Monday, July 07, 2008

Advice to Energy Industry Recruits: Have a “Plan B”

I note this morning with wry irony that the oil and gas industry is recruiting students who haven’t even cast their shadows over a college campus. True. It’s here in a Houston Chronicle article that highlights the summer internship of a Oklahoma high school graduate who will enter the University of Tulsa this fall with an eye on their petroleum engineering program. Eighteen-year-old summer intern recruits. Unheard of.

The energy industry, it seems, is finally waking up to the fact that their aging professional staffs are nearly ready for retirement, or going ahead right now and taking advantage of early retirement.

And up to now, too few have been coming in at the entry level to take their places.

Ironic isn’t it? With oil at all time high prices, with gasoline selling for 4 plus dollars per gallon, not only is the oil industry faced with a very tight supply of drilling equipment, including deepwater offshore drilling ships, but now we come to find out that they are faced with a dearth of the kind of specialized talent that is needed to locate and develop oil and gas reserves.

I knew this would happen.

As a 22-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, this was as much a surprise to me as my reaction this morning when I saw the sun rise.

At the bottom of the Chron article, the student mentions that her father, a 20-year veteran of an oil field service company, had told her that

“He's been with the industry through the good times and the bad, and he thinks now's a good enough time to get in on it.”
Wow. History does repeat itself.

Those were the exact words spoken to me by energy industry recruiters . . . well . . . it was during the 70’s. Some of us listened and ‘signed our lives away’ (as we used to joke about it). I was also taken aside at that time by a person who was my present age, a graduate of my university. He told me another story. He told me, as it turns out, the true story.

The oil and gas industry, he told me, is a cold unforgiving business that cares not a whit about their employees or their families. As long as you are useful to them you have a job, but when there is a downturn in the industry, “and I lived through two of them,” he said, they’ll cut you free without a second thought.

If I had a chance now, to talk frankly and honestly with students who want to major in subjects that will direct them to jobs in the oil industry, those words, and more, would be the ones I would choose.

Frankly, as a high school physics teacher, I find that I have opportunity to say those things quite frequently.

Not that they listen, and I don’t blame them. I sure didn’t.

The thing is, with the industry flush with money, recruiters can promise and deliver large starting salaries, perquisites, benefits packages (killer health benefits courtesy of the OCAW Union), and the allure of advancement opportunities. It was the same then as it is now and the deal is too good to pass up.

So I’ll just say this: if this is a goal, to make a lot of money in the oil industry while it’s a “good time to get in on it”, go. Do so.

But have a Plan B.

Have a Plan B because statistically, if you haven’t risen above middle management by the time the next crisis rolls around, and it will come, you will probably need to exercise it.

Plan B cannot have anything to do with the oil industry, obviously. When a crisis comes, the first area that gets tight, in terms of employment opportunities, is the service industry. And the oil industry is not like, say, the automotive industry, where one company is suffering, but not others. When it’s bad for one oil company, it’s bad for all of them.

My Plan B was a second career in education. I led field seminars for geologists and engineers during the latter part of my previous career, and I felt I had a knack for information delivery. That has proven to be the case, but what I know now is that my present audience, eager young teenage minds, is very different than my past audience, attention-deficit geologists and engineers with a hankering for the end-of-the-day brewskies.

My choice for a second career was a good one, and I haven’t looked back . . . well, once or twice maybe.

So to these young science-oriented students, I say this: yes, the oil and gas industry has its allure. You get to play with all sorts of neat toys. And between your salary, bonuses, stock option plans, perks and travel opportunities, you live a comfortable, interesting life. You just need to know that in all probability it won’t last forever. So go for it, grab that brass ring and take the ride of your life.

And have a Plan B.

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