Neha Bhat, University of Houston; Aparajita Datta, UH Research Assistant; Ramanan Krishnamoorti, UH Chief Energy Officer
The energy industry is in transition – not just in the technologies it deploys and how it meets the growing global need for affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable energy, but also through its jobs and people.
The biggest concern often expressed by experienced professionals in the industry is “Do the priorities and personal values of the future workforce align with the industry? Do they care? Will they be a part of the industry?”
Their concerns are not unfounded. Rapid transformations in the energy industry have been accompanied by a skills shortage and skepticism. A new generation of the workforce is unconvinced of the long-term viability of the industry and the sustainability goals espoused by many of the companies that comprise it. Pluralities of the younger workforce think that the industry is, at best, undynamic and staid, and worse still, environmentally and socially irresponsible.
As a result, the industry is struggling to attract and retain young talent.
The 2021 World Petroleum Congress Global Youth Survey found that industry approval rates are lowest in North America, where 30% of survey respondents believe that working in the oil and gas industry is unattractive.
The respondents listed the industry’s environmental impact, uncertainty around career growth, the perception that the industry is not doing enough for the energy transition, and beliefs that the industry is aging as the top five reasons for their negative beliefs. The commonality among respondents who were most skeptical of the oil and gas industry is worth noting – they reported that they had never had an opportunity to interact with industry professionals, and hence, their opinions are based on general perceptions.
Evidently, apathy, lack of interest, or misalignment of priorities and values are not driving the disconnect from the industry; It is the lack of data-driven, unbiased expertise and information – the forte of many participants in the energy industry.
Houston has always found innovative solutions to the challenges to witness by the energy industry. And once again, the energy capital of the world is doing things differently to separate information from noise and engage the younger workforce.
A 2018 survey of students at the University of Houston found that the respondents were willing to accept a lower salary to work with a company that prioritizes environmental stewardship, even after taking industry segments and variations in starting salary into an account.
In a region that houses more than 4,500 energy companies, an overwhelming majority of students surveyed believed that how a company addresses climate change and ESG priorities is integral to their employment decisions. A predominant thought among experienced professionals is that the younger workforce is unengaged and students across the nation have a generally unfavorable view of the energy industry.
If that is the case, why do UH students care? What sets them apart?
Quite simply put, it is their undaunted drive to change and shape the future of the energy industry. At UH, the Energy Coalition (EC) is the largest student organization on campus, and at 5,000 members, it is the largest energy-focused student organization in the nation. In addition to their coursework and studies, EC members relentlessly work and volunteer in the energy industry, sometimes for more than 10,000 hours per year, to impact the future of energy.
Students from various levels of experience and disparate majors are found contributing to professional organizations, vying to solve pressing energy topics in national competitions and engaging in innovative research.
Complex topics ranging from carbon accounting and carbon capture, utilization and storage to value chain optimization are not foreign to students in the Energy Coalition. In addition to feeding their intellectual curiosity, students support each other and the community by partnering with alumni, hosting industry-specific career fairs, as well as volunteering for nonprofit organizations.
This passion and interest led the EC to be recognized by the US House of Representatives in 2016 and again in 2021 for its efforts to bring together UH students who plan to pursue careers in energy and its strong community of industry partners.
Since its inception in 2015, members of this group have demonstrated how access to unbiased information through multidisciplinary education and deliberate engagement with industry leaders can transform how we think about and discuss energy. With the right mentorship — on campus and from experienced professionals, many of whom are UH alumni — the EC has fostered a space where generational invite dialogue and spark innovation. Attracting and retaining young workforce talent in North America, where the industry is less attractive, is critical to the energy transition and the future of the industry.
As a result of the programs developed at the University of Houston and its collaboration with industry, environmentally conscious students are demonstrating that they do care about the industry and want to play a role in shaping the future of energy. They are learning by doing and in ways that are relevant to them and to society.
 The survey included respondents who were intending to join the energy workforce and pursuing majors that would equip them with the skills that are relevant to the energy industry
 Independent of national chapter
Neha Bhat is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Accountancy at the CT Bauer College of Business and obtained her BBA in Accounting. Neha Bhat recently served as the Chair for the UH Energy Coalition. Neha currently works in Deloitte’s Controllership group as a part of their Risk and Financial Advisory practice. Over the past year she has supported Agile Software Delivery, energy transition strategy workshops, and ESG projects in addition to the development of internal strategic growth offerings. Neha looks forward to continue supporting the energy industry through the energy transition and towards a more sustainable future.
Aparajita Datta is a Research Scholar at UH Energy and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science studying public policy and international relations. Her research is focused on policy diffusion and feedback analyzes to improve energy equity and justice for low-income communities in the US Aparajita holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, India; and master’s degrees in energy management, and public policy from the University of Houston.
Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti is the Chief Energy Officer at the University of Houston. Prior to his current position, Krishnamoorti served as interim vice president for research and technology transfer for UH and the UH System. During his tenure at the university, he has served as chair of the UH Cullen College of Engineering’s chemical and biomolecular engineering department, associate dean of research for engineering, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with affiliated appointments as professor of petroleum engineering and professor of chemistry . Dr. Krishnamoorti obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1994.