Note for 2020: This post was published here in 2016 when S-energy Consultants focused on the energy industry only. We provided workforce services in addition to HSE and security.
Now, the company is available for contracts in multiple industries across the ASIA PAC region, but our industry-specific blog posts that are left published as long as we see present value in them.
The question of how to break into, or advance quickly, in a rewarding industry.
In an increasingly interconnected world, I find that I often receive emails from either young professionals or mid-career changers asking for advice on both getting into and succeeding in the oil and gas business. Some find me through my growing social network, and others through the occasional articles that I publish.
Most writers don’t make any money from their articles or books but are driven by a drive to share experiences and knowledge. So, when I get an email after I have inspired someone to take action, it is rewarding because it shows that I am helping others.
If I hear the same questions from different people, this often inspires me to write about it. Then instead of helping people one by one through email, the answers are published so that they can be of service for many years to come.
Perhaps the most common question that I get asked is:
“How do I get started in the oil and gas business?”
A similar question from people already in the industry and want to advance up the ranks is:
“How can I stand out and get promoted to more challenging and responsible roles?”
To understand this involves taking a step back
Let us take a slightly different way of viewing and explaining it.
When someone asks me a question like this, I ask them a couple of questions right back:
“Take a moment to think of some of the most important qualities that one would hope to find in professionals or prospective candidates, in any field or industry.”
“Now take another moment to think of the most important qualities one could hope to find in professionals within the Energy and Oil & Gas industry worldwide.”
Usually, within their answers to both of these questions, we find an individual who is a combination of a sound operational advisor and a knowledgeable technical engineer.
As most of us know, these two qualities are difficult to find in one individual serving in a supervisory or management post. As with most industries, we usually find people who are either an excellent operational leader or a sound engineer, not both.
The solution is to realize which of these skill sets come naturally to you and work hard to develop the other.
As an example, in my own chosen specialties, Safety & Security, Rig Integrity, Resource Management, and Operational Assurance for the Upstream sector, one has to continually strive to develop new competencies, to stay relevant and valuable to clients.
For aspiring professionals in training or those who have recently begun careers in the industry, this is an excellent opportunity to develop. Realize which set of core skills is their weaker area and focus on it going forward. Continually striving for excellence in leadership and technical expertise will help them to stand out from their peers. That enables them to market their services to a specific audience, as someone who understands and can demonstrate that they know the operations conducted.
If you are a strong leader, with a high level of technical knowledge then you can handle any challenge. The confidence in knowing this can make it easier to demonstrate to an employer that you provide a particular level of value which distinguishes you from your peers.
That is the key to advancing in the industry!
The right type of person who can handle multiple challenges
All aspects of onshore and offshore oil and gas operations – what we broadly term petroleum engineering – and includes the full life cycle of the well, from reservoir and formation evaluation, to drilling and completions, to production operations, to workovers and well service work, to P&A – are inherently very technical in nature, requiring analytical methods to be used throughout the well life.
That requires continuous monitoring and management of the equipment, procedures, processes, and human resources (often comprised of people from many different cultures and nationalities). To compound this, these are without question some of the most hazardous environments in the world to be working in, when you take into account the hands-on nature, moving parts, heavy equipment, high temperatures, high pressures, fluids with chemicals, and many types of stored energies.
We have built on our industry knowledge from back to the 1800s when the first onshore oil wells got drilled using rudimentary tools, to the capabilities we are developing and using today in ultra-deepwater and extreme environments.
And yet, we are still exploring in ever-deeper wells and water depth, more challenging geology and cost restrictions, and more remote locations, using, in parallel, both ageing and new-build rig fleets for the well construction. It demands a level of understanding and methodology high above those which were once sufficient for these operations.
The bonus is that this also makes it one of the most interesting and exciting career fields in the world for young and mid-range professionals (of any specialty) to be a part of. It is a high risk/high reward.
The technologies we are implementing today to help solve downhole challenges are genuinely awe-inspiring. Because of these, we need supervisors who are entirely aware of the operating procedures, so that they can effectively assist the engineering teams with mitigating and minimizing the associated hazards created from these type of highly specialized operations. That is partly taken care of in the planning stage, but we also need to be very vigilant when the drilling starts.
There have been several articles written the last couple of years discussing the coming skill gap with the ‘great crew change’. Some authors cite the urgent need for more university engineering graduates.
What is rarely mentioned is the fact that an engineering degree is not required to be successful in the energy or oil and gas industry.
… As long as an individual can demonstrate a certain level of technical aptitude in field applications and has the desire to learn, and a willingness to start in any entry-level job – regardless of education level or roles done before in other fields
As a side note, I had to initially swallow my pride to do some fairly awful jobs in this business. I indeed started at the bottom.
In my previous careers, I:
- Served in elite military forces, as a Marine on special teams protecting dignitaries, presidents, and world leaders, having been on duty in the middle of, and leading teams during actual major international crises,
- Worked security in similar “glamorous” jobs in the private sector.
