In the oil and gas industry, “The Great Crew Change” is happening.
Waves of workers are reaching retirement age and, during a time when the next generation is expected to take up the mantle, questions loom over whether there are enough qualified personnel to fill the void.
According to a 2019 Global Energy Talent Index report by international workforce solutions provider Airswift, more than half of industry professionals across the globe believe the growing skills shortage is the biggest challenge the industry faces now and in the future. In fact, according to the report, two-fifths of companies believe the talent crisis is already here.
Locally, the San Joaquin Valley chapter of the American Petroleum Institute is doing its part to provide opportunities to students looking to get into STEM fields through its scholarship program.
For the past 50 years, API has been awarding scholarships to Kern County students as they prepare to become the next generation of workers in the petroleum industry.
“There’s going to be a whole turnover from one generation to the next, more so now than any other period in the whole history of the oil industry, so it’s critical to get people interested in oil because the veterans are leaving,” said Mike Handren, chairman of the San Joaquin Valley chapter of API. “You’ve got to bring in somebody to backfill for them.”
This year, API plans to give away $100,000 in scholarship money to graduating Kern County high school seniors who will be attending college in the fall, while extending eligibility to include those taking online courses and students enrolled in trade schools. Since 2015, API has awarded $420,000 in scholarships.
Requirements for API scholarship eligibility include being a Kern County resident and being high school senior or a full-time college student with at least 12 credit hours. In addition, lots of research was conducted to determine the equivalent of online courses and trade schools.
“As students are looking at the increasing cost of college and amassing huge debt to get a college degree that might not get them a decent job, they can go a shorter period of time to a good trade school and end up not in debt and with a damn good job at the end of the day,” Handren said. “Everyone’s always talking about college scholarships, but what about trade schools? They can provide, at times, a better vehicle for someone to be a contributing member of society.”
Two main fundraisers – the annual API Golf Tournament and Fall Fun Shoot – generate money for the scholarship fund, in addition to the money raised at API’s monthly dinner meetings where the chapter’s 750 members have the opportunity to enter opportunity drawings, raising about $1,000 a month.
“We’re the largest chapter based on total membership, total amount raised, scholarship amount given out of all API chapters,” said James McClard, 2019 chairman of the API scholarship committee.
The scholarships are meant to be as inclusive as possible, not limiting the number of recipients each year or excluding applicants who are not entering the petroleum industry.
“We pretty much encourage any major to apply,” said publicity chair Kaylene Rossi. “You can have a nursing major come in and say, ‘I live in Bakersfield, I’m staying in Bakersfield and I want to be the nurse who does people’s physicals before they go out into the field and work.’ It’s very applicable to what we do because I don’t think people quite comprehend the trickle-down effect that the industry provides – you don’t have to necessarily be a geologist or an engineer to be able to work in the industry. It’s pretty vast. We have a need for every single type of professional.”
The ultimate goal is to make higher education more accessible.
“There are straight-A students who have come to this country, learned to speak English, they’ve done everything right – their grades show it, their community involvement shows it – but because of the economic hardship, there’s no way their parents can afford college,” McClard said. “We get letters saying API made it possible. It’s not just giving out free money – it’s making a difference in people’s lives.” ￼