Being a young professional working in the oil and gas industry right now means learning a lot of things the tough way. Our business is changing rapidly, working to reflect the changing realities of a cyclical commodity, changes to environmental legislation, and increased technical rigor required to explore for and produce oil and gas. This means that for many young professionals, the required skill sets are changing quickly as is the need for certain expertise.
I suspect many people have gone through some major career transitions in the last year, or at minimum, have association with individuals that have gone through one. The simple truth is that we all go through major transitions during the course of our life, whether it is at work or in our personal lives. Some transitions are memorable, others are noble, and some are regrettable, but all of them provide you with an opportunity to reflect, learn, and adapt.
I can think of several major transitions that I have gone through in my life, and all of them have provided me with an opportunity to grow as a person. One of the more memorable ones was moving to Christina Lake, Alberta—located in the boreal forest of the Canadian North—where I lived for 18 months supporting the construction and commissioning of a major oil sands facility. The experience I gained on site was both rewarding and exhausting. We worked long hours, lived in an on-site camp (the baked goods always get you), and spent evenings catching up on current events. Fortunately, our camp had a great recreational center which allowed me to keep in shape and inhibit the weight gain that almost seems inevitable at such times.
I made some great friends at the site and I would say that the experience was well worth it for my career development, helping me understand our business and later transfer to more subsurface-based roles. But there was also an impact on my personal life. I was separated from the ones I loved and lost touch with many people over the 18 months. In many respects, I put my life on hold during the time I was up there.
Working in the field as a young engineer provides development opportunities that are hard to replicate elsewhere—seeing well and field operations in action, conducting inspections, troubleshooting on the fly, and most of all, working with field personnel who have a plethora of experiences and wisdom to share.
I suspect that many readers have their own stories of career transitions in the field, office, or academia. I would encourage you to share stories of your career transitions on SPE platforms like SPEConnect or SPE social media sites for the benefit of other young professionals.
Many people I talk to now who are unemployed or changing roles are taking advantage of having the time off to reflect and adapt. A former senior colleague of mine recently told me that losing his job was like a blessing in disguise. In his time off, he has been able to spend more time with his daughter and catch up with his personal to-do list. Others are using the break to travel and see family members on the other side of the globe. Some are volunteering in their community and abroad to support humanitarian issues that riddle our society. In fact, the individuals I know who have probably gained the most over the last year are the ones involved in community initiatives. These are periods in life that rarely come about, and with a positive outlook they can be turned into opportunities rather than being viewed as hindrances.
Through volunteering in my local SPE section, I have been asked by a lot of young professionals and students what they should be doing in these tough times. I will not attempt to try and predict what your future may be, because I have learned that often I can hardly predict my own. But I do know there are a number of things that you can do to set up yourself up for success.
The concept that I have been playing with over the past year is that “an object in motion stays in motion.” It essentially means that there are always opportunities out there to advance your career or personal experience, despite the oil prices being depressed. For some it might mean working with your hands, for others it could involve graduate education, and for some others it could mean a much needed break from work and time to reconnect with family and friends.
This idea is probably best exemplified by SPE President Nathan Meehan in his column in this issue. Meehan discusses his personal experiences working in the industry through the 1980s and the impact of his decision to return to academia for graduate education after he was well into his career. It clearly did not turn out all that bad for him considering he is now our president!
There are many great articles featured in this issue and I hope that at least one of them will speak to you in some manner. We work in a cyclical industry and history has shown the industry does eventually bounce back from a period of lower prices. When that happens, the opportunities will likely become even more prevalent for those who have worked to stay relevant.