When I made my move from security to oil and gas, I wondered at the time, what one of the billionaire CEO’s or A-list movie stars I was working for in Hollywood would think… If they realized I was now a deckhand cleaning toilets on a liftboat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!
(No, I’ve never regretted that decision).
Other useful skills if you want to trounce the competition
To complement the above qualities, we also need these same supervisors and leaders to be:
- Emotionally intelligent.
- Highly adaptive.
- Efficient in the field in dealing with personnel from every type of department,
- Able to communicate effectively (through the use of adequate ‘soft skills’ such as empathy, situational leadership, cultural awareness, and in direct communication with others)
The capacity for being able to work in a team is hugely important so that we can effectively relay information and get engagement with basic guiding principles. These include international standards set forth by organizations such as API, MODU, BS & HSE (UK), OSHA, NORSOK, IMO ISM, and ISO. These guidelines put forth approved best practice recommendations, depending on what region we work in and the registered origin of our company.
Leaders must have the ability to cascade lessons learned from the field, not only locally or regionally, but also from worldwide events to all levels of the operating organization vertically and laterally, to prevent the re-cycling of incidents.
Worldwide coverage of accidents such as those at Macondo and Montara is only the final result in a series of escalating smaller events which ultimately caused the eventual well integrity failure.
A few final helpful pointers
When we look at our goals, personal and professional, we come to the point of asking ourselves:
That’s where we want to go… So how do we get there?
The candid answer is that there is no road map; you’ll be required to blaze your own trail. There are, however, some gentle suggestions which may help you get started…
The first step is to decide, firmly, that this is the chosen area we would like to dedicate our professional lives to, and take decisive action on it.
The reason is that becoming a fully competent professional, especially in an industry as demanding and technically challenging as ours, requires self-motivation and an ever-present desire for knowledge.
You will be learning the trade for the rest of your life; it’s not a part-time side hobby; it has to be a passion. One way to shorten the learning cycle is to ask for advice from the previous more experienced generation who are nearing retirement age, who have been in the business for many, many years. Pick their brain, listen to their stories, and their lessons.
And as other writers have previously mentioned… There are and will be hardships, such as extended time away from home, long hours, steep learning curves, failures, and yes, sometimes harsh, uncomfortable conditions.
The second is to choose a specialization area for the focus of our interests.
That may require new crew members to take any available entry role and work up through several areas, deciding eventually which specialty he/she prefers. For example either upstream or downstream; onshore or offshore; drilling rigs or production platforms; domestic or international.
That allows us to focus our energies (necessary in any area of life, we find as we get older). The technologies we use are changing and improving at a healthy pace. Hence, we also must remain agile/adaptable, pragmatic, and be willing to update our notions of what we believe to be best practices, as novel ideas are being generated and put into use. We have to continue to ask new difficult questions, regardless of, and sometimes in the face of what has been done before.
The third is to decide to continually develop yourself on matters that apply to your chosen area – while at the same time improving your leadership skills and keeping an eye on where you plan to be in 5, 10, and 20 years.
If you are already employed in a position in your desired type of role, do not merely wait for and depend on your current employer to devote the time and resources to send you to courses or seminars. Be willing and ready to bear your own costs on your own time (think longer-term investment, not sunk costs!), as this might be the only way to build the knowledge base you want.
Read white papers, technical publications, and books focused on your job family. Seek membership in groups and international organizations such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the International Association of Drilling Contractors, which offer information and advice on issues critical to our industry. The information is out there, and it is abundant – all we have to do is use the initiative to seek it out.
[In your eager pursuit of the above, it is essential to remember this: there are two types of integrity… one having to do with industry (operational, asset, mechanical, etc.), and the other which is PERSONAL INTEGRITY.
At the very least, uphold and be an “expert” in this second one – *DO the right thing by people, even if and when others do not; DO what you say you will, and honor your agreed-upon commitments to others. DO NOT sacrifice your personal integrity in the pursuit of the dollar or individual short term gain.
This business is cyclical, and you have to be willing to weather the storms, the low times, to survive in it. Be prepared to give and assist without expecting something in return graciously, and serve as a positive example others can aspire to follow.
Your reputation and legacy are what will remain after the job, and material benefit are long gone.]
This is the ultimate need
To summarize, the value of a cross-functional operations advisor, specialist, or manager (whether in drilling, intervention, production, servicing, marine, construction or other) within our industry has:
- Complete core competence.
- Emotional intelligence (and again, with integrity).
- An effective leader (capable of communicating across all demographic groups).
- Possesses the level of technical knowledge to assist senior management and key personnel with on-site practical engineering challenges that present themselves during drilling.
Someone who has mastered these skills will be invaluable to contractors and operators alike in the near term and future, as we continue to expand to these more challenging environments.
As the skills gap grows more acute, and the market balances out, new up and coming engineers will see that it is still an excellent time to become an oil & gas professional.
See you in the patch.
Please note, an alternate version of this blog was originally published as an article in an ASSE O&G Technical Publication in 2013. I’ve updated and amended to address the subject more broadly.