MIDLAND, Texas—The midstream industry, like most other sectors of the U.S. economy, faces the graying of its employees and the urgent need to attract and train more young people. For the midstream, which is a vibrant sector that is growing, the needs are all the more acute.

But these needs were not addressed much during the downturn, said Johnny Dreyer, senior vice president and corporate secretary for the GPA Midstream Association. The Tulsa-based group, which has about 100 corporate members, is working hard to attract and train young people to the industry, Dreyer said, speaking at Hart Energy’s recent Midstream Texas Conference.

Dreyer said traditional and non-traditional solutions will be needed, and soon, to overcome myriad challenges caused by the demographic shift underway. He joined the industry in 1981 with Texaco, and became a staff member at the association in 1994, so he’s seen a lot of change in the midstream arena.

“An energy crisis is any great bottleneck in the supply of energy resources to an economy,” he said.

“Based on this, we have to say that we are in an energy crisis—and employee issues could affect our delivering of energy in the same way as other issues, such as working with power companies to ensure enough power for new infrastructure, water supply/disposition and of course, regulatory roadblocks.”

The association polled members to ask them what keeps them up at night.

“Assuming we find ‘like kind’ experienced candidates, my greatest fear is the retention of the next wave/younger generation of candidates,” said one respondent, echoing the concerns of many others.

Many of those surveyed cited the lack of experience and skill set, training, work ethic, loyalty and core values of some newer, younger employees. Training and equipping multiple generations at a time, retaining them and motivating them are big challenges.

As many more experienced employees retire in the next few years, the loss of their operational knowledge in the field looms large, and experience gaps may lead to higher accident or incidence rates in the future, Dreyer warned. Respondents of the GPA Association survey cited “lack of adequate policies and procedures being developed by those who have operated a facility for a ’lifetime,’ leading to poor or inadequate training, and causing a catastrophic process failure.”

What are the answers? Traditional solutions have included training by classroom, video, computer-assisted instruction and simulations. (The association’s annual week-long gas chromatography class will be held at its Tulsa headquarters on Aug. 7-11.) And as always, on-the-job training will remain very important.

But Dreyer distinguished between skills training and acquiring knowledge needed for decision-making and problem-solving.

“Training is to teach someone how to perform a task, while education is to teach someone to think through how to perform a task,” he said, quoting Gina Abusi, Abusi Consulting Group.

More non-traditional solutions must also be employed, he advised. These would include the GPA Midstream Association and midstream companies partnering with technical institutions, community colleges and universities to recruit and train employees. Connecting with young professionals via special seminars, committee meetings and chapter activities should further solidify the midstream culture and spread technical knowledge, he said.

Most GPA Midstream’s U.S. chapters now have a young professionals group for mentoring and networking. The association loosely defines these as anyone with less than 10 years’ experience in the midstream industry.

Leslie Haines can be reached at lhaines@hartenergy.com.