategy is to recruit women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people who are diverse in the way they think, Kim said.
“How do we engage folks not normally in the STEM field to bring a diversity of creativity and education?” she said. “How do we engage pop culture, how do we engage mainstream America, how do we engage the parents, the counselors, and society at large? That is what it’s going to take to be competitive.”
C. Michael Ming, general manager of the new Oil & Gas Technology Center GE Global Research building in Oklahoma City, said companies need a diverse workforce with the skills to execute complex projects at a large scale. But inspiring more diverse applicants must start sooner than when prospective employees are in college, he said.
Ming said his wife, who is also an engineer, did an experiment with pill bugs for a class of second- and third-graders. Years later, the students remember her as the woman who did the roly-poly experiment.
“Someone can’t pick STEM as a freshman in college; the train has left the station already,” Ming said. “You have to spark their interest early on.”