Engaging the Next Generation

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

How can the pipeline industry engage the next generation of the workforce?  A letter to industry leaders, adapted from a talk given by Young Pipeliners’ President & CEO Molly Beckel to the CEPA Foundation at their spring meeting. 

When we talk about the next generation – we need to consider two key groups:

Millennials and Gen Z.  I’ll begin by grounding us in some key forces shaping engagement with the next generation. 

The oldest Millennials just turned 40.  And Gen Z are our fresh-faced new grads and interns.  Millennials and Gen Z will be 60% of the workforce by 2025 and 75% by 2030.  By the numbers, they are our largest customer and stakeholder group.  As an industry, we should seek to understand them very well.

Question to leaders: Does your company have a Millennial and Gen Z engagement strategy?

I can tell you this about the next generation – they have high expectations of our business.  If you don’t know what their expectations are, you can’t meet them.  So, you need to start by asking young people what they want to see from you.

One thing we do know is that across political lines, Climate Change and Environmental Protection are their top priority.  This occurs in a market context of a (170$/tonne) or, in my world – an 8.50 $/GJ carbon tax by 2030.

Decarbonization and the energy transition presents an incredible opportunity for the pipeline industry.  The next generation needs to understand the scale of that opportunity, and how exciting it is to be a part of it.  Millennials and Gen Z are looking to oil and gas companies to lead a vision of the future that is mitigating climate change.  And they need to know how pipelines are going to play a role in that future.

We know from numerous studies across the US and Canada that Millennials are the least engaged generation at work.  We know less about Gen Z because they are just entering the workforce.  Millennials prioritize working for value-aligned organizations.  They want to know that what matters to them matters to you too.  We know that Millennials value being heard: inclusion of diverse perspectives in decision making is important to them.

And lastly, the greatest challenge of all – there is no solid foundation of trust that’s already been established for relationship building.  Only 25% of Millennials trust big business. 

And anyone associated with oil and gas – regardless of size – will always be big business.  At best, they just won’t care, but at worst, they may actively become opponents.  Skeptical and disengaged millennials (including your employees) become brand destroyers.  The destruction of the “pipeline brand” in the eyes of the next generation is critical because they are quickly going to be the single largest segment of your workforce, voter base, customers, and stakeholders. 

A proactive Millennial and Gen Z engagement strategy means hard work to gain trust. The objective is not “to educate” this group of stakeholders, but to form meaningful relationships with them.

For YPAC, we understand that next generation expects us to lead a bold vision of the future which addresses their key concerns.  We’ve articulated this vision in our tenets.    

We envision a future where:

  • Pipelines play an integral role in Canada’s ability to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Building, operating, and maintaining pipelines combats climate change and delivers reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. Canada contributes to the ensuring equitable access to energy globally.
  • Pipelines are a hub for innovation, and adopt advanced technology to ensure the safe, reliable, and environmentally outstanding transportation of fluids (oil, natural gas, water, hydrogen, carbon, and others).  
  • Pipelines are a diverse, equitable, and inclusive place to work.  Senior leaders listen to the perspective of young pipeliners and emerging talent’s input shapes strategy. 
  • Pipelines continue to advance Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.  The pipeline industry fully engages with Call to Action 92 from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in our vision of the future. 

We previously talked about brand destruction.  And one of the single largest brand destroyers for the next generation is when corporate Canada, especially oil, gas, and pipelines, is allergic to the words Climate Change.

Question to leaders: Does your company talk explicitly about climate change on its website?

Do you have a public GHG reduction target? 

As an industry we need to understand that working in oil and gas, and pipelines, puts Millennials and Gen Z in conflict with their peers, their communities, and even themselves.  Societal opposition obscures the meaning in their work.  They want to know that the companies they work for care about climate change like they do.

At YPAC, we believe that pipeline infrastructure is essential to a net zero future which is reliable and affordable and is also mitigating climate change.  There is huge opportunity for the industry and we want our members to be excited about the role of pipelines in reducing GHGs through:

  • Hydrogen, RNG, CCUS, biofuels
  • Reducing Pipeline GHG (Methane) Emissions and enabling efficiency
  • Coal to gas fuel switching and grid reliability (where natural gas power is backing up renewable generation)

Last year, YPAC partnered with Avatar on a transformational learning process to empower future leaders to build this energy future.  The program has now engaged over 300 young professionals.

