by Julie Gauthier
As more experienced workers head toward retirement, the lack of hiring in the 80s and 90s (along with the low price environment of recent years) has left many energy companies with a pronounced age gap. Instead of a roughly even distribution, the demographics of the industry are increasingly skewing younger.
A report from the Society of Petroleum Engineers on the demographics of its membership over time provides a stark picture of an industry in transition.
This transition represents a major challenge for Louisiana businesses that will directly shape the future of the oil and gas industry.
Danos, based in Gray, Louisiana, is a family-owned oil and gas service company with more than 70 years in business. In many ways, Danos is a useful case study of both the challenges of managing generational change and the opportunities that come with it.
Originally founded in Larose by Allen Danos, Sr. and his brother-in-law, Syriaque Curole, the company (known as Danos and Curole) grew from a single tugboat in 1947 to thriving business by the 50s and 60s. Following the passing of first Syriaque and then Allen Sr., Allen Jr. and Hank Danos took up the mantle of leading the company.
By the early 2000s, Danos had grown into a large oilfield service company with an international profile. Allen Jr. retired and Hank’s sons, Eric, Paul and Mark, joined the family business. Today, Hank remains an owner and chairman of the board, while the three sons (also owners) share executive leadership responsibilities. All in their early 40s, Eric, Paul and Mark Danos, and a team of senior executives, are charged with leading the company of roughly 3,000 employees (following the recent acquisition of Shamrock Energy Solutions) and upholding Danos’ culture, values and purpose: “Honor God. Develop great people to solve big challenges for our customers and communities.”
Second and third generation owners of Danos: (l-r) Paul Danos, Mark Danos, Hank Danos and Eric Danos.
Rising to the Challenge
“When I look around our company and our industry what I find is it almost seems like, overnight, the age of everyone in the industry — especially
in leadership positions — has come down significantly,” said Eric Danos, owner and executive over human resources, finance, safety and land.
“My customers are younger than I am now. Just a few years ago most were at the tail end of their careers in their 50s and 60s. Now they've gotten dramatically
The challenge facing companies like Danos is how to capture the collective experience and expertise of a soon-to-retire group of employees and transfer it to a younger group — who are eager for responsibility and leadership opportunities, but lack the necessary industry knowledge. Not every experienced, long-tenured employee is interested in or comfortable with showing younger workers the ropes, or in taking the time to be a teacher. That’s why Danos is focused on identifying their best senior employees who are also effective mentors: they can help the company bridge the generational gap.
“Where before we might put one of our best people in charge of a single facility, now we’re challenging him to help oversee all our facilities — to help others grow as well,” said Mark Danos, owner and executive over project services.
Technology Bridging the Gap
Like many companies, Danos has previously relied on mentoring or standardized training programs to help develop younger workers. But given the scope of the challenge today, Danos is now taking a far more systematic, technology-based approach to managing the competencies of its employees.
Eric Danos explains: “What we've had to do very explicitly is establish what competencies/technical skills are needed to do a particular job, and then we have to be able to measure people against those requirements. This can be written, oral ... and you also have to watch people perform their work.”
The company has created a management system to monitor and track competencies across all employees and locations — identifying either individual or systematic gaps and then training to those gaps. The training happens through Danos' integrated competency management network, which relies on the experienced, highly skilled personnel to provide the information used to create videos, tutorials and even virtual-reality training.
Paul Danos, owner and executive over production services, sales, business development and marketing, points out that 20 years ago, more people had experience with basic mechanics, from fixing their own lawn mowers to working on cars. “So while the jobs today are more technology-driven and automated, we still want them to have a basic understanding of the underlying processes and physics of how things work.”
In his role as board president of SCIA, Official Partner of LAGCOE 2019, Paul Danos sees the need for better technical training as an industry-wide priority. “We want employees to have hands-on equipment experience, but we’ve also found that seeing something dissected in the way we're able to do it through computer animation can really speed up the learning process,” he said.
By making so much of this expertise and training available online, Danos has cut down on the time and risks associated with location-based trainings. Through
the power of computer-based simulation training — in combination with one-on-one learning — the company is finding ways to both appeal
to a more technology-friendly generation and to ensure their employees have the necessary competencies. Beyond even those benefits, by capturing the
expertise and practical knowledge of an older generation, Danos is preserving that hard-earned wisdom for future generations.