Managing the Future: The Young Leaders of Tomorrow

In the oil and gas industry of this era, important issues have arisen because of the age of the workforce. Distinctions between the mature generation, baby boomers, Generation X, and the newest wave of college graduates—dubbed the new millennials—are commonly understood. The matures and baby boomers can be collectively called “old school” in the way they do things. The Generation Xers and new millenials make up the “new school” because their way of doing things differs clearly from that of their predecessors. The success of the industry in the future will depend highly on the interaction between the two schools in the next few years and how well the younger professionals are mentored and integrated into the workforce.

Advancements in technology have had great impact in the industry as well as in our day-to-day lives. The distinct work ethics of these two groups also have an impact on the industry, with the older group focusing on the efficiency of time consumed and the younger on the time taken to finish a task. Furthermore, there is a gap in the conventional, common-sense learning that the older generation has mastered and the younger may still be working on.

The perception that the younger generation is filled with people interested in everything and less inclined to specialize in a particular field may be due partly to the reduction in academic hours required for engineering degrees. Fewer credit hours means fewer technical classes than 25 years ago and still fewer than in the generation prior to that. In some instances, members of the younger generation are much less prepared to hit the ground running than their predecessors of the old school. Reduction of these specialized courses tends to cut into the technical electives rather than basic courses. An employer may end up hiring petroleum or geological engineers with several fewer technical courses—courses that would probably benefit them in their jobs. The solution becomes education on the job, in some cases specific additional training provided by the employer.

Major concerns in the workplace include the high expectations of the younger workforce entering the industry. Management in the past 25 to 30 years has not been effective in meeting the long-term needs that have developed in the workforce. Almost 80% of the young professionals that I recently interviewed see themselves in “managerial roles” within 5 years. Two important questions are, “Who will fill the technical positions when the new generation moves into management?” and, “How will the industry compensate those with strong technical capabilities to induce them to stay in the technical sphere?” There are also concerns about the perceived unwillingness of some new schoolers to gain valuable field experience during their training and career development.

There are some basic qualities that students should keep in mind while working towards professional proficiency. First and foremost for any individual is character. A simple definition would be how you act when no one is looking. Everything else should be subordinate to this. Technical competency, leadership skills, team skills, loyalty, and commitment are all good and valuable traits, but character is the most important.

In short, the answer for career development will not be entirely of the old or the new school. While the younger generations have grown up differently from the mature and baby-boom generations, there are good lessons to be learned from all. The boomers still are in touch with how things were before the technology surge and have a knack for making common-sense decisions grounded in years of experience. Today’s young professionals are very comfortable with technology and use it to their benefit. They are quite capable of multitasking in different environments. They have also grown up with boomer parents, and many in the younger group have decided they do not want to live only for their jobs. They want more free time to devote to hobbies, family, and friends, and focus on quality-of-life issues. It will have to be a combination of the two schools for optimum results.

Companies need to manage for the expectations of the new recruits and be fully ready as they join the workforce. Companies must continue this active management throughout the careers of these professionals. Students need to understand that technology by itself will not save the industry and that there is great benefit from hands-on work experience in the field, where they can hone their decision-making skills. This gives them real-life problems to deal with from both the technical and people-management perspective. If this is handled properly, we will ensure the success of our industry well into the future.


Perrin R. Roller has 30 years of industry experience and is drilling engineering manager for Devon Energy, where he is responsible for long-term rig contracting and construction, well-control issues, and recruiting and training of drilling personnel. He spent the 7 previous years as worldwide deepwater drilling manager for Devon Energy and Ocean Energy.

Prior to Devon, Roller worked as an independent deepwater drilling consultant, engineering manager for the Red Adair Company, and for Chevron in a variety of engineering and supervisory positions worldwide.

Roller graduated from the University of Missouri–Rolla (UMR) with a BS degree in geological engineering in 1980. He also received a professional degree in petroleum and geological engineering from UMR in 1997. Roller is adjunct professor of petroleum and geological engineering, is a member of the Academy of Mines and Metallurgy, and is on the industry advisory committee for the petroleum engineering department at UMR.

Roller is a registered petroleum engineer in Texas and California and is a member of SPE, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Association of Drilling Engineers.

Currently, Roller is on temporary assignment as managing director for Devon Energy International, Singapore, where he oversees new deepwater-rig construction projects.


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