For Elizabeth Oko it felt like it could be a defining moment in her career. It was the summer of 2017, and her team of geoscientists was predicting a large discovery of oil at the Vito field in the US Gulf of Mexico.
Given the cost of developing deep-water oil and gas projects, they knew they couldn’t afford a mistake.
In the past, during moments like these, it had been helpful to lean on her most senior colleagues, people like Brad Robison and Fred Diegel, two skilled geologists who had mentored her and were now comfortably retired.
The knowledge gained from decades of exploration that Robison and Diegel possessed could be vital in assessing whether the Vito oil field was worth the investment.
“When they retire, geologists and geophysicists go out at the top of their technical calibre,” says Oko. “In our world, the more you’ve seen, the more you’ve been surprised – both good and bad – the more knowledge you have to apply when you interpret data on the next project.”
She decided to take a leap, and emailed the two men to invite them to join her team. “Remember me?” she asked in the subject line. They did. And they accepted her invitation.
Global skills gap
Shell is not alone in appealing to the older generation to return to the workplace, bringing their experience with them. Workforce analysts are reporting a global skills gap exacerbated in large part by the retirement of the baby boomer generation, born between the late 1940s and early 1960s. This expertise is not easily replaced.
So recruiters are advising companies to stay connected with their retirees through alumni networks and non-profit organisations, like AARP, which serves Americans age 50 and older, so that they are within reach for temporary work or consulting.
“Employers call us and say, ‘We’re looking for older workers, so can you help us find them?’” says Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience for AARP. “At a time when we have labour shortages, your older workers can be a company’s best assets.”