As we start the 2022 drilling season, I continue to have one significant thought that keeps me lying awake at night. New rig sales set records in 2021. Manufacturers supplied rigs to all disciplines, from geotechnical to large rotary machines to duo-head sonics. New equipment and tools position the industry to expand market in all sectors. Yet, with all of the promise 2022 offers, what could keep me awake? I wonder how the construction industry supports all the new drilling opportunities provided by the infrastructure bill while continuing existing business.

I have three revolving thoughts:

  • Who will we recruit and inspire, and turn into quality employees to support all that new work?
  • How will drillers and companies handle large-scale drilling projects with multiple stakeholders on these infrastructure projects?
  • What will the drilling industry do with this growth opportunity?

First, let’s talk about the people we need to bring into the industry.

Who do we Inspire?

The past 21 months have not helped the drilling industry with our past two decades of staffing issues. We need to drill into the motivation that has kept all of us in the industry. Then we need to use that motivation to inspire a new generation to join us. Once drilling is in your blood, it’s hard to consider doing anything else. I asked several great drillers, “What would you do if you were not in the drilling industry?” Their responses illustrate my point:

  • “I can’t answer that; it is who I am.”
  • “I would be no good without drilling; it has taught me everything, from routine to the ability to problem-solve the impossible.”
  • “I would be an explorer, but really I would still be a driller.”

I expect responses like these. None of these great drillers even considered the idea that they would not be a driller. We must take that passion and inspire the next generation for the industry.

None of these great drillers even considered the idea that they would not be a driller. We must take that passion and inspire the next generation for the industry.

I know what you are thinking: Brock, how do we inspire a generation of the uninspired? The first step involves recognizing that today is not two decades ago. The millennial generation now makes up a primary revenue stream for water wells and geothermal. We must change tactics — no different than how we evolved our sales tactics to sell to the last new generation of homeowners. For its part, Generation Z is primed to be the next builder generation. It excites them to work outside, and be part of something greater than sitting in an office, working in a warehouse stacking boxes or mindlessly flipping burgers. Of course, this inspiration is not universal. It is cultural, and starts within your company. Our inspired employees have the answers to hiring quality people. It is up to you to ask the right questions.

  • Why do you choose to come to work every day?
  • What would you change about your job?
  • Tell me your favorite accomplishments since working here.

Look for the optimism in your teams’ replies to give insight into recruitment. Yes, there is possibility of negative answers as well, but those become valuable in changing culture and retaining your current team. The goal of these three questions is simple: What gives our team purpose? Once we know that answer, seeking out the best ways to create passion and inspire the next new hire becomes easy.

How do we work together?

For years, the traditional drilling project involved an agreement between the customer and the driller with some expansion to include state agencies for local regulations requirements. The dynamic was straight to the point: drill a well, provide water, collect a payment, file necessary paperwork with the state. On a traditional project, a driller or crew might get a few questions from the owner throughout the project, and the odds of interacting with a regulator were irregular.

However, a project’s dynamics with multiple stakeholders require drillers and drilling companies to collaborate and engage multiple times a day. This is a culture change and needs an increase in professional presence to succeed.

A few years ago, my team and I landed all the cathodic drilling on a new gas pipeline crossing through multiple Midwest states. We found ourselves working with a dozen different stakeholders. This new dynamic required one team member to be in meetings several times a day. A multi-state infrastructure project required multiple teams: right-of-way agents, property owners, the local operator’s union, environmental regulators, DOT, engineering groups, QA/QC inspectors, general contractors, state regulators, federal regulators and the pipeline owner. All these parties had to communicate daily and collaborate to maintain a schedule.

The drill team often fielded the same question multiple times from different groups. Drilling industry culture loves to embrace the stereotype of a grumpy driller who does not have time for anyone or anything while drilling. But, imagine the following situation: The operators and inspectors approach the rig to determine if the rig will move on to the next cathodic hole that afternoon, and the driller says, “Well, it depends if we get through this gravel zone, and that ain’t happening with you asking me questions.” That kind of presence and approach will fail every time.

Folks from other companies and industries will treat us exactly as we represent our own company and industry. Therefore, we will have a more favorable outcome when we take a step back, check the driller ego and increase our capability for professional presence on the jobsite. Although not a new or challenging concept, this requires focusing on individual body language and words. Start by engaging the customer with confidence. Next, fully listen to the question at hand and take ownership of the answered question. Sometimes the best answer is, “I don’t know, but I will let you know when I do.” In a large project with multiple pieces moving at once to one primary goal, the x-factors of drilling can often slow down a timeline. Yet when the drilling team demonstrates optimism and an understanding of the urgency at hand, other parties will meet that same professional presence with their own. We have the equipment, tools and talent. It is now time to invest in presence and collaboration.

What will the Drilling Industry do with this Growth Opportunity?

Finally, on to my insomnia. What do we do with this promising opportunity? Ok. Ok, I can feel you right now shouting, “Invest in the company,” “I am buying a boat,” or “Save the extra revenue because this boom will bust just like the last one.” All those answers might be correct. However, I want you to imagine with me. What if the drilling industry can inspire generation Z to become the next drillers, pump technicians and industry owners? What if we develop a better approach to professional presence, not only on these complex infrastructure jobs but also with our new budding generation Zs?

When the drilling industry makes those two scenarios real, big things will happen. The combination of new talent and professional presence will increase success on projects large and small, requiring companies to invest in tools and equipment. That investment will allow manufacturers the bandwidth to increase focus on innovations, new technology and, ultimately, more advanced product lines. I don’t lay awake at night out of concern: I am just insanely excited to be part of this 21st-century evolution of new technology, processes and drilling culture.

All it takes is inspired people.