Begin early and work overtime to keep what you got — that was the advice of an Offshore Technology Conference panel last week on how to recruit for the oil and gas field. Demand is especially high for experience from top to bottom, which has led to a high turnover as companies aggressively go after other company employees.

“On average, energy employees are 48 and soon will be eligible for retirement. Without better recruitment and retention, up to 60% of the oil patch workers, top to bottom, will be gone within 10 years,” said Margaret Carriere, vice president of human resources of Halliburton Co.

Where to begin? For deep-pocket companies like Schlumberger Oilfield Services and BP, executives begin as early as high school and the first years of college. Schlumberger personnel officer Joe Mongrain said up to 300 petroleum engineering and geoscientists graduate from U.S. colleges each year, but his company tries to reach them long before they have a degree in hand.

Using the Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development program, one tool is a web site to give high school students the opportunity to chat with employees. Schlumberger also offers internships and scholarships and crisscrosses the country constantly, educating potential employees.

“We are talking to eighth and ninth graders,” Mongrain said. “This is an investment in our future,” which he said may not pay off for 10 years or more.

BP also values high school and college visits to explain possible career opportunities. With an 80-90% job acceptance rate, Steve Decatur, a BP staffing coordinator based in Houston, said, “people aren’t shying away from this industry.” However, he said the company was careful not to extend opportunities without real possibilities, pointing to “mistakes we made before as an industry when we ramped up and then we had to lay off people.”

One program, the Network of Excellence in Training, helps producers find good employees. Based in College Station, TX, the program was formed by Schlumberger, Texas A&M University, the University of Oklahoma and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Director Ronald Carter said programs such as this are a step in the right direction because the “industry has a very poor reputation for stability.”

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