The Cutting Edge: Research and Development’s Role in Deep Water
When considering a long-term career in research and development (R&D), do you think exploration and production (E&P) operations are sustainable at deepwater frontiers?
Deep water is an environment that requires long-term investment and commitment. The potential of significant rewards is driving exploration ever deeper, and the challenges, both technical and logistical, are increasingly complex. Miles below the surface, there is no light, no margin for error, no second chances. We need the best and brightest to help create technology that works in these conditions.
Since the Macondo incident in the US Gulf of Mexico in 2010, have you seen a shift in personnel staffing away from R&D projects related to deepwater operations?
Absolutely not. Instead, this has generated more opportunities in developing technologies and processes to meet the increased safety landscape and associated regulations.
Do you consider a professional career in R&D a worthwhile decision? What advice can you offer to YPs who are currently pursuing a career in R&D for their growth and development?
Definitely! We must provide solutions that perform under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature and span environmental exposures from below the ocean floor to outside in the desert heat and virtually everywhere in between. For those interested in a career path in R&D, there are many technical challenges to tackle. To make the most of it, it is important to look for diverse work environments which support continuous training and development and offer great progression opportunities. For R&D in oilfield services specifically, time spent in field operations is invaluable for a better understanding of end users and client needs to optimize technology development.
What strategies do you find effective in recruiting and retaining young talent? What strategies, if any, are tailored specifically for R&D employees?
Beyond actively engaging with universities and students on campus, we find strong internship and postdoctoral programs to be particularly effective in R&D recruiting. We offer these potential recruits work on challenging projects and extend full-time employment to those with outstanding performance. Once in the company, a structured training program accompanied by stretch assignments help YPs build strong foundations and prepare them for future roles. In Schlumberger, we also offer an established technical career ladder as well as the possibility to build careers in project management. Continuous learning is really the key. We also have an extensive network of technical communities where employees exchange ideas and share knowledge across the company. With the increasing trend toward employees staying connected, this has wide appeal.
What one thing do you think YPs today would like to see changed in traditional HR policies and why? Could you share a specific example with us from your experience?
Dual careers are increasingly becoming the norm for YPs. This is not really an issue until mobility is introduced in the equation. Given the mobility requirements of our industry, YPs are looking for more support of dual-career couples. They are expecting HR to be more proactive on this topic when it comes to career management. In Schlumberger, as with the management of all individual careers, we consider managing dual careers to be a shared responsibility between both the employee and the company based on open and transparent communication. In our Career Center, we invite every employee to communicate to the company if they wish to be considered with their spouse/partner as a dual-career couple. They may also specify the profession of their partner and their partner’s employer. It is also important to understand and take into consideration the current and expected future mobility status of the partner. The sharing and discussion of this sort of information between employees, their line managers, and HR managers is critical to enable the company to better support dual-career couples when they are considering a move. Beyond this, standardizing mobility benefits has proven critical to ensuring consistent support to spouses on topics like language or educational training, outplacement assistance, and obtaining visas and work permits.
Schlumberger is one of the leaders in R&D, pioneering excellence in innovation and delivery. How do you think YPs have contributed to the success of Schlumberger through R&D?
YPs contribute to the success of Schlumberger by working on challenging projects from the first day they join us. They bring a set of skills and new views on technology and contribute to our innovation programs by bringing outside-the-box ideas to solve challenges. We also have a structured program designed to enable them to gain knowledge and experience from field operations in order to design and deliver better products.
As a manager in your company, what lessons can you share about leadership? What are some core discipline skills a young professional should acquire to achieve and maintain a successful career?
To me, a leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others. This can be through technical leadership or traditional line management. Oftentimes, we tend to focus a great deal on managing technology and product delivery but overlook the importance of honing people-management skills. Communicating vision and motivating a team have an important impact on retention and results. It is important that YPs in technical roles also consider the areas of communication and people skills as keys for their future success.
Many emerging and advanced technologies are being deployed in the industry today, particularly in E&P deepwater projects. In your opinion, to what extent do you think YPs could contribute in R&D through industry/university collaborations?
At Schlumberger, we value collaboration with the academic world a great deal. As such, we have many win/win stories—some in early studies as part of our innovation programs and others with joint development to improve existing technology or create a technology breakthrough.
What specific skill sets do YPs aspiring for technical roles in R&D require that are different from other roles?
Beyond technical competency, YPs in R&D must not only be passionate about innovation but also need to have a mindset and ability to turn good ideas into quality products with a strong understanding of the product lifecycle and total cost of ownership.
What type of compensation mechanism is applied for R&D employees? Are there specific metrics tied to compensation for R&D personnel?
R&D compensation is typically based on a market-competitive package complemented by a variable bonus that provides additional compensation based on annually reviewed results vs. objectives set. Metrics of these objectives are typically related to delivering on major milestones with quality and safety while paying attention to cost efficiency.
Could you share how you decided to make a career in the oil and gas industry and what influenced your choice during the early life of your career?
Following my master’s thesis on women in top engineering schools, I became interested in a career in HR with a high-tech company where I could participate toward improving gender balance. Schlumberger’s industry leadership in diversity and commitment to women in technology was a perfect fit, and I have never looked back!
Based in Paris, Amelia Irion is in charge of human resources (HR) for Schlumberger’s research, engineering, and manufacturing activities. Before taking on that role in 2009, she was HR communication manager for Schlumberger. Irion has held various leadership roles in Schlumberger HR, spanning research, technology centers, field operations, and headquarters both in Europe and the US. She joined Schlumberger in 1998 after earning a master’s degree from New York University. Irion also holds a master’s degree in social science from École Normale Supérieure d’Ulm and is a Fulbright scholar.