Fosters Commentary on Youth Recruitment, Perspectives

The 2004 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) opened with a Leadership Conference, featuring SPE young professionals from around the world. Opening the ATCE with youth commentary highlighted the importance of young professionals’ interests and opinions about SPE, particularly in light of the graying industry work force.

This fifth leadership conference, like its predecessors, encouraged beneficial dialogue, featuring a panel of six young professionals and audience participation in table discussions to identify the Society’s strengths and weaknesses.


Why SPE?

Jesus Bronchalo of the London section, Thomas Bruni of The Netherlands Section, Ahmed El-Banbi of the Oman Section, Todd Gilmore of the Java Indonesia Section, Andrew Lambert of the Stavanger Section, and Janice Menke of the Gulf Coast Section expressed beliefs held by young members as they answered questions posed by moderator Neil T. Wilson, ChevronTexaco Project Development and Execution-Process-for-Change Coordinator. To set the stage, panelists were asked how their involvement with SPE began and the reasons that they remain members of the Society. The panelists cited the following reasons for joining and for their continued participation in SPE:

  • Student chapters proved valuable in college.
  • The need to stay technologically up to date and keep ahead of the industry through Applied Technology Workshops (ATWs) and conferences. “In terms of engineering, our industry is very exciting, such as the kind of niche stuff that we do in drilling,” Lambert said. “I’m trying to give something back to the industry that has supplied that excitement and work.”
  • Networking opportunities and development of people skills.
  • Obtain skills and have volunteer opportunities that are unavailable through their company.
  • Stay sharp in disciplines other than their area of expertise.
  • Change public negative perception of the industry.

According to the panel, certain attributes of the Society attract and prevent recruitment of young professionals. Plus factors include:

  • Quality of JPT content as a helpful alternative when it is not possible to attend meetings.
  • ATWs, Forums, and Technical Interest Groups, specifically for young professionals.
  • Student chapter activities and improved connections with universities.
  • The Emerging Leaders Programs, designed for young members.
  • SPE’s website is a valuable information resource. The panelists said the site is one of the most important things that the Society offers to young engineers, including the area for technical papers.

But SPE needs to:

  • Locate and cultivate good role models (particularly direct line managers) who can positively influence SPE member development.
  • Negate the perception that SPE is only for petroleum engineers.
  • Diversify workshop topics to include, for example, development of interpersonal skills.
  •  Generate an environment that nurtures a belief by young professionals that what they contribute to the industry now is important, and that young people do not have to be in the industry for more than 10 years before their work is valued.


Looking Ahead

Young leaders envision the organization 10 years from now as being truly global, involved in the complete and immediate transfer of skills to underdeveloped countries, and representative of multiple disciplines. The average member age will be about 38, and strong mentoring programs will exist. According to conference participants, the Society will face these challenges over the next 10 years:

  • Geographic expansion into Russia, China, and India.
  • Reassessment and realignment of operator and service company goals.
  • Diversification of member and industry services.
  • Transfer of messages across all industry-related disciplines.
  • Increased involvement of young engineers/scientists.
  • Addressing industry-related environmental issues and altering community perception.

In 5 years’ time, these young professionals would like to see the perception that SPE is “too tied to major oil companies” changed, and they would like to see the Society known as the database for industry personnel, collecting and constantly updating personal and career data.

The moderator’s question, “What should all members and/or leaders of this Society start doing to make the Society better and why?” prompted these responses:

