The Future of Job Security in the Oil and Gas Industry

By Deanna L. Jones 18 Jul 2014

"The best way to predict the future is to create it."

— Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005)

I recall the number one question from potential recruits during campus recruiting in the late 1990s: “The oil and gas industry will be dead by 2010—what will I do for the rest of my career?”

We have arrived at 2014—and the industry is stronger than ever.

The opportunities and challenges that lie ahead make me wish I was just starting out rather than looking back on a 20-year career. Looking forward, I believe the principles that guided the most rewarding careers in the past will continue to apply to careers of the future. 

Starting on the Front Lines

Growing up in the Canadian oil patch, I gained an awareness of the cyclical and often brutal nature of the oil and gas industry through my family connections. The boom of the early 1980s shifted later to a less robust industry that greatly affected Calgary graduates’ opportunity landscape.

After graduating into a low cycle for the industry, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position by Schlumberger in one of the company’s field offices. As with many new graduates, I was eager to use my skills and take on more challenges than my actual job description availed me, often to the chagrin of my first boss. That experience taught me that it’s great to start at the bottom. Although I may not have known it at the time, beginning at and working from the ground up provides you with great perspective and a chance to see where real value is created on a daily basis. I formed a much better appreciation and understanding of the business from a grassroots standpoint than I would have formed from sitting in a corporate office.

I’ve worked at a few oil and gas companies as head of human resources, a position I hold today at Marathon. I continually see people pass up a field opportunity or get frustrated with lower- level responsibilities because their expectations after graduation are so high.

I was fortunate. At 21, fresh out of college, I had the chance to learn and understand the business and our industry by working on the front lines. I learned that no opportunity is too small when it comes to learning something of value. No matter the opportunity you are given, you should do a great job and take advantage of working close to the action. Exceptional performance in any role is the catalyst to future opportunity. Taking opportunities that others don’t want or won’t take will provide you with insights that will create differentiated opportunities along your future career path.

Embrace Change and Technology

People often underestimate the impact of technology. To give you an example, in a Spiegel Online interview, 18 July 2006, Daniel Yergin, a global energy expert and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Prize, stated, “In the 1970s, the frontier for offshore development was 200 meters. Today it is 4000 meters.” 

Those who work outside the oil and gas industry often don’t realize how incredible the technology is that we use every day in the process of finding and extracting hydrocarbons around the world.

Even more impressive is the spirit of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship of the people continually creating the new technologies that are driving our industry’s future. Our ability to talk about our industry’s future, with what we now estimate will be decades of longevity, feels inconceivable after the challenges of the mid-1980s.

However, we face more political, regulatory, and other above-ground challenges than ever before. This requires organizations and the people who drive performance and value to be incredibly agile and adaptive along with the industry; yet we know it is human nature to resist change and new technology.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been involved in several reorganizations and new technology initiatives. Not all were successful and none were easy. On reflection, they were all initiated with the purpose of ensuring the business maintained a differentiated competitive advantage and adapted to new market realities. The ability to embrace and lead change is a critical trait that leaders in any industry must possess. The more comfortable you are with understanding, embracing, and guiding change, the better equipped you will be to navigate a long-term career.

One of the best gifts I’ve ever received from a colleague was a subscription to Fast Company magazine. It was a great reminder that technology, innovation, creativity, and the entrepreneurial mindset driving business disruption can come from anywhere. As you embrace new technological advances, it’s important to look beyond the oil and gas industry and understand how business and technology are progressing and transforming around you so you can bring fresh ideas of your own into our industry.

Career Paths in a Global Industry

Fresh out of college, one of my first mistakes was turning down an opportunity to work in a rural community. Ultimately, my oil and gas career started in a rural yet still sizable community outside Calgary.

Upon understanding that my career growth was tied to physical moves or relocations, my family and I embraced the opportunities we were given. That meant leaving Canada and our extended families—potentially for the duration of my career. It also meant that my daughters would have to change schools about every 3 years. It was a different but enriching experience for us as a family— more so than if we had chosen to stay in one location for the extent of my career.

We did take advantage of our world travels and expand our appreciation of different cultures. Looking back now, I can honestly say I am sorry we didn’t experience an even wider diversity of locations and cultures. These moves also gave our extended families a chance visit us in each of our locations. We learned 2 or 3 years can go by incredibly fast and when the time came to relocate, we were always just as sad to leave our temporary home as we were excited to take on the next adventure.

If you are open to new and different experiences, and opportunities are presented to you, I believe you will have tremendous flexibility in your career as well as longevity in the industry. I’ve listened to many stories of families who have traveled the globe and experienced our industry from many vantage points, with highly rewarding outcomes. The most successful movers are individuals and families who embrace the local culture without trying to recreate life as they knew it before.

Moves don’t have to be to exotic or distant locations to create new opportunities. Whenever you physically move your household goods, make new friends, start at a new school, or find new hobbies, that’s change and that’s adaptation. For those moving with companies where there are familiar faces and rhythm of work, the transition is much easier than for our families who support us in our moves. For moves without the support of family, integrating into a new community is challenging in a different way.

You can help create an environment for a successful transition by understanding your personal and family dynamics, and how those might change if you moved. Explore areas where you might have future opportunities and discuss with family and friends what could make that an interesting and rewarding experience for you as well as your family. Before you decide, envisioning scenarios and planning help you be prepared for any special considerations or requirements you might need to make a move successful, rather than declining a great opportunity that could progress your career.

Continuous Learning

The oil and gas industry’s depth and breadth are tremendous. Individuals who desire the longest and most fulfilling careers should take the opportunity to create a solid foundation around their area of expertise. At the same time they should be primed and ready to keep their skills current and fresh, as well as be striving to collaborate and foster understanding across disciplines, functions, and geographies.

The shale “revolution” in North America began around 40 years ago. Today, thousands of opportunities have been created that could not have been imagined then, and even 10 years ago were just gathering momentum. The skills and capabilities to compete in the unconventional market have different requirements than those needed to develop complex offshore operations in remote locations.

There is a tremendous amount of potential in our industry that is untapped as we continuously learn what it takes to be successful and as we face our many challenges. Agility and collaboration will be the headlines that create the success stories of our future.

One of my favorite stories comes from a former colleague who started his career as an engineer in the oil and gas industry. A long commute in a van pool offered him the opportunity to listen and learn from someone who worked in a different area altogether—finance and accounting. That ongoing interaction sparked my colleague’s appreciation and interest outside his normal technical work, and after several different assignments, he culminated his career by serving as a chief financial officer.

The point here is that you just never know when or how or where you might have the opportunity to augment your interest in another discipline, expand your perspective, or broaden your knowledge and skills. You can’t be certain how any new expertise might ultimately impact your career.

The key is to always be open to new possibilities and ideas, and take advantage of any opportunity to learn outside your own area of expertise. In the long term, it will be advantageous for you personally and for your career, and incredibly powerful for the industry. 

This article originally appeared in The Way Ahead.

Deanna L. Jones is vice president of human resources and administrative services at Marathon Oil. She joined the company in January 2014. Before that, she served as vice president of human resources and chief commercial officer for Newfield Exploration Company and as human resource director–reservoir production group at Schlumberger. Between 2003 and 2008, Jones worked at Schlumberger Information Solutions as vice president–North America and vice president of personnel. From 1993 to 2003, she worked in a variety of managerial assignments of increasing responsibility for Schlumberger in Canada and the US. Jones holds a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Calgary, Canada, and has completed executive business courses in human resources at the University of Michigan and in finance at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.