The oil and gas pipeline industry is at a tipping point with regard to transferring the duty of care from its current leaders to the next generation. If we do nothing, we risk the loss of the knowledge and experience gained within the pipeline industry over the last 20 years. However, if the industry aggressively and collectively works toward the retention and development of the next generation — as well as toward the transfer of knowledge from its subject matter experts to those prepared to accept it — instead of a potential loss, it could be a step-change opportunity for the industry.
The retention of the next generation will likely require some adaptation of more traditional management approaches and methodologies often in use within the oil and gas pipeline industry.
The transfer of knowledge, specifically at the rate required, will involve much more effort than management modifications and is likely more critical. The next generation must prepare themselves to accept the duty of care through high performance at their position to absorb as much knowledge as possible, as well as efforts to gain knowledge and experience outside of their day to day efforts through industry opportunities and committees. The transfer of knowledge will also require a significant effort from the industry’s leaders. It will require them to seek out opportunities to mentor and coach, to participate and encourage those and offer assistance and support to those preparing themselves to accept the duty of care and to encourage their peers to do the same.
“Preparing ourselves to accept and transfer the duty of care.” What exactly does that mean? If we break down the sentence into each word, it becomes self-explanatory. However, we need to keep
in mind the “duty of care” also has a
• That level or quality of service ordinarily provided by other normally competent practitioners of good standing in that field, contemporaneously providing similar services in the same locality and under the same circumstances.
• That which is commonly possessed by members of that profession or trade
on good standing. It is not that of the most highly skilled, nor is it that of the
average member of the profession or
trade, since those who have less than median or average skill may still be competent and qualified.
When we understand the meaning of “duty of care,” we are really talking
about the collective outcome of “skills.” combined with “knowledge” together with “experience,” which can be concluded as “competence.” Competence is obtained through training, mentoring and experience.
Pipelines have been built all over the world for many years. Within North America specifically, a lot of these lines were constructed in the 1970s (and earlier) and are therefore over 40 years old on average. With more than five decades of known reserves available, these pipelines may need to continually operate for more than 100 years. Over this timeframe, they will have been managed by many generations in the past and will be managed by many more generations in the future.
The transfer of the right knowledge amongst generations is not new to our industry. This has been done between the veterans and baby boomers, baby boomers and Gen X, etc. However, the challenge is not the transfer of the right knowledge alone, but the difficulty that comes with a world that is becoming more complex. This complexity is also compounded by exponentially increasing of data, information and knowledge. Having the right knowledge at the right time it crucial, ensuring that we remain both dynamic and up to date.
The urgency to transfer this ever-increasing knowledge becomes even more emphasized when you consider the age demographics of the working population. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 50 percent of the oil and gas workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next five to 10 years.
With an increasingly complex world resulting from an increasing world of data, information and knowledge and a potential decrease in the work force, what can be done?
We must first understand that data is information usually used for reasoning, discussion and calculation, and information can be understood as knowledge that can be gained from investigations, a study of a work instruction, etc. Both data and information can easily be seen and/or stored (e.g., a computer, a work instruction, codes and standards etc.). Knowledge not only includes the data and information, it is an understanding or a skill that is obtained from experience (or education) and over time. Unlike data and information, knowledge is usually stored in the brain.
To support the transfer and acceptance of knowledge, social engineering between generations is required.
The holistic overview to developing transfer of knowledge conceptually is no different than managing the lifetime cycle of an asset, whether that be a pipeline or an employee.
A common way of looking at an asset’s lifecycle is with a “bathtub curve.” There is quite some effort spent in the early stages. During the mature stages, the effective safe lifetime has an expected period without any intervention. Thereafter, as one enters the senior phase, the efforts spent (often reactively) would increase accordingly. If one invests correctly, at the right time, during the mature stage (subject the asset to “integrity assessments”), the effective lifetime can be extended.
When looking at how knowledge is gained over time, the same principle applies. However, to explain this, the bathtub curve needs to be inverted. In the early stages of our working career, we are on a fast learning curve with a lot of data, information and knowledge gained. This knowledge has an effective management lifetime, without any intervention. With time, the knowledge becomes less applicable and therefore is forgotten. In order to extend the effective management lifetime, one needs to invest more frequently with different types of training. This will result in a return of investment and thereafter the senior stage is entered and the knowledge will eventually be lost. Why? Because most of the knowledge resides in the brain and leaves the industry with retirees, etc.
