DALLAS – Northern Oil and Gas Inc. CEO Nicholas O’Grady spoke last week in Dallas at the A&D Strategies conference with Pietro D. Pitts, Hart Energy’s international managing editor, on attracting young and diverse talent as the oil industry goes through a changing of the guard.

Pietro D. Pitts (PDP): How do you see efforts within the oil and gas industry to attract young people, an overall more diversified workforce including more women?

Nicholas O’Grady (NO): I couldn't tell you why there are certain industries that seem to be more male dominated than others and I come from the hedge fund industry, same thing. But I’ve watched the change. When I started out there were mainly white men, and then by the end it had totally morphed into [something different] because suddenly people were coming out of college and it was an established thing.

Energy in general is broadening out. You have transition businesses in all kinds of facets. You have everything from solar, wind, battery technology and electric vehicles, and by nature that stodginess is going away, certainly from a talent perspective. Ironically, while our executive team is all male for whatever reason, and that's just more happenstance, at our vice president level it's almost all exclusively women, except for one. So, I feel like within our own company, the women stars are rising.

PDP: What would be your elevator pitch to the younger generation, who may be thinking about Apple or something in IT, on why they should consider the oil and gas industry?

NO: The coal industry peaked in this country 50 years ago. Global coal demand was an all-time record this year. Also, we generally don't substitute energies, we just add on because energy poverty is a real thing. And I think trying to explain to people that we don't sell cigarettes, that we're heating people's homes and in every product that people use from their glasses to their suits, to their shoes, everything is treated with petroleum. There’s a cost to that. There is no question that our product pollutes and does cause environmental harm.

On the flip side, it’s also the number one driver of improving and extending human lives over the last century. But it’s an extractive industry, it’s a depleting industry and it will need constant reinvestment in people, in technology and really evolving it. There’s an understanding that you're going to need talented people, even if you maybe don't need the same number of people you once did. If you look at the number of rigs running in this country versus the nearly 5,000 rigs [that were used] to produce less, [it is clear] the world has changed, the technologies evolved.


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PDP: What are some headwinds to attracting young talent?

NO: It’s going to be a challenge, specifically in the more technical parts of the job like petroleum engineering, to get people to go do it at the undergrad [level]. We've started hiring [students] right out of school and we've found great success with it so far. We seem to continue to find people. Again, we're not a big people company, we're less than 40 people, but we've been able to find talented and excited people. If you came to our office, you'd have no idea it was an oil company. It looks like it could be a tech company. Part of the nature of what we do, and part of it is on purpose, which is just to kind of modernize that viewpoint and make it an exciting place to work.

PDP: What are some important points to attract that young talent?

NO: We built a gym in our office. We have free healthcare. We give free lunch to our employees every day. We have a big employee lounge where they can hang out. I mean to survive a Minneapolis winter we’ve tried to make it an attractive place to work. [Besides], treat people well and you'd be shocked they kind of want to stick around.

I come from a Wall Street background where the average person is out every two-three-four years, maybe. It's nice that you have people that want to come in and enjoy coming in every day.

PDP: Is the oil and gas industry’s reputation a formidable headwind?

NO: Just from a headline perspective, the biggest thing that scares me is that everyone thinks that this industry is the devil. And I spoke at the Houston Producers Forum this year and said “it's our fault.” [Basically], the industry has convinced people that it’s bad.

And the irony is that converting the entire car fleet to electricity, oil demand won't go down. So you have to convince young people [by] saying we’re truly necessary, we're not bad, we're actually making your life better. There is a cost to that. We need to work better to do that.