We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “G” word during the past two or three months. In May, I sat through an engaging lecture at the Geoprofessional Business Association’s (GBA) spring conference that touched on generational diversity in the workplace. In last month’s issue, Editor Jeremy Verdusco shared what groundwater professionals at the Indiana Field Day had to say about the challenge of attracting next-generation drillers. Then, for this month’s issue, I write about training programs working to address the industry’s generational concerns.

Why so important? The incoming generation of U.S. workers – millennials – now makes up the largest age bracket in the country, comprising about a third of the total population in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For now, those 55 years and older make up more than 40 percent of labor force participation, according to a Center for Retirement Research report.  

Those stats scream two things to me. 1. When that massive 40 percent of the workforce retires, we need a sizeable group of people to replace them. 2. With such a big group of millennials in existence, the apparent shortage of young drillers can’t be blamed on an insufficient pool to draw from.

So, if baby boomers did almost as good as their parents with replenishing the population, why is it so hard to find next-generation drilling professionals?

Sources gave us a two-part answer based on their experiences. For one, millennials’ views on education play a part. “Their parents, or the media or just culture says you go to college and get a good job if you want to succeed,” says Charles Cunningham, GEFCO’s vice president for sales and marketing.  Another important factor involves driller working conditions. “It’s very physically demanding, it can be mentally demanding, there’s a lot to learn,” says Dave Bowers, who trains drilling apprentices in Illinois.

If a lack of employee prospects has left you wondering where to look and what you can do to better your chances of finding a new hire, programs like the ones I highlight this month are great places to start. Both ShaleNET and ASIP Local 150 pay close attention to the needs of drilling industry employers and they train their students in accordance.  At the end of the day, these education centers exist to create valuable drilling professionals and ultimately feed them into the industry to work for people like you.

Beyond that, they address job retention concerns by vetting students before they’re officially employed. There’s something to be said about adding a person to your team who not only has a good sense of how to do the work, but has experienced the labor intensity of it already and isn’t surprised or scared away.

My last point is that recruiting future generations starts much earlier than putting out an ad in the paper or online for a job opening. In order for young people to consider drilling as a career, they need to know it’s an option. Getting out into the community and teaching kids, from kindergarten through high school, that this is an available path in life is something you can make a point of doing.  Consider organizing info sessions or setting up at a job fair.

If you think about it, there’s something to be said about you all and the work you do every day. The fact that so many people think of it as just too difficult and dirty to take up makes you truly exceptional. Cheers to your hard work and to blending muscle with mind. We could use more of it these days.

Until next time,

Valerie King