Forum

Forum: Old School vs. New School: Back to Basics!

Rita Onyige, Loris Tealdi, and Tony Thomas, TWA Forum Editors

The fast growth of the oil and gas industry and evolution in technology raises the question of whether there is a difference between older and younger professionals regarding technical competence, job commitment, ethics, and career orientation. If there are differences, what are they and in what areas? The current workforce age gap and much-discussed big crew change pose important questions about the preparedness of the young professionals to take on company leadership positions without compromising company performance. —Rita Onyige, Loris Tealdi, and Tony Thomas, TWA Forum Editors


Our latest survey of young professionals attracted 554 respondents. Of those responding, 49% were North or South American, 22% European/Russian, 18% Asian, and 11% from Africa/Oceania. Concerning the primary work location, North and South America also represented the largest population in the survey at 53%. Others were 21% working in Europe/Russia and the rest taking up 26%. The male/female mix was 81/19. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents had 3 to 10 years of work experience. Most of the respondents work in reservoir description and dynamics, production and operations, and drilling and completions. The survey looked at the views of the respondents on the technical competence, job commitment and ethics, and career orientation of older and younger oil and gas industry professionals.

Preparation and Technical Competence

Compared with older-generation professionals in the oil and gas industry, the younger generation…

Most respondents believe that the younger generation and more senior professionals have similar in-depth knowledge of the basic principles of science and technology but that the younger generation has less intuition when it comes to making technical decisions (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1—Compared with more experienced professionals in the oil and gas industry, the younger generation…

 

Computer technology has evolved dramatically over the past 15 years, and the amount of specialized oil and gas software has also increased. Do you think that the younger generation performs at a higher level than professionals who are more senior because they are more used to using this new software technology?

The large majority of the respondents (75%) agree that the younger generation performs at a higher level than more senior professionals because they are more inclined to use the software technology (Fig. 2). This is the general opinion of the respondents who have various years of work experience.

Fig. 2—Do you think that the younger generation performs at a higher level than more senior professionals
do because they are more used to new software technology (responses by years of work experience)?

 

What is the percentage of young professionals who use this new software without really understanding the physics behind it?

Most respondents are of the opinion that less than 50% of the young professionals who use new software “understand the physics behind it” (Fig. 3). This is quite worrying: Young professionals seem to state that often the simulators and new technologies are used as “black boxes” to generate immediate, nicely structured and presented, but not necessarily realistic, results. This response seems to contradict the one in Fig. 2. Does higher performance correspond to just nicer appearance and faster delivery of results? Back to basics!

Fig. 3—Percentage of young professionals who use new software without understanding the physics behind it
(responses by work experience).

 

Would you be inclined to rely more on a reservoir model built by a young engineer or by a more senior engineer, given the technologies that they use?

Generally, a slim majority (52%) would rely equally on a reservoir model built by either a young engineer or a more senior engineer (Fig. 4). Many segments of the oil and gas sector would rely more on a model built by a more senior engineer, including those in the human resources/administration, academia, finance, and strategic segments. None favor the model built by a younger engineer.

Fig. 4—Would you be inclined to rely more on a reservoir model built by a young engineer or
by a more senior engineer, given the technologies that they use?

 

The majority of respondents would rely equally on models built by senior and by young professionals. Those who favor the model built by more senior engineers note the knowledge and experience that they would bring to the project. Among technical disciplines, it is interesting that among those working in reservoir description and dynamics, the majority gives equal confidence to the models built by more senior professionals and younger professionals, but only 4% would rely more on a model built by a young professional. This confirms the results in Fig. 3. To be provocative: Just because a young professional can deliver a nice presentation with nice pictures of geological sections and maps evolving with time does not mean he/she is more capable.

Do you believe that academia today prepares engineers for the industry better than 25 years ago, given the current curriculum and teaching methods?

The majority (65%) believes that academia prepares engineers for the industry better today than 25 years ago (Fig. 5). This view was the same among all nationalities. This answer perhaps partially contradicts Fig. 3 in regard to the understanding of the physics behind the new generation of software. However, “easy to use” software offers an opportunity for young professionals to quickly forget the basics since a result can easily and quickly be generated in any case.

Fig. 5—Do you believe that academia today prepares engineers for the industry better than 25 years ago,
given the current curriculum and teaching methods?

 

Job Commitment and Ethics

Although there may be a difference in work styles, attitudes, and perceptions in older and younger generations in the E&P industry, do you believe that the energy industry has changed for better or worse over the past 20 years in terms of industry objectives, values, and work ethics?

Most respondents believe that industry objectives, values, and work ethics have changed for the better, attributing it to more concern for industry sustainability, emphasis on safety, and improved work/life balance (Fig. 6). Ranked second is the opinion that there has been no change in objectives, values, and work ethics. Supporters of this believe that the business is still profit-driven and that this dominates industry thinking. Those who believe things have changed for the worse said they believe that values, such as honesty and integrity, are no longer regarded as important, while work ethics have been reduced to accommodate the younger generation of engineers.

Fig. 6—Respondents’ views on changes in the industry.

 

Do you work overtime to get your job done?

Almost all (98%) work overtime to get their job done, though with different frequencies (Fig. 7). One interesting note is that the percentage of people working overnight increases with age; this is probably linked to the increased level of responsibilities.

