Aging Workforce Threatens Viability of U.S. Energy Sector: Expert on Platts Energy Week

Washington - January 6, 2013

The U.S. oil and gas industry’s shale-driven prosperity is being threatened by an aging workforce and a lack of skilled workers to replace those who retire, a consultant who specializes in energy-sector employment cautioned Sunday on Platts Energy Week, an all-energy news and talk show program.

“Roughly half of key job skills in the energy industry are within five years of retirement eligibility,” Philip Tenenbaum, a senior partner at human resources consultancy Mercer, said on Platts Energy Week.

At the same time, young people are shying away from key energy jobs, which means a significant talent gap will likely open up later this decade. “The number one job that will be a problem in the short term is petroleum engineers,” Tenenbaum said.

In an effort to retain engineers and other specialized employees, many companies are going out and recruiting people with big salaries and hefty bonuses – a strategy that Tenenbaum said is not workable long-term.

“Half of the industry is solving their talent shortage by hiring two-thirds of their employees outside of their own company. You don’t have to be an engineer, I think, to do the math on that to see that’s not a sustainable solution,” he said.

Instead, the industry’s focus should be on training, developing and retaining existing employees – but Tenenbaum said that has to be done right or it could backfire.

For example, he said most industries, including energy, have traditionally used “a one-size fits all approach” to finding and retaining employees, which is not practical. “What attracts and retains a 55-year-old is very different from what attracts and retains a 25-year-old,” he said. “You’ve got to customize your retention program to fit the demographics and desires of your employees.”

Looking to the future, oil and gas companies will face a sustained shortage of skilled labor unless it can get young people interested, starting at the university level.

“One of the issues the entire industry has is suffering from somewhat is a PR problem with younger people,” he said. “Most young folks think of the energy industry as dangerous, low-technology, in places you wouldn’t want to go. In fact, if you go to an oil rig today and actually look at what’s happening, there is actually high use of technology.”

“What I think attracts young people today is technology. They grew up with technology,” he continued. “So I think you’ve got to change the image of the industry and show them that what they really desire to do, they don’t have to go into high tech. They can stay within the energy industry.”

Also on Sunday’s program was Leonard Birnbaum, chief commercial officer of E.On, who discussed how the European power markets are evolving as a surge in solar and wind power is putting pressure on nuclear and fossil-fuelled generation.

Wal van Lierop, CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, also appeared on Sunday’s edition of Platts Energy Week explaining opportunities for U.S. energy venture capitalists.

"Platts Energy Week" airs on Sundays in Washington on WUSA, a CBS affiliate, and in Houston on KUHT, a PBS affiliate, as well as on other PBS stations in the US. The program is also available on the web at

Platts Energy Week airs at 7:30 a.m. U.S. Eastern time Sunday mornings on W*USA TV 9 in greater Washington, D.C., in Houston at 1:30 p.m. U.S. Central time on KUHT HoustonPBS (Channel 8), at 3:30 p.m. CT on San Antonio, Texas’ PBS-KLRN, and in North Carolina at 5:30 p.m. ET on North CarolinaPBS (digital channel UNC-MX). The program also airs Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. ET in North Carolina on PBS (digital channel UNC-MX), and is available on other PBS stations throughout the United States. For online viewing, the program is accessible at

The program features interviews with leading figures from government, industry, markets, think tanks and the financial community. Host Bill Loveless is an editorial director at Platts who brings 30 years of energy journalism experience to the anchor chair. The program also features veteran energy news editor and Platts Energy Week Senior Correspondent Chris Newkumet.

Platts Energy Week is produced by Platts, the world’s leading source of information and intelligence on energy and related commodities and a division of McGraw Hill Financial [NYSE: MHFI], and W*USA-TV, the Washington, D.C., CBS affiliate and flagship television station of Gannett Company. [NYSE: GCI]. While the program is US focused and produced in Washington, it reflects the global vantage point of Platts, whose correspondents are stationed in such major capitals as London, Dubai, Singapore, Tokyo and Moscow.

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