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Bill WhitelawThey’re the handful of heroes riding selflessly to the rescue of oil and gas folks in distress in downtown Calgary and beyond. And while the allusion to a good-deed-doing gang of the Old West may be good-naturedly stretching things a bit, what motivates their efforts is no less commendable.

These folks don’t tote badges or sport white Stetsons but they do inspire and engage. Indeed, the Pay It Forward Gang is doing its bit – and best – to help Canada’s battered oil and gas sector one coffee at a time.

Who is a Pay It Forward member? The typical gang member is in his or her late 40s to early 60s. They have impressive CVs. They’ve tackled tough rocks and recalcitrant reservoirs. They’ve ridden the crests of some significant technology waves. They’ve ridden downturns down and upturns up. They belong to technical groups and other organizations and share their experiences at the podium and on panels. They’ve laboured for the big players and they’ve sweated for the small guys.

In short, they’re the kind of folks who end up in Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame because they’ve served the industry that has served them. They’ve done well, and successfully survived, because they’re networked – and their passion for the sector transcends their careers.

And now they’re giving back, one coffee meeting at a time.

Yet the one thing they don’t have in excess is time. A paradox of downturns is that time proves itself inelastic, in that fewer people are doing the work previously done by many. Gang members are still working because they remain highly valued by their companies and organizations. The pressure on their hours and talent is intense.

Still, gang members seem to make time for their mission. Here’s the essence of the gang’s good works: helping our industry remain viable through outreach.

Companies have carved out, often dramatically and deeply, tons of geosciences, engineering and business talent in the last 18 months. Young men and women with defined career tracks have found their aspirations abruptly derailed, often without warning. It can be a profoundly isolating experience; cut off from the comfort of the “mother ship” in an industry whose future is anyone’s guess. It’s especially unnerving if you’re without a network.

Take Calgary’s Plus-15 as a symbol. It can be a lonely place without a network. The Plus-15, of course, means many things beyond its physical linking of downtown buildings. It’s a useful metaphor for the value of “the network” in particular and social capital building in general. In a way, the Plus-15 is the industry’s circulatory system, linking important nodes of influence and connectivity through the people who pace its corridors. The Pay It Forward Gang roams the Plus-15 on its mission. Its members always make time for a coffee.

You can spot them at the Starbucks, Second Cups and Good Earths.

It’s the “old guy or gal” holding court with someone a generation younger. The Gang’s efforts as mentors, guides and confidantes are especially important because they’re providing critical continuity. By making the time for a coffee – or two, or three – with those young industry professionals in transition, they’re helping keep deep the talent pool this industry will so desperately need “on the other side.” Without their efforts and encouraging words, this displaced generation might become a talent Diaspora that would cripple an already hurting sector. The simple sharing of insights, experiences and inspirations over a latte with young up-and-comers is a critical first step toward their own network building. It could be about a job, or connecting to another industry professional, or a project or volunteer role. It can be as intangible as sharing insights or a little coaching.

You all know a Pay It Forward Gang member. Next time you spot one on the Plus-15, tip your hat to them.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Bill is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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