by Diane McCormick | August 4, 2015

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People are at the heart of any industry. As the natural gas industry continues to grow and thrive, how can we make sure our future workforce keeps up with demand?

americangas_logoNatural gas has a growing role in our everyday lives. Of that, there’s no doubt. The coming decades show rising demand for energy, and all signs point to natural gas as an increasingly important part of the mix.

But rosy predictions don’t mean it’s time to break out the party hats and noisemakers. At the heart of any industry’s growth are people, and the natural gas industry is confronted with signs that the future workforce won’t keep up with demand. It’s no secret that today’s workforce in all sectors is retiring in large numbers.

At the World Gas Conference 2015 in June in Paris, the International Gas Union’s Workforce Development Task Force unveiled its 2012–15 triennium work report, “Delivering on Talent.” The task force of 58 human resources and natural gas specialists raised questions, researched region-specific data and unearthed perceptions among employers and prospective employees.

The group was created in 2009 to “construct a better understanding of the human element in the gas industry, covering all areas of the globe and all areas of the value chain,” and according to “Delivering on Talent” author Marius Popescu, CEO of Energy Brains Consulting, “We try to be a mirror for the gas industry. We make our research freely available, but then it’s up to the gas industry.”

Detailed answers must emerge from the industry itself, applying the data to develop creative, effective solutions to attracting, cultivating and retaining top talent in a growing field.

In a Nutshell

“Delivering on Talent” uses data to draw a picture of the natural gas industry’s current and future workforce:

  • Technical and project skills are hard to find. In the Americas, the technical skills shortage falls at 3.27 on a scale of 1 to 5, from no shortage to severe shortage. Small companies are more challenged to mitigate the shortages than midsized and large companies.
  • In the Americas, women constitute 27.8 percent of the workforce. This is higher than the global average of 23.8 percent.
  • Though gas companies hire fewer women than men, it’s the women who tend to stay longer with their companies. In the Americas, the attrition rate of 2 percent  among women is 50 percent lower than the overall attrition rate of 4 percent.
  • American companies use fewer career development programs, and “insufficient career development opportunities” is cited as a reason for not joining the industry more often in the Americas than in the rest of the world.

Meeting the challenges requires a gamut of solutions, the report notes. The coming workforce wants to work in a field marked by transparency and environmental responsibility, but widespread understanding of the industry’s impact on worldwide quality of life is lagging. Solutions include offering outreach to academia, cultivating leadership, providing flexible scheduling and raising awareness of the industry’s benefits.

Case Study 1: PSEG Captures STEM Talent

When it comes to attracting youth, one of the gas industry’s biggest problems, “if not the biggest problem,” is communication, Popescu said. Young talent choosing their first jobs are “generally unaware about the gas industry and the opportunities available for them, which compared to many industries are quite amazing. Anything that puts the gas industry on the interest map of youth is a step in the right direction.”

At PSEG, a diversified energy company, Sheila Rostiac is vice president for talent, development and diversity. It’s a broad-ranging position accountable for one of PSEG’s strategic objectives—to attract, develop and retain a high-performing and diverse workforce.

At PSEG, everything starts with underlying data and analytics. “One of my frequent quotes is ‘It’s always about connecting the dots across the function, across the businesses,’” Rostiac said. “When you talk about workforce development, that’s connecting the dots from the youth of today to our workforce tomorrow. We take both a long-term view as well as a current view.”

The long-term view begins with sparking interest in the field among students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The PSEG Foundation aligns its philanthropic giving with PSEG’s long-term science, technology, engineering and math workforce development goals, and a signature program that has emerged is PSEG’s Science SPARK Partners. In this initiative, after-school and summer programs can apply for grants to support projects that spark curiosity and passion in STEM areas while also exposing eager young students to the energy sector.

PSEG also aligns talent acquisition and university recruiting with the foundation’s support of colleges and universities that train potential workers in industry skill sets.

Rostiac said it’s a matter of providing “time, talent or treasure,” which can include advising on curriculum, acting as mentors, granting money or supporting higher education outreach to women and diverse candidates. For example, the Women Investing in and Guiding Students, or WINGS, program at Rutgers University links female engineering students with PSEG employees for shadowing.

“They’re seeing some of our projects, all the good work we have going on in the state live and in action,” Rostiac said. Those relationships are maintained as students receive opportunities for meaningful, engineering-focused internships and summer jobs. “Our goal is ultimately conversion. We’ve got a great success rate of converting current interns into our full-time employees.”

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Students from Rutgers University participated in the school’s WINGS program in 2015. From left to right: Apolonia Guerrero, Alison Gordon, Lucinda Borque, Jasmine Kumar, Sanchari Ghosh, Melissa Piccirillo and Kathryn Meye.

Building an Industry Talent Pool

Retaining employees once they’ve been hired is another priority of individual natural gas companies, but “Delivering on Talent” suggests that the industry might fare better through cooperation to strengthen the overall talent pool. Retirement remains the No. 1 reason for leaving a job, but second to that are those who transfer to other natural gas companies. Once they’re in natural gas, people seldom switch industries because their skills are highly specialized and take time to develop, but often companies see employees leave for other opportunities, according to Popescu.

