Q.1: What accounts for the shortage of talented young people entering the lubricants industry?

TLT Sounding Board July 2018


© Can Stock Photo / monkeybusiness

Executive Summary

TLT asked about the lube industry’s workforce shortage. Here’s what readers said.

The lubricants business is perceived as less attractive than other high-tech fields.
Our industry does a poor job of creating public awareness of the importance of tribology.
Universities do not provide enough lubrication science courses in their curricula.

To reverse the situation, industry stakeholders should:

Increase salaries and advancement opportunities for current and incoming employees.
Focus on tribology education/STEM at the high school and elementary levels.
Showcase the opportunities, challenges and rewards of a career in the lubricants business.

Lubricants aren’t sexy.

Children are led to believe that the only way to have the lifestyle their parents (and the elite advertised on TV and the Internet) is to go to university and pursue computing and programming jobs. We need to shift our education to be a bit more like in Europe (specifically Germany but not to such an extreme), where trades and apprenticeships are more prevalent and not discouraged.

Perceived glamour of IT-related jobs.

Education about the field: lubrication science, tribology, MWFs, etc., are part of only some degree courses (relevant tribological principles should be part of any engineering course). Even fewer technical colleges and schools include material on these.

(1.) They know little or nothing about the industry. (2.) Those who do know about it might not perceive it as an attractive industry and probably have no idea about the range of opportunities. (3.) Emphasis of industry and academia on autonomy versus other more traditional engineering and science subjects.

It’s not an attractive business to the young outsiders. They are more interested in computer work and writing code.

Lack of interest in younger population and too much time wasted on social media such as this.

Market forces shift, and if salaries don’t accommodate, entry-level engineers will choose a career out of practicality. If salaries are more than competitive, word gets around fast and there is no shortage.

My general impression is that major oil companies are scaling back their research and development efforts regarding lubricants. What we see to be a gap is in reality a gradual reduction of job openings. The private lube blenders are probably blending liquid lubricants with less emphasis on lubricating grease. Also the small lubricant manufacturers may be consolidating products, which reduces manpower requirements. That is, the gap may actually be a mirage.

I do not think there is a shortage of young technical talent, but if there is the future of lubricants business will survive because the experienced folks are working until they drop.

The lubricants industries do not have much public awareness, so industries like pharmaceuticals and computers tend to be more attractive.

Our industry is not glamorous and not a favorite of many teachers in today’s society, despite the real need for our products and the offer of good jobs.

The lubricants industry obviously isn’t seen as exciting or sexy enough for the current generation. Perhaps there’s not enough profile at the tertiary education stage?

Young people are attracted to a more sustainable and clean business.

The lubricants business has been taking a bad rap in most media outlets as being dangerous, dirty and unsustainable. The younger generation is leaning toward environmentally friendly jobs and corporations.

Need more training for young people.

Quite simple, fewer in the younger generation have a good work ethic. Anecdotally, my kids were hustling work in the neighborhood when they were 11. Kids today think that is beneath them.

A lack of universities and colleges offering courses that include the study of lubricants.

No one knows about the lubricant industry. So many young people want to be marine biologists!

Intentional understaffing in technical positions and minimal career options.

The issue is that companies did not hire people who would now be in their 40s in the mid to late 1990s. This leads to current bifurcated work force of 55 and older and under 30.

Lack of diversity. Too few females. Old Boys Network Syndrome. These factors make it less attractive to young professionals and make our industry seem old fashioned.

The metalworking fluids and lubricant industry has so many fly-by-night companies that start up during busy times and fizzle out when business slows down.

A focus on data analysis and code development is drawing technical talent from other critical areas.

I believe that due to the nature of one’s effort to maintain their position within a company, one must hide or keep knowledge to themselves to maintain value in their minds. This has made it difficult for new members to join the arena. Now that this group is approaching retirement, there are not many persons behind them to fill these positions. With a low awareness level of these positions due to this nature, it has created a gap in the generations.

We lack a correct teaching system that focuses on the elements of practical implementation of lubrication projects.

Young people don’t view the lubricants industry as attractive as other fields, and fewer want a long-term R&D career.

Lack of publicity? Our industry is multidisciplinary, yet only a limited number of schools offer anything but focused mechanical or chemical engineering.

The industry apparently is not attractive or exciting enough to capture the interest of the younger technical people.

The lubricants business isn’t viewed as being particularly glamorous or lucrative. With very few schools offering classes in tribology and even fewer specifically targeting development of future tribologists, the pool of available talent is limited.

More of the experienced people currently in the field have or are about to retire, and not enough of the younger generation are showing an interest in this area of study.

Lubes are considered not fashionable by students. They like robots and control. In our country (Western Europe) a world-renown oil company moved from first place as most-wanted employer to a modest position in the ranking, I believe sixth. Our industry is associated with dirt and not with transition to a sustainable world by many.

Lack of interest in the lubricants business; it’s not necessarily a glorious market to work in.

Many people have left the industry due to mergers and headcount reductions. Larger companies are no longer training individuals in their onsite training facilities. This eliminates a whole level of skilled people available to fill positions in the lubricants field.

Lack of lubrication education at the university level.

A combination of lots of attention to electronic devices and a lack of exposure to problems caused by wear and friction.

