SPE President's Column
The English punk rock band, The Clash, posed this question musically in 1982. It is unlikely they intended it as a starting point for a discussion on careers in petroleum engineering. Yet, this was the topic of a SPE young professionals (YPs) meeting at the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition I attended where, like everywhere else, YPs were concerned about the downturn in oil and gas prices and the resulting impact on their career choices.
Interestingly, the title of the session was “Ridin the Storm Out,” another 1980s hit by REO Speedwagon. This title implies a temporary drop in the industry, perhaps like the 2008 Asian financial crisis. In that “storm,” oil prices dropped from more than USD 140/bbl to less than USD 40/bbl; North American rig count dropped from more than 2,000 to fewer than 900.
Mapping rig activity over industry downturns since 1998 shows that the three prior storms were all relatively brief. In each of these downturns, rig activity in the US reached 80% of its prior peak activity within 2 years of the fall. Until late August last year, the current downturn had more or less tracked the previous decline in 2008. Will we recover in 2–3 years as in prior downturns, or will this be like the 1980s? What does that portend for young engineers in our industry? I do not have a magic ball, but I can share some statistics and thoughts.
During the 1980s, rig count dropped from a peak of 4,469 active rigs in November 1981 to 686 rigs in June 1986. The US rig count stayed below 1,300 from 1 March 1986 to 1 February 2005, reaching a low point of 502 rigs in February 1999. This marked the lowest rig count since Baker Hughes began reporting rig counts in the 1940s. This was not a storm. It was an ice age.
Here are a few questions you are probably pondering. Will there be jobs available? What will it be like to work in an environment of constant focus on costs and efficiency? Is this the industry in which I want to spend my career? Wherever I go, students and professionals share this concern.
Practical knowledge can be defined as “knowledge attained through action” while theoretical knowledge is “knowledge attained through established facts or thoughts.” One of my favorite quotes on this matter is from the recently deceased Yogi Berra, an American professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Yogi was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In addition, he was famous for his paradoxical quotes.
We are living in exponential times and knowledge is at the center of it. By the time you graduate, the skills you learned in college will be outdated and it does not stop there. Before you even feel like you have mastered your current job, you will probably transition to a new job or even a new career. The typical person changes jobs 10 to 15 times during his or her working career. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 51. Training will be your constant companion, and your ability to learn, apply, and relearn will be your most important skill.
Knowledge Begins as Practical ExperienceThe first lesson in practical knowledge is that you must make room for it. As we attain theoretical knowledge through formal education, we can get caught up in a false sense of thinking that our learning is complete. Do not fall into that trap. You will really understand that the first time you go out to the field you are side-by-side with your colleagues who are pushing the boundaries. They tackle obstacles and challenges every day. It becomes part of their nature; it becomes natural and instinctive. That is what you want to learn from them. It is important to remember that “openness and humility” are the real signs of intelligence. People will not share their valuable knowledge and experience with you otherwise.
Given my experience in the recruitment and oil and gas industries, people often ask me about career progression. Often, the assumption is that jumping from company to company is the most rewarding and lucrative path. My response has been that this is not usually the case: There are certainly times where a change will progress you further and faster, but too much movement can become a liability on your résumé that will take years to correct.
According to the Global Salary Guide 2015 by Hays Oil and Gas, 25.6% of the 45,000 survey respondents indicated they had worked for their current company for 3–5 years, and 16.3% for 6 years or more. As a rule of thumb, employers like to see signs of commitment and deep skill development, which typically means staying in a job for 5 years or more.
There is no clear-cut path that will guarantee a more successful career or one that pays more. Your worth is really determined by what value you bring to the role.
Contract Worker: Enjoy the FlexibilityTraditionally, contractors command a higher rate per unit hour or project as the employer does not have to pay the same overhead as a full-time worker, and benefits from having greater workforce flexibility. Choosing specific contracts can help you develop your expertise, creating demand for your skill set based on your specialty area. For example, niche expertise can help you demand competitive pay rates, particularly in areas where there are skills shortages. However, before committing to this path, there are a few things to consider to ensure your career progresses in a manner and at a rate that is going to help you achieve your career goals.
If there was one thing that I could tell you, just one thing, it would be this - you have got to stay plugged in somehow. I have seen three busts in my career so far. None of those was expected, anticipated, or planned for. I wish I could say that it was all a carefully thought-out plan and I made it happen but that is not true. It was all a result of the changes that happened in the industry and how I chose to react to them.
I started out as a reservoir engineer at City Service Oil & Gas Company (1980) when the boom was on. I liked my role, although it was the drilling engineers who were the most sought after since drilling activity was at its peak. Then one day, one of the vice presidents just walked in my office and said, “We have to get you some drilling experience; we need drilling engineers. Are you interested?” I said yes. And that is the rule in the industry: If you get an offer, a promotion, or a transfer, you need to take it whether you want to or not. Because if you do not, you will never get another job offer.