“It’s a limited talent pool that is circulating in the gas industry,” he said. “The gas companies should invest a lot in attracting the best talent available and developing it to its maximum potential. I don’t think people switching companies is a big problem as long as the new people coming in have the skills to replace them.”

However, in the Americas, companies tend to promote fewer senior managers internally, begging the question, as Popescu put it: “Are you committed to growing your own talent or are you content with what the job market has to offer?”

Case Study 2: Piedmont Natural Gas Develops Careers

Piedmont Natural Gas, serving parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, is blessed with a large, stable core of employees—many with decades of experience—and low turnover. But that blessing also can be a curse. “Our talent pipeline can get clogged,” said Renee Hansen, managing director of talent and performance excellence. “Attracting new talent is more difficult when people don’t see any growth opportunity.” When asked for feedback, interns often said they enjoyed working at Piedmont and wanted to return, but few found job postings that suited them.

In response, Piedmont created the Business Leadership Development program in 2010. Every year, two recent graduates begin rotations through departments that interest them, circulating for up to three years. Summer Nichols was working toward her MBA from Winthrop University when she applied for the rotational program, excited about the opportunity to learn about the company and find her fit. In her second rotation in the supply chain and finance group, her skills so suited a particular unmet need that the company created the post she now fills—senior diversity sourcing specialist.

“When I first came to supply chain, my main focus was building a supplier diversity program,” Nichols said. “From there, it grew exponentially. It was an interest of the company’s, and they created a full-time position. It’s awesome they created that for me. I’m happy. Really happy.”

Nichols also participated in Compass, an internal networking initiative for select employees. Compass was “icing on the cake” toward career advancement, she said. “It’s just another stepping stone for those who are interested in learning more about the company.”

Transparency and Technology

According to the report, young people rarely cited company image as a problem when discussing factors that attract or distract from the industry, “which led us to believe that overall the gas companies enjoy an OK image with potential employees,” Popescu said. But in a key distinction, company culture and values surfaced as priorities for potential new hires, leading to the conclusion that today’s natural gas industry must “work a lot harder to earn and maintain its license to operate.”

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Summer Nichols (left) and Renee Hansen of Piedmont Natural Gas say Piedmont’s culture helps new and existing talent thrive.

As executive vice president and U.S. practice chair for employee engagement at communications marketing firm Edelman, Christopher Hannegan sees younger talent choosing employers based on communication and transparency. They expect to understand how industry happenings drive company decisions, and they expect to hear from peers and have their own voices heard.

Tech savviness, Hannegan noted, also attracts younger workers by shaping the image the company projects. Because technology is such an important part of our personal lives today, companies that don’t offer modern ways to communicate suffer in comparison to those that do. “On the sofa on Saturday afternoon, you’re on your mobile device. You’re looking at videos. You’re chatting and Skyping. It’s this very dynamic information environment where you’re participating in discussions and commenting,” he said. “Then when you go to work on Monday morning, everything goes back to 1985.” In short, companies should make a point of providing the same kind of dynamic communications experiences inside the office that employees enjoy after work.

Case Study 3: ASRC Energy Services Closes the Isolation Gap

Energy companies, including Alaska-based ASRC Energy Services, manage scattered workforces. “Our employees are spread out,” said Director of Corporate Communications Sheila Schooner. “A lot of them aren’t sitting in an office building on a computer all day. They’re out in the field or on drill ships.” Prior to mobile technology, it was difficult, if not impossible, to reach employees in such remote sites as the North Slope, so “providing access to information and consistent messaging was difficult.”

ASRC Energy Services uses a broad range of strategies to heighten engagement so employees “feel like this is a worthwhile place and they want to stay,” Schooner said. As part of the solution, the energy company adopted theEMPLOYEEapp, a customizable mobile app that allows employees to download company-loaded information—“whatever they want, whenever they need it,” Schooner said.

Utilization has been strong. The company sends memos “so everybody knows what’s going on.” Video messaging from the president augments face-to-face field visits, and those visits are posted for employees who can’t attend. Benefits information, ways to access payroll, job postings and global industry news are available at the flick of a finger. The company newsletter sent through the app includes project updates so employees who worked on an earlier phase can follow progress.

“People expect to be able to have something on their phone where they can get information, and it’s really opened the door for us in terms of building a good company culture where they feel included,” Schooner said. “Even though they’re thousands of miles away from headquarters, they’re still in the loop.”

We Want You

According to Popescu, making intentional choices toward building a skilled workforce is critical for achieving the industry’s full potential.

In the final tally, workers and potential hires in the natural gas industry all want what anyone would want: A positive workplace that respects its workers and provides support and opportunities for career growth. For example, at Piedmont Natural Gas, all hires go through Piedmont Pride, a course in company values of accountability, trust, listening and respect.

Particularly if your future employees live where you can’t pay the salaries that other institutions might offer, such programs, plus flexible schedules, growth opportunities and a strong wellness package, are the differentiators. Even when employees seek personal and professional growth by leaving Piedmont, they get the message that “We care about you as an individual,” Piedmont’s Hansen said.

“We are very intentional about our culture,” she said. “And we don’t just let it happen.”

Read the original article here:

http://amgas.org/the-talent-pool/

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