The so-called “hydrocarbon value chain” is an extremely complex business, from its beginnings in exploration to its end not only in delivery of the world’s No. 1 energy source but also of a raw material that’s part of almost every manufactured product. To be a top professional in this industry requires more than a strong technical background acquired from formal education; knowledge of industry culture and best practices is also critical.
Our industry has a continuing struggle to keep pace with global energy demand. As a result, each year, the upstream industry hires substantial numbers of young professionals (YPs) who, although motivated and technically competent, still need contact with experienced professionals to acquire essential knowledge and skills. Ironically, our industry’s well-known demographics indicate that the most experienced personnel are nearing retirement or assuming key management roles that may distance them from day-to-day technical roles. Without proper knowledge transfer, valuable lessons learned by professionals over a lifetime will have to be relearned by YPs at a point when they (and our industry) can ill afford the time to do so.
Challenges relating to knowledge and culture transfer are not new, nor are they exclusive to our industry. To some extent, every industry needs strategies to achieve effective knowledge transfer as part of new employee training. The practice of mentoring is a widely adopted and effective strategy. In a mentoring program, an experienced professional—the mentor—is assigned to accelerate the development of another employee—the mentee or protégé—through advice, guidance, and monitoring of progress. Mentoring gives a company a way not only to maintain technical knowledge but also to propagate its working culture and operational philosophy.
Mentoring systems are not limited to companies. Professional organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers all have mentoring programs. Each shares a common feature: They all use the Internet to put mentors and mentees in contact.
SPE has its own mentoring program, eMentoring, launched in 2005. eMentoring facilitates knowledge transfer and career guidance between experienced professionals and those who have recently joined or are preparing to join the industry (including students). SPE eMentoring is done mostly via email. Because program participation is voluntary, both mentor and mentee are assured their counterpart is motivated to get the most out of the program. Experienced professionals avail their mentees of their invaluable knowledge and comprehensive view of the industry, while YPs and students come motivated and willing to learn and improve their skills.
The eMentoring program connects mentors and mentees by matching their profiles and interests. If you’re a production engineer interested in field operations, do not worry about being assigned a mentor who is a theoretical researcher of special hydrocarbon recovery methods. Similarly, if you are an experienced reservoir engineer, rest assured you will not be requested to mentor a desperate young drilling engineer who urgently needs answers at the rigsite. By establishing connections between professionals who share technical disciplines and interests, the program seeks to create an opportunity for networking that can be beneficial to mentor and mentee in both the immediate future and the long term.
For YPs, eMentoring represents a doubly rewarding opportunity. Not only can they learn from the advice and guidance of a mentor, but they are also encouraged to act as mentors for students. Whether you are a YP in industry or in academia, your experience would be beneficial for a student. This is because YPs have all successfully passed through some sort of screening process for a job or for graduate school (or both), and this experience can be very helpful to someone beginning either process. As we have progressed in our careers, we have had to complement our formal education by developing additional essential skills and competencies on the job. As we mentor students and tell them the stories of our growth, they enjoy the benefits of knowledge gained from our successes and our failures, which, in turn, helps students in their career journey and prepares them to progress along the professional path best suited for them.
The benefits of eMentoring are not just for YPs and students. More-experienced mentors have the opportunity to improve their communication and leadership skills, and, by lending their knowledge and expertise to the younger generation, they actively contribute to the fulfillment of SPE’s mission of spreading knowledge and building individual technical competence.
Participation in the eMentoring program is open to every SPE member. Because SPE is an international organization with more than 100,000 members, chances are you will be put in contact with someone who lives in a different part of the globe, where language, culture, and the petroleum industry can be very different. Consequently, the program lends itself not only to technical exchanges but also to cultural ones.
Both the mentor and the mentee stand to profit from eMentoring. Even though the industry as a whole would benefit from your participation, the one who stands to gain the most is you. There’s no better way to get involved! To request or to become a mentor, go to www.spe.org/ementoring.