Qualified Job Seekers Find Options as Energy Industry Embraces Diversity

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In recent years, the level of diversity in the oil patch has increased significantly, according to staffing professionals in Houston. In particular, the energy industry is now offering more opportunities for women.

“There has been a real broadening of paths for women as companies move toward greater gender diversity,” Carolyn Stewart, NES Global Talent business development manager, said. “It’s not just in an office setting that the change is occurring. One now sees women working on rigs, or in refineries, performing jobs once filled only by men. Companies are becoming more agile, and [now] place value on ideas and innovations.”

According to recruiters, while some companies are targeting women specifically, even more companies are focused on finding qualified talent, regardless of gender.

“Today, some energy company clients are contacting recruiters and specifically asking if there are [qualified] women candidates for positions,” noted Cecilia Rose, president and founder of Next Door Strategies, LLC, corporate keynote speaker and executive career strategist.

Staffing professional Christine Norris, executive search consultant for Professional Alternatives, also noted that there has been a change in energy industry hiring practices in recent years. Many energy companies are willing to make an extra effort for good women candidates, Norris said.

“A couple of years ago, I placed a woman petroleum engineer with one of our drilling clients in the Midwest. She had a Master’s Degree from an international university, internships while in college, and great references. The client did not have an opening at the time but reviewed the woman’s resume and was intrigued. So, the client interviewed her and subsequently made her an offer as a field engineer, which required hands-on work and training at the drilling site.”

The company that hired the woman established separate living quarters for the new employee, as well as a safety protocol, Norris added.

With energy companies eager to develop a pipeline of qualified candidates for future openings, there has never been a better time than now for job seekers to consider a career in the energy industry.

A couple of factors are contributing to the need for new energy sector workers. For one thing, the industry is growing right now, thanks largely to unconventional plays that have become the new normal. This is providing a boost to hiring in the energy sector, particularly in oil-rich states in North America like Texas, where the unemployment rate late in 2013 was just over 6 percent – nearly 1 percent under the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Another factor that makes now the perfect time to consider a career in the oil and gas industry is that employees from the Baby Boom generation are transitioning into retirement. With energy companies losing many of the most skilled, knowledgeable and experienced employees in the industry, it is critical that energy companies find the most qualified candidates to replace them.

This “great crew change” is something most staffing professionals and energy industry hiring authorities have been talking about for some time. And this change will not only create a large number of openings, but it will also create opportunities for the right people to step up and earn a place in the C-suite.

As energy company hiring authorities become increasingly aware of the need to attract qualified people, they have begun instituting changes to make the workplace a more viable and attractive option, and women and men alike are benefitting from these changes.

“Weatherford and some other companies offer on-site daycare, and I really see companies offering flex-time to allow parents to take children to school,” professional-level recruiter, Raegan Hill, director of staffing at Onward Search, said. “Companies today recognize that lots of working women and men have children, so flex-time is important.”

All of the recruiters were pleased that the industry had changed with the times, but some of them noted that the struggles of past generations should not be overlooked. “While the industry has come a long way in diversifying, change hasn’t come easily. In the past, women have turned themselves into pretzels trying to prove that the perceptions are not true. They have run off to Dubai or done whatever it takes to break the old attitudes,” noted Rose. Hill actually worked alongside men while working in the industry before becoming a recruiter. “As recently as the late 1990s and the early 2000s, there was still a perception out there about the roles one took, and it was easy to be frustrated,” she said. “Someone just entering the workforce might not appreciate how much things have changed, and how those changes have benefitted men, too. Things are improving for women wanting an industry career, but there are still some challenges.” Stewart agreed, noting that vestiges of the old culture remain. “One way to appreciate the change in the industry is to look at the gender breakdown by age. You can still see a real age-related gender gap. In management groups, one still sees more men in C-level and higher management positions,” she said. The recruiters say that while there could be some challenges for women in the industry, women who are flexible and open to change can often turn things to their advantage.

“One of our 50-year-old woman human resources partners in the healthcare arena decided to make a change after an 18-year career during the most recent economic downturn,” Norris said. “She received a great offer and is in a financially rewarding position. She is on a fast track with an entrepreneurial company.”

Rose recalled a Rice University-educated woman who started her career with a major energy company and began moving up, but then hit a wall because of a lack of leadership skills.

“I tell women to take risks, become more visible, master their position and then move to another one to acquire and master new skills, and to have a career plan and a strategy. It is difficult for women in the workplace, but I tell them to focus on challenges no one else wants, rather than focusing on what they won’t let you do. Be open to new opportunities, speak up and be confident,” she said.

“Women don’t say they are leaving because of not earning as much as a man,” Hill said. “They leave because of the corporate culture, or because they perceive a lack of loyalty on the part of the company.”

Companies that are quick to lay people off when the economy shows signs of slowing down signal a lack of loyalty to employees. Recently, at a small firm with 30 employees, six of them separately contacted Hill looking for a new position.

“It’s not just about salary. Employees today want to make an impact. Or, some of them may want to work remotely. They have a life outside of work,” Hill said, “and companies wishing to retain good people are making changes that benefit both women and men.”

The fact that men also stand to benefit from the same changes that companies are making to attract qualified women workers is a positive consequence of the working woman dynamic. Savvy companies realize that it is shortsighted to spend money recruiting and training good candidates, only to lose them within a few years. However, the traditional corporate ladder approach to a career in not working for an increasingly large part of the worker population, and this is as true for men as for women.

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