However, when the downturn hit in the mid-1980s, a lot of drilling engineers got laid off. I had to switch my specialization, again, and move into production. I rose through the ranks but then the company got bought by another firm. It was not a move that I particularly liked but that is what happens in difficult times: mergers, acquisitions, takeovers. People do whatever it takes to survive and stick around for the times to improve again. Like a surfboard on a wave, you just keep riding. Do not get in a rut; learn everything you can. The more you can learn, the more you can do and the more opportunities open up to you.
It is time to polish those dress shoes and update your résumé. It is time to move on from your current organization and find a place that appreciates you more. After all, you have dreams. You have aspirations. You have a career path you have been following since you graduated high school. It is time for action. But wait! Before you pull up Word to start editing your outdated résumé, follow these three “must do” strategies to ensure success.
1) Core Personality Review
Take an honest look at your core personality and what really makes you tick. And, no, I do not mean falling back on your desire to be a chief executive officer, technical expert, or high-powered salesperson. You need to spend some introspective time finding out what role is going to be a good fit for your core personality. Start with some online personality assessments such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, and many others. Find one that appeals to you, take the time to go through the assessment, and spend quality time with the results.
Personally, I am a fan of the DiSC personality assessment, where the letters stand for D–Dominant, i–influence, S–Steadiness, or C– Conscientiousness. It is simple: You will find you are either a D, i, S, or C style. Once you have your results, you will have a better understanding of “why” you like certain work situations and avoid or dislike other situations.To take this step to the next level, I encourage you to do some additional research to find a career coach in your local area, or someone who can work with you remotely. Employing a career coach will give you someone with whom you can discuss your next career move and the results of your personality assessment. My coaching clients who have taken this extra step have been incredibly happy with their subsequent career move, even if it meant staying in their current role with a new mind-set.
Pillars of the Industry
An Energy Career Compass
Bob Barba, Integrated Energy Services
After graduating from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, I spent 6 years in the US Navy and decided to move on when my obligation was over. After finishing my MBA, I began to look for a job. With an Annapolis degree, 6 years of management experience, and an MBA, I had numerous job offers from a wide variety of companies. In 1981, the oil and gas business was in full swing and many firms were hiring. The process of searching for and producing oil and gas was fascinating, and it called on a lot of the skill sets that I had acquired in my career.
The job Schlumberger offered me provided a unique work environment and paid better than most of the jobs I was being offered by other industries. The position came with my own logging truck and crew of two operators. Each job was a technical and logistical challenge to accomplish successfully. I was able to work with oil and gas operators directly and received an excellent education in how a critical portion of the business ran.
Going the Extra Mile
Over the course of my career, I have found that the traffic on the extra mile is pretty thin. It is possible to survive most of the time without going the extra mile, however, your chances increase significantly if you constantly strive to be the best at what you do. The “only” constant I have observed in the industry is change, and adapting to change requires a constant effort. This involves attending a lot of conferences and staying current with new technology. When you are self-employed, this often requires a significant investment of time and money.
What Inspires Me in My Career in Oil and Gas
Lupo Guerrera, Woodside EnergyIt is actually quite humbling to think about the scales that we deal with in the oil and gas industry. At the most fundamental level, we are making something dynamic that has been static for eons of time, unleashing the energy harnessed from ancient sunshine captured by trillions of simple versions of the earliest forms of life. But think, too, of the industry in its complex current configuration. It is probably the most pervasive human endeavor of our time, involving staggering quantities of human, industrial, and financial capital, across all continents and their waters. It all points to huge responsibilities for those of us who work in and aspire to have an influence in this industry. We need to respect the resources that are at our disposal and understand the potential impact of exploiting them. This continues to inspire me in my career in oil and gas. As a reservoir engineer, I am passionate about the stewardship of hydrocarbons that ancient processes have provided us, and am driven to working with others to use more efficient ways of recovering them.
If you are, or soon will become, a young member of the oil and gas industry and have questions about which career path to choose, and are looking for guidance in setting and reaching your professional goals, an excellent resource to use is the SPE eMentoring program. For students, mentors can provide academic and career direction. Young professionals (YPs) can receive guidance on how to orient their career progression and diversify their skill sets to speed up their career growth. YPs also have the opportunity to serve as mentors to students.
With an online approach, this program helps mentees benefit from the knowledge of experienced professionals from around the world, irrespective of the distances that might separate a mentor and mentee.
“Being a mentor in the SPE eMentoring program has been a good and rewarding experience for me,” said Brett Levy, who recently mentored two students, one from Penn State University, and another from Tufts University. “During my mentoring period, I have lived in Denver and Worland, Wyoming, working for Schlumberger, and the program has allowed me to build relationships with my mentees in spite of being thousands of miles away from them.
We would communicate regularly via email and LinkedIn to check in on how their classes and projects in school were going, what internships they were interested in, and what career paths they were looking at pursuing after their graduation. I provided as much insight as I possibly could to help them start their careers.”
Millennials, loosely defined as individuals born between the 1980s and 2000s, now make up the SPE young professional demographic. We are known for many things, both good and bad, but perhaps most notably, we are not satisfied with putting our heads down and waiting our turn to climb the corporate ladder. Millennials desire challenging and impactful careers. We have come to expect exceptional reward for exceptional work. As a result, we are rarely satisfied staying in one role or at one company for too long. So, the question is, how do we keep our careers exciting and dynamic? Kim McHugh, general manager of drilling and completions for Chevron Services Company, and Jake Howard, operations supervisor for Chevron, weigh in on how to manage these transitions gracefully and strategically.
