Here’s the good news: young consumers (millennials and Gen Z) have an overall positive view of the energy industry. The bad news? They don’t want to work in oil and gas.
A 2017 study by EY, which polled 1,200 U.S. consumers ages 16 and older, revealed a few harsh realities. Namely, young people aren’t interested in working in oil and gas. In fact, 62 percent of 16-19-year-olds (Gen Z) find a career in oil and gas unappealing. Forty-four percent of millennials (aged 20-35) shared the same feeling.
So why is oil and gas unappealing to young people?
For starters, young people perceive “oil” less favorably than other fuel sources, such as renewables and natural gas. According to the study, just 25 percent of Gen Z have a positive perception of oil and only 40 percent have a positive perception of natural gas. However, 77 percent have a positive perception of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.).
The study then digs a bit deeper.
Those who felt positive toward the industry credit their feelings to necessity. But that’s not good enough, said Deborah Byers, EY’s US energy leader.
“We need to get past the notion ‘I need to turn my lights on, so yes, I need energy’ … that’s not as compelling [an argument],” said Byers. “Those who felt negative toward energy were very specific as to why – it’s a polluter, fracking isn’t good, safety concerns, etc.”
Seventy-one percent of teens believe renewables are the fuels of their generation, while 56 percent believe oil and gas are the fuels of their parents’ generation. So while oil and gas works for now, young people believe cleaner energy resources will replace it in the future.
“Young people think future energy will be solar, wind and other renewables; therefore, they’re not looking for positions in oil and gas as a career,” said Rachel Everaard, EY’s US oil and gas people advisory services principal.
The study also reveals a disconnect between how younger people view the oil and gas industry and how oil and gas execs think young people view the industry.
Just 59 percent of Gen Z believe the industry uses advanced technology, 55 percent believe the industry offers opportunities to travel and 47 percent believe the industry offers opportunities for growth (stark comparisons to how executives responded: 91 percent, 95 percent and 90 percent, respectively).
“Perception is reality. To see the dichotomy of the perceptions of the executives and perceptions of consumers is really important as you think about the future of oil and gas and the pipeline for leadership,” Everaard said.
Seventy-two percent of executives think salary is what most attracts young workers to oil and gas. While salary is important to them (56 percent), young people also value a good work-life balance (49 percent) and job stability (37 percent).
“Salary is always important, regardless of generation,” said Everaard. “I think people want to see they’re rewarded commensurate with the value they’re providing. Salary always gets people in the door, but rarely do people leave for money.”
Numerous efforts have been made to attract young people to the energy industry, specifically minorities and young women.
But further problematic to oil and gas being unappealing to young people, the study also reveals a significant gender gap. While 54 percent of young men aged 16-35 find oil and gas appealing, just 24 percent of young women feel the same.
“Young men found every single category of job more appealing than young women and the gap was especially large in earth sciences, IT, physical sciences and engineering. The gap was less pronounced in two categories: green energy and corporate,” the study states.
The differences don’t end there.
Young men value job stability more than young women (43 to 31 percent) and young women ranked on-the-job happiness higher than men did (46 to 28 percent).
“The industry has a lot of work to do when it comes to young women,” said Everaard.
It’s even more important now since oil and gas has to compete with Google, Amazon and other “sexy” tech jobs. Only 44 percent of teens aged 16-18 believe oil and gas is a leader in technology. But 83 percent of energy executives believe the oil and gas industry does a good job on leveraging innovative technology.
“The shale revolution has been driven almost completely by the ability to harvest technology to get oil and gas in places we would’ve never thought viable before,” said Bill Hale, EY’s US oil and gas digital automation leader.
The jobs of the future are going to be more around analytics, digitalization and data science, added Everaard. Part of it is tapping into what that generation finds appealing about that technology in these companies.
But the industry will have to combat the “boom-bust” characteristic of the industry.
“We see young people whose parents have ridden through the ups and downs of oil and gas,” said Hale. “How do we change perception from a boom-bust industry to a career in which you can keep for life?”
Results from EY’s study can serve as a roadmap in what to begin addressing.
“What we’ve seen is that the focus of technology downhole and not in the other support processes, has led to perceptions about oil and gas being blue-collar, unappealing and leading to issues in job stability … our perspective is the investment in robotics and digital automation can really change a lot of those factors and perceptions in creating an industry that’s very appealing to millennials and Gen Z.”