  • “Stop saying there is a lack of time,” one panelist replied. Get colleagues and volunteers out to do more.
  • Cease resistance to change. According to panelists, there has been a tendency at the international level to resist change; there is a need to embrace change and do what can be done for the good of the Society. “The Society needs to focus on involving young professionals at both the national and inter- national level in a variety of activities,” Menke said.
  • Tie realities of business to SPE activities. There needs to be a focus on more than just technical activities; environmental, business, and social aspects should be represented better in SPE-sponsored events.
  • Improve public relations activities in the community. Communicate industry history to change negative industry perception and expand services. Get the word out that, when compared to other industries, the oil and gas industry has one of the best safety records. In terms of getting the word out about environmental performance to the media, the industry tends to “keep all of our cards close to the chest,” Lambert pointed out. “We say the perception is wrong, but we never say why it’s wrong. One of the things that companies can give is very specific, project-based information. What the SPE can do very well is bring information from all over the world that is not particularly policy or project-specific and present more generalized environmental aspects.”
  • Reconnect with industry middle management. “The top managers are more in favor of participation in SPE activities. For whatever reason, the middle management is somehow detached from SPE life,” said Bruni. “We should try to target and get more of middle management involved and show middle management that contributing to SPE would be beneficial to young engineers.”
  • A proactive approach by members of all ages to get the message out and sell the existing benefits of SPE—opportunity, informal mentoring programs, leadership development, and the opportunity for engineers/scientists to have their work published.
  • Revisit Society history. There is a need to revisit the history of SPE, because this history can be used to tackle issues such as perception and expansion of services.


Roundtable Discussion

Identifying methods to create the new-generation SPE was the objective of table discussion. Panelists and leaders in the audience expressed numerous ideas to accomplish the task of engaging and mentoring young members to become technical and business leaders. Of the approximately 55 roundtable ideas, recurring and/or related recommendations centered on mentoring, awards and presentation opportunities, special forums and informal workshops, ways to strengthen student chapters, board participation, and succession planning.

Ideas on mentoring methods included establishing an “adopt-an-engineer” program on corporate and SPE levels, creating a “meeting mentor” role in which senior members interact with young professionals at local SPE meetings, and extending the SPE Distinguished Lecturer series to student chapters. Awards opportunities included the Society offering financial support for young professionals to attend ATCE and have the opportunity to formally present papers. In addition to ideas to create forums and informal workshops that would address “soft” skills such as business, interpersonal, and presentation dynamics, it was suggested that young membership be represented on the international SPE board.

In closing remarks, 2005 SPE President Giovanni Paccaloni declared that the recruitment, nurturing, and molding of young professionals are a top priority for SPE this year. Paccaloni said members should actively seek to motivate the youth in the organization, set up young professional programs in each section, encourage senior members to mentor young engineers/scientists, begin a program to encourage SPE membership through one-on-one visits with chief executive officers, and enthusiastically help these future leaders find solutions to the challenges they face.

From the conference dialogue emerged these and other building blocks to the envisioned future of the Society:

  • Bridge SPE services with the objectives of industry middle management. Leaders will be tasked with closing the gap between SPE-savvy executive management and project managers, soliciting increased involvement of midlevel managers.
  • Strengthen SPE’s role as an independent, neutral industry representative. In terms of strengthening existing programs, the Society’s role as “spokesgroup” for the upstream E&P community (as a starting point) should advance.
  • Encourage career advancement. The Society’s influence on career paths should be fortified within the organization and externally in the industry to offer a more constant framework for career advancement (i.e., setting clear career goals, matching levels of accomplishment to job roles, and establishing standards for advancement).
  • Expand membership across related disciplines in alignment with the Society’s mission. As interaction with related disciplines grows, the opportunities for members to remain technically sharp and focused on current industry trends and opportunities to cross-train will increase.
  • Enhance public relations activities to communicate the industry’s good safety and environmental record.
  • Promote true knowledge and skill transfer to underdeveloped countries.
  • Continue expansion of the eLibrary to include discipline diversification.
  • Work with students/young engineers beyond scholarship funding. Activism in furtherance and establishment of both internal and external mentoring programs should be enhanced, not only by encouraging volunteer participation in mentoring programs through partnership and constant contact with industry management but also offering formal (“adopt-an-engineer”) and informal (“how-to-get-published”) programs.
  • Broaden the scope of conference venues.


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