Same everywhere, rather than train staff, business has chosen to hire away good people rather than write training manuals and teaching young talent. Now the gray beards are retiring, and there are no more good people nor training materials.

I think young people are not getting enough opportunities in the lubricant business because of experienced people sitting on chairs for many years.

Is attracting and retaining talented young technical people a problem for your organization?
Yes 56%
No 26%
Based on responses sent to 15,000 TLT readers.

Q.2 What can engineering-oriented non-profits and their members do to encourage talented young people to enter the lubricants industry?
As the trades are trying to do, emphasize that jobs are available to those that learn this area of science/chemistry.

Raise the profile of the industry in a way that appeals to younger talent.

Create a list of major tribology technical challenges and develop posters promoting tribology for display at universities.

Participate in outreach events about STEM subjects to school students to encourage more to start STEM education/careers in the first place. Technical experts can work with education/training providers to deliver high-quality and relevant tribological/LE teaching materials to students in STEM courses/training.

It’s not rocket science: pay more.

Sponsor courses in selected education establishments.

(1.) Increase engagement at the high school level by increasing STEM involvement. (2.) Increase engagement with universities, including promotion via STLE members from academia and alumni. (3.) Establish scholarships that engage new audiences, including high school seniors, machinist candidates, etc.

Very difficult. Emphasize high-tech futures and some of the more exotic applications.

Encourage educators to present STEM subjects as real-world tools and solve real-world examples to develop an interest in students for science and mathematics.

Educate high-schoolers and society in general if the funds exist.

Lubricant-industry jobs are extremely hard-work employment. Today’s young talented people seek quick return in short period. Teach them time management.

Promote the importance of lubricants to the general public, government officials, etc.

Get into schools early, promote the range of jobs, salaries and key people that youngsters can relate to in order to be inspired. As with the robotics competitions, there are gains to be made in this area. I also recall a TV show about a soapbox race where the winner’s dad used AeroShell to lubricate the wheels. Teaching kids about lubrication, not just vehicle construction, is a thought.

There needs to be more of a connection with the relevant departments at not only tertiary education but also high schools, i.e., the sciences, engineering degrees, etc.

Promote the petroleum industry as a whole for what it is: necessary, safe, sustainable and affordable. Combat the negative bombardment of info from the environmental advocates.

Emphasize to the industrial world the savings advantages that are found in the correct management of lubricants.

Work with some of the major companies that will need these talented people in the future.

Announce the workforce shortage in the lubricant industry and that students will find jobs directly after graduation. That should work.

(1.) Continue to be involved with high-school STEM programs and (2.) develop tribology courses and promote their use in colleges/ universities.

The problem is the industry, not STLE.

More summer intern programs.

Participate in K-12 STEM programs and scholarship programs for post-secondary students.

Visit college campuses. Explain the tremendous role that lubrication plays in making our world work.

It will take making lubrication engineering a more interesting career choice. I belong to the American Foundry Society, and we struggle as well. We host fundraisers (golf outings, chapter meetings, casino nights, raffles) to raise scholarship money for individuals getting into that field.

Show in an early stage, i.e., the first and second year of university.

Show the opportunities, challenges and rewards of working in the lubricants business and customer relationships.

All industries must show that data analytics, apps, etc., are useless unless there are products and services that are supported by them. Someone has to create these products and services.

Anyone seeking talent must start with the young crowd; by this I am talking about elementary school. This is when kids begin to learn about the possibilities of what kind of career they can have or who they want to be when they grow up. Yes, it is not easy and exciting to explain lubrication or tribology to a 5th grader, however, this is the age group where they need to become aware that it even exists. Then as they move through middle and high school they can learn more and more as groups like STLE engage these students. By end of high school, many students will only choose a path that they are aware of. If they do not know it exists, they cannot partake.

Sponsor more opportunities for the young technical talent to understand the industry through interaction with experience.

Work with university engineering departments and educate them on the partnership of lubrication and engineering.

Keep working on supporting and expanding STEM education, but add more of a mechanical path. What about developing an STLE-supported competition?

Corporate members, in particular, should continue to sponsor and conduct on campus informational and internship job fair programs as well as offer scholarships to promote the business.

Make training and certifications more accessible to everyone, not just to people in the major cities and centers.

Emphasize the role of lubricants in improving reliability, operating life and energy efficiency and increase financial rewards, including for those already working in the field.

Offer onsite, hands-on tribological training programs. Weekend courses at corporate labs or universities that have tribology programs. Co-sponsor corporate programs that provide training.

You need to hire summer interns from high school to shadow your sales staff as they go to meetings with component suppliers. Make sure they leave with an appreciation of how rockets, fighter jets, race cars and power generation systems are all dependent on lubrication and that there are fun jobs working with cool stuff that they should enroll in at college to prepare for. 

Show how participating in this industry is for the greater good of Mankind. What is our higher purpose?
Editor’s Note: Sounding Board is based on an informal poll of 15,000 TLT readers. Views expressed are those of the respondents and do not reflect the opinions of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. STLE does not vouch for the technical accuracy of opinions expressed in Sounding Board, nor does inclusion of a comment represent an endorsement of the technology by STLE.