As the energy business continues to boom worldwide, the industry continues to face the challenge of finding qualified workers. From the surge of shale-fueled activity in the US to the LNG-sparked construction boon in Australia, the need for skilled labor is great and the competition for workers remains fierce with companies poaching from one another as the pickings get slimmer. The issue was discussed March 6 by a group of panelists during IHS CERAWeek in Houston. The talk came as the industry braced for the anticipated loss of experienced workers as Baby Boomers move into retirement, leaving a huge gap that has been dubbed the Great Crew Change. Surya Rajan, director of upstream and global gas for IHS and panel chair, pointed out the reason for the fear: a large population of workers who are eligible for retirement, a new population that has little experience, and little in the middle. Antonio Rostand, global managing director for Schlumberger Business Consulting, said there are about 8,900 open positions today. The figure includes a need for 2,200 geologists and 1,900 reservoir engineers. And the need is expected to be the greatest for the NOCs, which Rostand said have a 15% shortage, compared to 7% for independents, and 1% for the majors. Rostand noted how some are comparing the situation to the Y2K phenomenon. Is it really just hype? Is everyone crying wolf? Could the problem fix itself? Companies and associations have stepped up with plans for training and recruitment, including attracting younger generations to the fields of math and science. IHS is doing its part with the Haskayne/IHS global energy executive MBA program. While it appears the industry is in agreement on the issue, current initiatives might not be sufficient. The push shouldn’t start or stop at the college level. It should begin in elementary schools, as some of the panelists also pointed out. If steps aren’t taken, it’s a missed opportunity for the industry, which could lose potential employees to industries that are more attractive to children. The energy industry isn’t exactly eye candy for many kiddos when it comes to picking careers. Those accolades generally go to the medical, legal, sports, or entertainment industries. Idols nowadays are more likely to be Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Leonardo da Vinci. Catch children at age 11 to study subjects such as math, physics and science, said Samir Brikho, chief executive of AMEC, who noted the falling numbers of engineering graduates in the UK. To attract talent today, companies should look in areas where the most desired academic degrees are coming from, not areas with the high populations. Governments should also do their part to help attract talent. For example, in Australia, where there is $160 billion committed to construction through 2016, four-year visas are available for skilled labor, said Gary Cochrane, managing director of Resource Management International. Rostand added local content should be looked as an opportunity, not a constraint, to create jobs, supply chains, and wealth in countries. This challenge is not unique to the energy industry. Other industries are facing the same challenge. And that could mean more competition. Sitting back and doing nothing to grow, attract, and retain qualified employees is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. The risk is great – delayed projects, abandoned projects, and possibly more accidents because of inexperienced or overworked employees. A report released March 11 by and Air Energi revealed “the shortage of skilled labor in the industry is a major consideration with far-reaching consequences for safety and security within the industry.” Of those surveyed in the report, Global Oil & Gas Workforce Survey: Expectations for hires and pay rates in the oil and gas industry (H1) 2013, about a third said the skills shortage is the biggest threat to the sector and the lack of skilled trainers was cited as a major training issue by more than 20%. “The skills shortage is a major challenge the industry must overcome to continue to thrive,” Ian Langley, group executive chairman of Air Energi, said in the news release. “The shortage of subsea and LNG personnel is being felt throughout the industry with significant effect in terms of project costs and delays. It’s clear that without the right people on the ground we won’t get the reserves out of the ground.” Now is the time for energy companies to become more proactive. Contact the author, Velda Addison,