Of the participants, 150 were from pipeline companies.  Across Canada, they embarked on a 12-week action learning journey where they were tasked with solving and building business cases for ten of the most pressing energy challenges in the country.  This was all offered in an all-virtual format. 

Action Learning Projects Included:

  • Nature Based Climate Solutions
  • Energy Advocacy/Policy
  • Geothermal
  • Long Duration Storage
  • Digitization
  • RNG and Biofuels
  • Methane Emissions
  • CCUS
  • Carbon markets
  • Hydrogen

By empowering leadership inside oil and gas to champion disruption, rather than be displaced by it, Avatar fills the needed gap in the innovation ecosystem to truly create a new energy future.

Avatar Innovations has 3 inter-connected and related structures: The Avatar Program, the pre-accelerator educational and leadership development forum in the energy industry, the Avatar Accelerator, an energy sector specific business and technology accelerator and Avatar Ventures, an energy innovation investment fund.

The industry needs to adapt quickly and YPAC is so excited to be a partner in the program which empowers young professionals to build the future they want to see.

Part of what made Avatar so successful is that it was designed by young professionals, for young professionals.  Can we take the idea of inclusion of those impacted in shaping the future – a principle which made Avatar so successful – and apply it how we engage the next generation?

A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: how to engage younger workers and how to rapidly respond to changing market conditions. Companies can tackle both problems at the same time by creating a Young Leaders Advisory Board, a non-executive group which advises senior leaders.  YPAC has been working with industry partners to kick off pilot versions of this program. 

Question to leaders: Do you have a Young Leaders Advisory Board at your company? 

The opportunity of YLAB is threefold:

  • Tap into the energy and fresh ideas of the next generation to leverage their insights and to diversify the perspectives that leaders are exposed to.
  • Engage and retain Millennials and Gen Z by demonstrating that they are being listened to and able to impact decision making.  This makes the company a more attractive place to work.
  • Develops emerging talent and builds a leadership pipeline that improves succession planning.

Here we’re applying best practices from stakeholder engagement (the principle of nothing about me without me) to harness inclusion for improved business performance on many fronts. 

It seems to work – other companies have used this model to test drive ideas directly impacting the next generation, to evaluate business models, process redesign, and organizational transformation, and for many organizations, this has been a generator of new initiatives and innovations

Key to this is building authentic relationships.  When we think about brand destruction, we know the need to build trust, which starts by valuing diverse perspectives in decision making

Within our own organization at YPAC, we are on a journey in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, and it started with the formation of our Indigenous Inclusion Committee in 2020. 

Working with the team of Indigenous young pipeliners on the committee has been a huge learning experience for me.  We started last year by evaluating where our organization was at in terms of Inclusion and benchmarked ourselves against our peers.  From there, we aimed to establish a foundational base of knowledge about Indigenous worldviews, history, and experiences for our leadership team.  We’ve since built a strategy and action plan and are starting to execute that.  For YPAC, we understand that engaging in reconciliation, and valuing inclusion, is an expectation of our members.

One thing that really resonated with me in this process are the seven sacred teachings – at YPAC we use these as guiding principles for our strategy work.  They are love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, truth.

We started out by exploring some of the major challenges the pipeline industry is faced with when engaging with the next generation.  Yes, Millennials and Gen Z have high expectations of us, but we can meet those expectations as long as we understand what the expectations are, and what this group values. 

When we’re asked to engage with the next generation of leaders, three of the sacred teachings stand out

  • Courage: the world is changing, it takes courage to have a bold vision of what the future can be even when it is scary and hard – this means understanding what matters to the next generation including climate change, and demonstrating how your organization is part of a net zero future and is engaging in reconciliation
  • Respect: when we include those who are impacted, and respect others by valuing their contributions and worldviews, we make better decisions and have better outcomes.  Millennials and Gen Z expect to be included, and they are asking that organizations engage them in shaping strategy.  One way to do that is with a young leaders advisory board or through programs like Avatar.
  • Humility: it is okay to acknowledge that we’re learning, that we’re new to something, that we don’t have all of the answers – that is the path to development and growth.  Building authentic relationships with the next generation will require trust which starts from a place of humility.