What was the motivation for your transitioning of roles?
Kim McHugh (KM): Operations is such an exciting part of our business. I love being a part of the day-today operations at the rig, delivering production for the business plans, all at a very fast pace. That being said, the motivation to change to a corporate role is that I get to know what is happening around the world for Chevron. This is a role of influence with industry interaction outside of Chevron. Being able to travel is also a plus, as I get to visit operations around the world.
Jake Howard (JH): I have always been excited to take on new challenges. Moving into operations as a production team lead, then as an operations supervisor presented a number of new development opportunities.
With prior engineering experience in carbon dioxide flooding, waterfloods, and heavy-oil steamfloods, this move gave me an opportunity to learn the frontline challenges that come with our modern day unconventional tight oil play. This transition would also give me the chance to learn the core of the business from the ground floor, spending time at the wellhead learning. Yet, the biggest opportunity I saw was to begin expanding my scope within a technical role to a leadership role.Being responsible for a team to accomplish results through motivating and developing others was the biggest driver for taking on this transition. Being able to do so in a company such as Chevron, knowing I would never have to compromise my integrity or values, made the opportunity even more attractive.
What’s Ahead–From TWA’s Editor-in-Chief
Being a young professional working in the oil and gas industry right now means learning a lot of things the tough way. Our business is changing rapidly, working to reflect the changing realities of a cyclical commodity, changes to environmental legislation, and increased technical rigor required to explore for and produce oil and gas. This means that for many young professionals, the required skill sets are changing quickly as is the need for certain expertise.
I suspect many people have gone through some major career transitions in the last year, or at minimum, have association with individuals that have gone through one. The simple truth is that we all go through major transitions during the course of our life, whether it is at work or in our personal lives. Some transitions are memorable, others are noble, and some are regrettable, but all of them provide you with an opportunity to reflect, learn, and adapt.
I can think of several major transitions that I have gone through in my life, and all of them have provided me with an opportunity to grow as a person. One of the more memorable ones was moving to Christina Lake, Alberta—located in the boreal forest of the Canadian North—where I lived for 18 months supporting the construction and commissioning of a major oil sands facility. The experience I gained on site was both rewarding and exhausting. We worked long hours, lived in an on-site camp (the baked goods always get you), and spent evenings catching up on current events. Fortunately, our camp had a great recreational center which allowed me to keep in shape and inhibit the weight gain that almost seems inevitable at such times.
I made some great friends at the site and I would say that the experience was well worth it for my career development, helping me understand our business and later transfer to more subsurface-based roles. But there was also an impact on my personal life. I was separated from the ones I loved and lost touch with many people over the 18 months. In many respects, I put my life on hold during the time I was up there.
Working in the field as a young engineer provides development opportunities that are hard to replicate elsewhere—seeing well and field operations in action, conducting inspections, troubleshooting on the fly, and most of all, working with field personnel who have a plethora of experiences and wisdom to share.
I suspect that many readers have their own stories of career transitions in the field, office, or academia. I would encourage you to share stories of your career transitions on SPE platforms like SPEConnect or SPE social media sites for the benefit of other young professionals.
Discover a Career
If I had a time machine, would I travel back in time to change anything if I could do it again? Should I have taken that job offer as a public relations guy on a treasure-hunting dive boat in the Philippines? No, I do not think so. All experience makes us who we are, and some say they would not change a thing. On the other hand, if I have to change one thing I would have striven harder to learn the languages of the countries in which I have previously worked and would recommend the same to anyone with similar opportunities. I also recommend pursuing variety in one’s career. Change brings opportunities and challenges. Only through change, is progress possible.
When I was growing up in northern Canada, we were offered career advice in high school to learn a trade and work as a welder, truck driver, or get a job on the rigs. I did not feel these career options suited me as I was thinking in terms of further education and I have always enjoyed traveling. Hence, weighing both of these, I decided to pursue a university degree abroad. Since then, I completed my university studies, joined the oil and gas industry, and have enjoyed a diverse career overseas.
Throughout my career transitions, maintaining objectivity has been the most recurring challenge I have dealt with. Through experience, I have learned an important rule when it comes to expatriate life (which applies equally to other career transitions): Never make career-altering decisions in the first 6–12 months after moving to a new country or taking up a new role. It is human psychology to feel excited and motivated about any new location or job immediately after arrival. However, after about 6 months a period of negativity (or reality) sets in and one begins to see only the downside of a new position or new location. My experience suggests that the period of negativity does pass, and when it does, the experience can be truly objective—bringing the positive and useful aspects of past experience to bear while learning and experiencing the best that a new role has to offer.Over my career, I have gained a lot through changes in my role, career path, or location. Changes in setting can often provoke one to become more open, a better listener, and more patient. I have learned the importance of clear communication and that “communication” involves explaining, listening, and confirming that both parties truly understand both directions.