The Houston energy sector is booming and the need for talent is growing, but companies are only hurting themselves by getting into bidding wars for personnel, said Brett Haugh, Ascende principle and executive vice president.

The so-called “crew change” of retiring oil and gas talent is “extremely real,” Haugh said, with about 50 percent turnover expected within 10 years mostly because of retirements. Since 2010, though, energy sector hiring is up 25 percent nationally compared to 7 percent for the overall private sector. Wages are up higher in the energy sector, as well, he said.

Ascende is a Houston-based human capital and employee benefits consulting firm. As such, the company is focused on helping Houston energy companies manage their strategies and draw top talent without breaking the bank.

“We’ve got to be able to balance benefits and wages,” Haugh said. “We cannot continue to steal from one another and increase their wages by 15 to 20 percent. … That is not a long-term solution.”

The shale boom is continuing, pipelines need to be built, oil and gas technology is rapidly evolving, and the nation’s electric grid is in dire need of modernization, he said. All of these aspects require a lot more skilled workers, engineers and more.

Blue-collar skilled workers — such as welders, truck drivers, electricians, pipefitters, mechanics and others — are more essential.

“These folks are a hot commodity,” Haugh said. “You have to realize your business cannot operate if it’s lacking these infrastructure support groups.”

Three years ago companies could afford to be “persnickety” and hire just the top-notch mechanical engineers, Haugh said. Today “any kind of engineer — period” — must be considered an asset, he said. “There’s a finite number of them coming out of college.”

Companies must aggressively focus on recruiting young talent where they go to school — universities, trade schools and technical and community colleges — while also emphasizing training, retraining and cross-training their workforce.

“You’ve got to get out and talk to students,” he said, noting that the Millennial generation of today has more-involved parents. “Say, ‘I think little Johnny or little Susie will fit in really well there.'”

Companies also cannot hesitate and take so long with “applicant tracking,” Haugh said. “You’ve got to get them through the system and on board a lot quicker tomorrow than you’re doing today.”

He jokingly cited what Ryan Lance, CEO of Houston-based ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), said a year ago. “If you can spell ‘shale,’ you can get a job.”

Companies must “work together” and push trade associations and organizations to push the “human capital” issues much more aggressively. “I’m not saying, ‘Weatherford (International Ltd.), go sit down with Baker (Hughes Inc.) and figure it out.”

The companies also need to have clear communication and show new or potential employees about salaries, benefits and corporate culture, as well as how they can advance through promotions and “this is how we’re going to keep you.”

“It’s staggering how much shale there’s out there in the world,” Haugh said, and seemingly 90 percent of the shale production talent is “in this kind of hotbed we call home” in Houston.

“And we’ve got more natural gas than anyone else in the world,” he added, “So much so that we can’t use all of it.”

Article and Image from on June 5th 2014.