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The thing with human nature is, no matter how much we progress, we will always carry with us tendencies that make us human. We will forever be impacted by a combination of predetermined traits that have defined mankind since the beginning of time and the environment in which we live and gain our experiences from. We will balance that which we learn and that which is instinctive.

One of the traits that defines the human race is the fact that we are naturally entitled and expect everything now. We often struggle with the concept of waiting and being patient for something better to come. One of the classic examples of this is the Marshmallow Experiment from the 1960’s. Stanford professor, Walter Mischel, and his team of researchers performed a number of psychological studies. One of them involved hundreds of kids, between the ages of four and five, and a marshmallow. The test was simple. The child was brought into a room and given a marshmallow. They were then told the researcher was going to leave the room, and if the child waited until the researcher returned to eat the marshmallow, they would reward them with a second marshmallow. As easy as this sounds, only a small percentage of the children were willing to defer the gratification of eating the first marshmallow until the researcher returned. What was interesting and revealing was what the researchers found in the years following the experiment. The researchers followed the children for the next 40 years. Time and time again the group of children who had waited and chose to defer the instant gratification of eating the first marshmallow to obtain a second succeeded in nearly every category in which they were being measured.

The energy industry in Canada has been blessed. We have experienced success in a climate that is safe and have developed some of the best skills in the world. But, we have also experienced a number of challenges. This has led to a workforce that has come to know the industry as unreliable, uncertain, and unpredictable. The industry itself has become lazy, because it expects times of low commodity prices to eventually correct itself.

When the industry is busy, people are told to come and join the boom, and you will be rewarded. People have been willing to make sacrifices to relocate. They have been asked to work hard, make personal sacrifices, and to put their employer’s needs first. These same people are then told their services are no longer required at the first signs the industry is slowing down. The nature of this one way loyalty eventually takes a toll on employees’ ability to trust in what the future may hold.

We have created a workforce that has learned to associate the industry as a combination of unreliable employment with personal sacrifices that often go unrewarded. This has led to a reduced willingness to defer gratification for long term gain, because they no longer have the confidence it will lead to something better. We have taken the long term away. These people are now employed in industries they consider to be safer and more reliable. They are at a point where they do what they want now for immediate satisfaction, because they aren’t convinced there is a long term benefit to being patient and putting in the efforts for a reward down the road. This means we run the risk of not being able to attract the people we need as the industry starts to recover and gain strength. Additionally, we cannot guarantee those who do come back will buy into a longer-term vision where personal sacrifice in the short term is warranted.

How do we convince a workforce that has experienced the inconsistencies of the industry that it is worth it to come back? We’ve got to prove the industry can evolve and the leaders of the industry are willing to remain steadfast to strategies that will drive that change. We also have to build the trust and loyalty by valuing their sacrifices and creating rewards that are meaningful to them.

This industry as a whole has not developed an appetite for sticking to long term strategies for long term gain. Every time the industry is challenged, it eventually returns to prosperity with little internal influence. The industry has to stop relying on external sources to return it to success and to start developing reliable experiences that will make it sustainable for the generations to come. If you want to succeed, you need the ability to be disciplined and take action as opposed to being distracted and looking for the easy route. Do not just wait for commodity prices to return but rather take the initiative to make a difference in how we operate. We need to change how we treat our people. We need to innovate in the systems we implement. It’s easy to talk the talk but a lot more difficult to walk the walk.


Define a Clear Value Proposition: The industry will not be able to support 100 companies that do the same thing in the exact same way. There are different needs, so figure out what those are, and focus on appealing to those people versus the general population. Focus on value, and your services will always be in demand. Value includes attracting good people, developing those people, and then retaining them. People and clients are all weary of the yo-yo cycles that have plagued our industry. Focus on consistency, and then people will be willing to wait for better times to come. They will again believe there is a long term.

Focus on Working Smarter Not Harder: One popular solution right now is to replicate and drive down engineering costs. Engineering is meant to add value. The industry has come to see it as a requirement to satisfy risks of liability, and that is it. The ability to continue to evolve and improve is a long term need. Replicating is a short term strategy that puts us at risk of falling even further behind. People who are willing to think creatively and take risks will be successful. Those who are waiting to be told where they need to go and how to do it will be on the outside looking in.

Look for Opportunities to Diversify: Why is it often portrayed that you have to choose between hydrocarbons vs. renewable power sources? Why does the industry see renewable power as a threat? There will be an evolution in how we generate electricity, similar to the changes we have seen over the last 50 years. However, both sources will have their place for the foreseeable future. Look at new ideas as an opportunity, as opposed to a threat. Challenge people to further develop their skills by presenting them with new challenges.

If we do these things, we will start to create consistent experiences and convince people we are an industry that is strategic, reliable, and sustainable. If we don’t convince people of this, we are going to struggle to attract talent and get trapped in the same cycles of supply vs. demand that have plagued us in the past.

Written by Donovan Nielsen, P.Eng, Principal/President

Originally published in OILFIELDPULSE.COM|VOLUME: 6 ISSUE 3 2017