It sounds harsh, but it’s true: millennials really do ruin everything. And the oil industry will be no exception. From talent acquisition to courting investors, to finding new end uses for petroleum, the oil industry is facing a whole new set of challenges—one that extends far beyond geopolitical risk premiums and barrel prices.
Oil companies who are quicker to adapt to this changing of the guard will have first pick of investment dollars and top talent, while those who are slow to change will get the leftovers.
You’re Dead To Me
Read some headlines (or some memes if that’s more your speed). There are hundreds of headlines and one-liners that tell of the serial killing nature of millennials. The death knell has tolled so far for straws, napkins, diamonds, home buying, cable television, stock trading, and even breakfast cereal—at least as we once knew it.
Some of those on the dead-to-me list are there simply because they have been replaced with new technology that is simply more convenient, like the shift from cable TV to Netflix. Others wound up on the list because they were shunned by the generation that likes to take the high ground.
And it is this high ground that has placed the oil industry in the millennial crosshairs. The image, quite simply, of the oil industry can be summed up with a single word: “dirty”. Oil companies wishing to woo the millennial workforce and investment dollars will have to work overtime to shed this moniker.
And Big Oil is starting to head down this road, but it isn’t quite far enough.
Between the Moral High Ground and Convenience
Millennials are not just about taking the high ground. If you look at their buying and investment choices, it’s not just about shunning things that are bad for the environment, bad for things or people who are exploited, or detrimental to their health. Much of the time, millennials are about what’s practical or convenient. Online shopping, grocery delivery, next-day delivery, Uber Eats, Peloton, etc., are all great examples of goods and services that have met millennials where they are, instead of banging their head against the wall and trying to convince millennials they have what they want.
Companies who fail to live up to the generation’s lofty moral ground may still be able to meet their expectations for ease of use and convenience. For oil, this is tricky, because end use is multifaceted and intertwined in the transportation, plastics, and asphalt sectors—all of which the oil industry should be helping to prop up by meeting millennial needs within these sectors.
For talent acquisition, the climate unfriendly nature of the oil industry puts companies in this genre on the back foot, but the practical side of millennials gives the oil industry a rare opportunity, if they are willing to take advantage of it. Boldness and new-way pavers are needed who are not afraid to try and fail. And if oil can’t convince millennials that they are climate-friendly, they most assuredly have to offer something—or some things–that millennials need. This can be work/life balance, an easily climbable career ladder, work-from-home options, and premium on-the-job training. The oil industry might have a tough time convincing millennials that their jobs “mean something”, but they absolutely can tick all the other boxes.
Other industries are already doing most of those things, and the oil industry has too. But still, oil finds itself playing second fiddle to tech, because that’s just sexier. But oil and tech both have deep pockets, and the millennial generation has deep school debt. In fact, millennials have more school debt than any other generation. This is practically a marriage made in heaven. Paying off these student loans is a hot hot benefit, and has the ability to override other concerns about working in the oil industry.
Big Oil Doesn’t Instagram Well
Are you offering this generation an experience? Because other industries are. This generation is all about the experience (which can be Instagrammed or Snapchatted), and they will choose these experiences over things any day of the week. We already know that millennials love to share pics of where they are and what they’re doing, but it might be more important than many realize.
The basic rule is that if it’s not worth sharing with the world online, it’s not worth doing—period. And research shows that millennials are influenced by what others are posting in a FOMO kind of way. Cool brands that are inherently cool such like Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Tesla have so much interest when it comes to job seekers that they don’t have to try very hard at all. Those brands are not short on investors, either. Maybe you don’t have this cool brand recognition that millennials would like to brag about online. You can still do cool things that will make millennials want to share you with the world that will, in turn, attract other millennials who don’t want to miss out.
Are your current employees and recruiters creating shareable experiences that others will want to be a part of? Shareable moments include corporate outings, cruises, swag, social events, and community engagement.
Willing to Do the Homework
For job hunting, millennials are willing to research everything, and they rely heavily on online reviews for their decision-making. We’re talking about Glassdoor, Indeed, Comparably, and Great Place to Work, among others. This has increased transparency in the job market, but more than this, it is a great tool for employers to use to see how they stack up—and if they don’t stack up, to look at the competition and see why—and then change accordingly.
Millennial Investments 101
Millennials are not investing the same way as the previous generations did. They are generally debt laden and risk averse. Their favorite long-term investment? Cash—if you want to call that an investment. Every other generation has preferred stocks.
For the ones that do invest in the stock market, their trading prowess is somewhat lacking. Unlike job hunting, where millennials are willing to do their research, millennials seem to pick brands they know—not necessarily ones that have upside potential. They are also socially conscious investors who tend to put their dollars into something they perceive is a worthy cause.
This risk aversion, brand recognition, and environmental activism puts fossil fuel investments on shaky ground.
The Influences of Today May Bring Down the House
Colleges are influencing the current generation of students, and it’s not pretty for the oil industry. There are mandatory sustainability classes for many degrees, and students often come away with just this one side of the energy puzzle. Engineering departments and business departments are not the oil industry’s friend, who pick and choose which businesses to invite in for special talks and Q&A sessions—and oil companies are like the scrawny kid in gym class that always got picked last.
But it’s far worse than not being invited to speak on campus: college campuses are even blacklisting speakers who even have ties to the oil industry. And this is what the industry must battle. Unless you are one of the biggest of the big such as BP or Shell, many college kids might not even know who you are. Think you can start even younger, to reach high school students? Wrong. Today, high school students are even getting excused absences to protest the “climate emergency”, for which the fossil fuel industry often shoulders 100% of the blame. Even elementary students are inundated with energy consciousness in their science curriculums that often spills over into clear Keep It In the Ground sentiment.
The trend is clear, the oil industry really does have a millennial problem—and it won’t be fixed overnight.