The oil price downturn created a precarious job market for aspiring engineers, especially in disciplines like flow assurance that are closely linked to high-cost deepwater development. However, despite the current economic climate, it is still possible for people entering the job market to find their niche and succeed, an expert said.
In a webinar, “Flow Assurance Careers: What to Do with Low Oil Prices,” held by the SPE Flow Assurance Technical Section, Jefferson Creek discussed steps young engineers could take to establish careers in flow assurance. Creek is an adjunct professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University and an affiliate professor in chemical and biological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He previously worked as a senior research associate at Chevron before retiring in 2015.
Creek said it is important for people interested in a career in flow assurance to diversify their skill sets. One way to accomplish this is by looking at the research being done in academia and within the industry and finding how they can fit within those spheres. Among the subjects currently trending are the development of new technologies in multiphase flow and in cold flow applications. He also said the industry is discovering cost-effective remediation methods to manage deepwater flow problems that could happen rapidly.
“One thing I’ve been involved in for the past several years is the flow assurance research and trying to find the new big prize of the future,” Creek said.
There is no one clear path to establishing a career in flow assurance. Creek said he has worked with people from myriad engineering, chemistry, and general science backgrounds, as well as physicists and mathematicians. There is no set curriculum of study on the university level, and most practitioners continue to expand their knowledge long after they have entered the industry.
Still, Creek said early-career engineers will need a full command of their engineering skills and philosophy.
“Flow assurance is a brand new area that’s just now 20 years in, and it’s been evolving as we’ve moved forward, so it’s hard to say what the right skill set is. Everybody starts off on one thing and then develops with time. What I’ve found over time is that you have to master your craft the way a musician masters his instrument, or an artist masters his medium so that he can create without thinking all of the time,” he said.
On top of having technical expertise, Creek said soft skills are an important dynamic for any aspiring flow assurance engineer to have. Employers value people who can effectively present relevant information and answer the questions at hand in an efficient manner.
“We assume that you are all really smart people with a good command of your technical skills, so then the differentiator is soft skills,” Creek said. “That’s what’s important.”
Flexibility is also a key quality to have, and the best application of an engineer’s personal skill set may not be obvious right away. Creek pointed to his own career as an example of opportunities arising in unexpected circumstances.
He said his first job as a senior research associate at Chevron came from a rough match of his skills and the company’s needs after the company had promoted a senior employee to supervise its pressure/volume/temperature and reservoir fluid analysis laboratories. He had twice applied unsuccessfully for a job with Chevron while studying for a postdoctoral degree at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). Creek said his inability to find work after earning his PhD was a primary factor in his decision to enroll at UCLA and, ironically, his postdoctoral work made him a more attractive candidate to Chevron when he applied the third time.
This webinar is available here.