Fig. 7—Percentage of respondents who work overtime to get their jobs done (response by age groups).

 

Do you believe that a member of the younger generation is more comfortable changing jobs than someone more experienced when he/she sees a better opportunity somewhere else?

Young professionals believe their generation is more comfortable changing jobs when they see better opportunities (Fig. 8). Many respondents believe this is because of increased opportunities and communication and that the concepts of mutual trust and loyalty to a specific company are much weaker today. These responses can also be a consequence of today’s job market, which is rich with opportunities because of the shortage of industry personnel. Some also suggested that other reasons include young professionals’ desire for more money and also for new challenges. However, some on the 2% side said companies are doing a good job of compensating professionals and that a well-structured system with certainty in career paths helps reduce attrition.

Fig. 8—Attitude of young professionals on changing jobs because of new opportunities.

 

In your opinion, do more senior professionals in the oil and gas industry demonstrate better ethics and business etiquette compared with their younger counterparts?

Seventy percent of young professionals surveyed are of the opinion that the younger generation demonstrate better ethics and business etiquette in the oil and gas industry (Fig. 9). One reason cited is the fact that there are more policies and standards in place now than in the past; also, training is now more common and that has helped instill ethical business practices. However, 30% believe more senior professionals have more experience with individual companies and are more loyal, which translates to demonstrating better ethics and business practices.

Fig. 9—Attitudes on ethics and business practices (by years of work experience).

 

Career Orientation

To what degree do you think that young professionals have an understanding of future career plans, growth opportunities, and career progressions when compared with more senior professionals?

In general, young professionals believe that they have a good understanding of future career plans, growth opportunities, and career progression, and to some extent believe that they have a better understanding of these than more senior professionals (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10—Young professionals’ level of understanding of future career plans, growth opportunities,
and career progression.

 

Do you think that more experienced professionals are more driven by a knowledge- and experience-based paradigm, whereas young professionals are more results- and performance-oriented?

To this question, 76% of young professionals responding agree that more senior professionals are driven by knowledge and experience while young E&P professionals are more results- and performance-oriented. Some of the points in support of this include

On the other hand, 26% believe the young professionals are not solely driven by results and perfomance. They believe some young professionals are eager to get knowledge and experience, which they will employ to achieve desired results.

Comparing generations, do you believe that the younger generation has broader interests or more specialized interests?

Most of the respondents believe that more senior professionals have specialized interests and the younger generation has broader interests (Fig. 11). This response is in line with several surveys carried out in 2006 that showed the preference of young professionals favoring managerial roles over specialized and technical ones. This may be critical in the mid- to long-term, considering that sound technical skills are the backbone of the success of the E&P industry. The industry cannot afford a generation of managers with no specialty in the technical disciplines.

Fig. 11—Interests of the older and younger generation professionals.

 

Do you think that your generation will be ready and well prepared in 5 to 10 years to take on company leadership responsibilities without compromising your company’s performance?

Most young professionals answering the survey (73%), including both males and females, are confident that they will be ready to take on leadership responsibilities in the near future (Fig. 12). They believe that there is adequate training in place to prepare them for such roles and that there are young professionals with the required loyalty and commitment to fit the positions. They also point out that there might be a need for better knowledge transfer from more senior professionals to younger ones to ensure a smooth transition. The responses are similar when analyzed by work experience, meaning that the confidence that young professionals will be able to adequately cover the needs induced by the big crew change is widespread.

Fig. 12—Confidence that younger professionals will be able eventually to take on
company leadership responsibility.

 

Of the 27% that believe young professionals will not be prepared for these roles, some believe that there has been inadequate knowledge transfer and not enough time to do it. Others believe experience is important for these roles, which the young professionals may not have in 5 to 10 years.

Conclusion

The overall impression is that young professionals are quite confident in their capabilities and performance and do not fear the future challenges offered by the big crew change. According to most young professionals, there is little difference between the professionals’ knowledge of the basic principles of science and technology and their commitment to work ethics being applied in their daily work. They generally agree that academia prepares them better for the industry than in the past. However, young professionals see more senior professionals as having a lot of knowledge and experience, which is reflected in their faster approach to technical decision making and in their practice of business etiquette.

A deeper analysis points out some worrisome trends. Most of the respondents are of the opinion that less than 50% of young professionals who use new software “understand the physics behind it.” This seems to be a quite negative result considering that having sound technical skills represents the base for any success in the E&P industry. From one side, young professionals believe they are high performers and have received solid academic preparation for the industry, but they admit that their technical understanding of what they do is somewhat poor. Young professionals seem to believe that they often use new technologies to generate results that are immediate, nicely structured, and presented—but not necessarily realistic. The message that comes across is: Often “the old school” is better than “the new school” because it is less based on appearance and offers deeper understanding. In addition, young professionals have confirmed in several surveys carried out in 2006 that they want to be generalists and managers and not technical specialists. It is doubtful that the E&P industry in the future can afford a generation of managers without great specialists in the technical disciplines.

Does higher performance correspond to nicer appearance and faster delivery of results, whatever the physics behind the performance? If this is the belief, are today’s young professionals really prepared to take on the responsibilities induced by the big crew change as they believe themselves to be? Young professionals: fewer presentations and back to basics!