There is no doubt that we have an increasing age gap in the drilling industry. I say the “drilling industry” because it is not just water well drilling having hiring issues, but all aspects of drilling. No matter where I am in the country, I hear similar comments about recruiting and hiring. They generally start with, “These kids today don’t want to get muddy.” And that is followed up with, “These millennials don’t have what it takes to become a driller.” The final quote that makes my guts churn is, “Every time I get a new hire, they last less than a week because the job is too hard and they don’t want to work.”
Yes, the drilling industry requires an employee to work harder in a broader range of climates beyond the typical 8 to 5 workday. But how we convey that to a new hire in their first week or month will make the difference between success and failure. The increasing age gap is an epidemic that, as an industry, we have to solve by defining and fixing faults in promoting the industry, recruiting and the onboarding process.
The preconceived notion that today’s youth refuse to work is a poor way to operate a business. All generations have top performers willing to do anything to succeed, and all generations have turds. The prior generation has been giving the new generation crap since the first percussion wells were drilled in China centuries ago. Therefore, it is a recruitment issue, not a generational issue. Because of this, we need to consider how we recruit as an industry. Who is the ideal candidate to become a productive member of your company? Generally, I hear it’s any individual that can pass a drug test and has a CDL.
The next common theme is, “We can’t afford a college graduate because they have visions of becoming management without putting in the years of hard work.” It is rare to meet a new hire who believes that, in the first two weeks of employment, they will be promoted to management. If it does happen, there are two ways of reacting to that person. First, you can applaud their ambition and know that you have a new possibility for succession in the future. It is an excellent time to explain your expectations for growth and start providing the materials needed to help them develop. The second option is the negative approach: You can put that new hire with delusions of grandeur back in their place. Generally, this approach starts with telling the new hire that, before promotion, they need to become an expert in pit shoveling, then master the art of in-ditch digging, followed by mud wizardry and, in several years, if a driller position opens up, they might be considered.
Ambition is an excellent quality for an employee when addressed appropriately. Ambitious critical thinkers help companies improve methods and grow. How can you afford to pass up the opportunity to hire a college graduate if they apply to work for you? My ideal new hire candidate is an individual who wants to learn all aspects of the business from the start and wants to know every aspect of the drilling process. I expect them to ask questions to understand how and why I utilize each rig control or select a specific drilling method in different geologies. Passing a drug test and acquiring a CDL are a given. It is more important to understand our candidates’ passions and what drove them into the drilling industry in the first place. Once we find the right new hire, the proper onboarding process is key to aligning company goals and expectations for the new crewmember.
Regardless of the size of the company — from two employees to 500 employees — it is essential to start the first day off right and build from there. The larger the company, the more complex the onboarding process. The onboarding process for my first job at Baroid IDP-Halliburton was full of classes on company procedures, basic operations, health and safety. It was late into my first week before I started actual tasks that applied to my job title. The goal was to immerse me in the whole company and ensure that I understood the core goals and how my employment impacted the company. By contrast, the onboarding process at my father’s water well business was a new pair of leather gloves and a 5-minute introduction to a Ridgid hand pipe threader.
It is impractical to apply a large company’s onboarding process to a smaller family water well business, but the goals can be the same. The first day needs to focus on aligning the employee’s and the company’s expectations for performance. The onboarding process should cover the company’s safety policy, job requirements, unique processes and other critical aspects specific to business operations.
Next, we have to recognize that 95 percent of all training in drilling gets transferred through verbal and physical methods, with very few “how to” training manuals. This works great for new hires that have a direct connection to the industry through family and friends. A connected new hire grew up hearing stories about drilling methods, tough projects, successes and failures. These stories subconsciously start the onboarding process and give insight into day-to-day operations.
However, new hires who did not grow up in the industry do not have the same advantage … but they can be brought up to speed with a good mentor. The mentor needs to be an employee who enjoys teaching and passing on knowledge. If your new hires only last a month, it is time to consider what type of mentoring they received from day one. Finding the right mentor is key to developing new employees into safe, productive and long-lasting contributors to the company. In my career, I have had several mentors who have had an impact and sculpted me into the professional I am today. I have also had people assigned to help me onboard that did not want to be a trainer or mentor. Once we develop a better onboarding and mentoring process, we will create impactful employees for the drilling industry.
The Elevator Pitch
Between traveling and social media, I talk to potential candidates for the drilling industry on a regular basis. Many of these candidates are high school and technical school graduates who love the idea of working on big equipment outdoors. The other half are college graduates seeking practical field experience, applying what they learned in a college classroom. Regardless of education, when I interact with a new hire that has great potential, I give them my best elevator speech. I tell them that drilling is a crucial part of the progress of civilization. Water is key to survival, and water well drilling sustains life. Oil and gas drilling provides energy. Exploration of precious minerals helps advance technology. Geotechnical drilling gives engineers vital information for construction. Drilling answers questions to the unknown, and without those answers, we cannot progress. Therefore, drilling is crucial to the start, progression and sustainability of civilization.
There is nothing more rewarding than creating a borehole that yields a precious resource. I love the drilling industry, and I promote it to every high school and college graduate I encounter. It is easy within the first 5 minutes of talking to new candidates to identify if they have a passion for drilling. The hard part is having the patience to develop that passion into a productive long-term employee. The changes we make in the promotion, recruitment and onboarding of potential new hires will define how the drilling industry progresses into the future and what type of men and women we develop to lead it.