If an effort is placed on social engineering and ensuring that management, leadership and coaching overlap, we will not only be able to extend the effective management lifetime, we will also embark upon a transfer of knowledge from seniors and start to achieve some knowledge retention within the industry. Training, together with coaching and mentoring (social engineering), certainly will assist with knowledge retention. However, this represents 30 percent of a person’s industry knowledge. The majority of knowledge (70 percent) will come from experience (on the job learning). Organizations like Young Pipeline Professionals (YPP USA) certainly allow for networking platforms and opportunities for gaining experience that might not be available. However, this is a fraction of the overall experience.
Understanding Each Other
Meeting in the middle, or better described as “understanding each another,” is the key to generations successfully working together. Communication styles highlight some differences.
One generational difference is how feedback is given and received by young professionals. It is important for senior professionals to understand that the most effective way to give feedback may be different from traditional approaches. Most young professionals are looking for honest feedback at that moment. Similar to their communication style, the feedback should be given as promptly as possible and in an honest and direct manor. The formality that may have been expected in past generations is not prioritized as highly by young professionals. Instead, speed and honesty are their top priorities.
Another source of frustration between young and senior professionals is the unapologetic and unrealistic ambition that is often shown by young professionals. This can come across as over-confidence that can rub people the wrong way. Again, we must work to understand each other to meet in the middle. The ambition shown by young professionals can be harnessed by senior professionals who see that the underlying intent of the young professional is that they want to be the best that they can possibly be.
Senior professionals should be sure, during conversations with young professionals about their future goals, to emphasize the path to achieving these goals. When a senior professional asks, “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” and the response is potentially unrealistic, a senior professional should take this as an opportunity for social engineering, coaching and mentorship. Talk about how the goal is to be achieved and try to understand any personal circumstances that may be restrictive to this goal. Put it on the young professional to follow up with solutions and intermediate steps to achieving the goals. The over-confidence shown toward unrealistic goals generally comes from a lack of experience and knowledge.
Attracting, Developing and Retaining
Attracting, recruiting, developing, retaining and engaging younger professionals becomes crucial for the continued success of the pipeline industry. But how does the industry ensure that it recruits and retains the top talent?
The first step to ensuring the future success of the industry is to make sure that employees are not only retained, but developed and engaged. The most direct way to develop any employee is through training opportunities. However, mentorship should not be ignored because of the opportunities it generates for training up-the-ladder, as well as direct and honest feedback that young professionals are looking for.
The mentor/mentee relationship is also beneficial in that the mentee can learn to better spot new opportunities and challenges. While the mentee is ultimately responsible for discovering the challenges they want to undertake, the knowledge and experience imparted by a mentor may help in identifying the ones that will be most beneficial in the long-term. The ultimate goal for the future success of the pipeline industry is to develop and retain the industry’s top talent with the highest competency possible.
Once the industry is able to maintain the talent that it already possesses, it can begin focusing on how to attract and recruit new talent. When it comes to recruiting young professionals, the techniques are still similar to the past. However, the prioritization of these techniques needs to be evaluated.
As with past generations, compensation remains highly motivating. However, similar to the techniques used for retaining current talent, young professionals are highly motivated by the professional growth opportunities and the opportunities for advancement they will have once they are in a new position. These are things that should be talked about, and real world examples should be given
As an industry, we need to share the responsibility with a mutual interest and driver. It is the mutual responsibility of the senior and young professionals to ensure that the industry successfully passes the torch between generations. As an example, as young professionals ask for new opportunities, senior professionals should be actively looking for ways to create opportunities for them to step into.
In a time of increasing complexity, the duty of care for the industry falls on the shoulders of both the young and senior professionals. We must work through our generational differences to ensure that the knowledge that has been gained today is passed along to future pipeliners.
We can do this by recognizing our areas for improvement through social engineering and creating an environment of collaboration. Through this we will not only ensure that the knowledge is transferred, we will create a new competent level of management and an engaged and attractive industry. Only when we start to address the challenges and recognize how we overcome them, can we collectively start to prepare the pipeline industry to transfer and accept the duty of care.
Eric Lang, P.E., is an integrity engineer at Enbridge Energy Partners and secretary of the YPP USA. Chris Yoxall is executive vice president at ROSEN Group and a member of the board of directors for YPP USA.