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What young professionals think

Friday, January 6, 2017

Oil and gas data consultancy NDB hosted round table forums of young professionals in Aberdeen and London, to find out their resilience and flexibility is helping them manage their career prospects during the downturn. By Ed Evans, managing director, NDB.

Oil and gas data consultancy NDB invited a group of 15 Young Professionals (YPs) to talk about their experience and views, at discussion sessions in London and Aberdeen.

Here, YPs are defined as oil and gas professionals with under 10 years' professional experience.

We heard that all oil and gas employees are currently in survival mode, and company culture is taking a back seat. However most young professionals remain optimistic about their own future.


The recession is more visible and destructive in Aberdeen than in London, the YPs said.

Many felt that neither they themselves, nor their employers, have been able to anticipate nor plan effectively, as business got steadily worse, since the oil price drop at the end of 2014.

Even the largest and most stable companies are reducing costs and workforce and no one knows when this will end. The very best people are being laid off, which means that anyone could be next. Neither line managers nor senior colleagues can provide any assurance.

It was felt that everyone understands and has reluctantly accepted the reality of the situation, and employers are doing their best to carry out the layoffs in a more sympathetic way when compared to stories of previous downturns.

Company perks have been reduced, everything from specialist coffee to gym membership have been taken away. Everyone is keeping their heads down.

Companies are taking steps to move into lower risk opportunities and better understand risks, although few companies have declared any real 'transformation'.

In one example a YP at a service company had been promoted two levels up as each of his line managers had been laid off. This points that the recession could create opportunities for YPs.

Career progression

It was felt that the YP group consists of two different levels.

Those with 5 to 10 years' experience may find it more difficult to switch out of oil and gas as they may be more entrenched. Some having started a family or bought property. YPs with fewer than 5 years' experience are moving on when they get the chance.

Some participants felt strongly about the need to have a Masters' degree in order to get hired in the first place. However the way in which some universities have been increasing the intake, from 20 to over 60 per course in the last few years, has diminished the value of these courses. There appears little coordination between the numbers on these courses with the opportunities in oil companies.

Many YPs are considering options in other industries. Messages from people who have left the oil business are quite positive. A good level of education from a good university make the YPs marketable outside of oil and gas.

Many YPs are looking to increase skills and develop experience that may better translate to other industries. Analytical work, handling data, ability with complex software are all skills that are seen as transferable.

One panellist described the advantages of keeping one foot in oil and gas by working in a different but associated field, for example data, finance, or software. This would allow the individual the choice to move back into the industry should conditions improve.

For those looking outside the industry, CVs may need to be 'dumbed down' in order to reduce the appearance of specific oil and gas terms and to try to show more generic experience. Some of the panel felt that oil was a dirty word on a CV because employers suspect that the individual will jump back into the industry once things pick up.

Retired experts

There are few recognised formal processes for knowledge transfer from leavers or retirees, participants said. People are trying to protect their knowledge (and role). Any attempt to developing a systematic approach could be undermined with further staff reductions.

There seems to be no expectation on leavers to document their experience. This can be a particular problem with retiring or leaving engineers. A lot of knowledge, process and historical data are tied up in spreadsheets. Which are typically individually customized and held on a local PC rather than being corporately managed.

Actual peer-to-peer sharing, such as Yammer, LinkedIn and Lync, is very active, as an effective way to air technical problems and get help from your peer network.

Whilst external training is frozen there are increased efforts to encourage internal training. Requests for developing more formal internal training are met more positively by the more experienced geoscientists and engineers.

Internal training provides a perfect backdrop for both formal and informal knowledge transfer and can be focused directly on the current business and technical challenges.

Members of the panel emphasised that onus is on the person themselves to seek these opportunities to keep pushing and asking.

Data and analytics

The YPs recognized that 'big data' represents a great opportunity but there is little evidence of activity in this area. Also, the actual benefits may not have been those envisaged at the outset. Some participants thought that perhaps the oil companies are overthinking big data.

Some panel members thought analytics was a buzzword without meaning. Others thought it could be a very useful approach, in an area where YPs can excel.

Many of the useful data analytics tools are in the hands of the IT department, while industry experts, particularly YPs, will rework their data as required using whatever tools may be available, including downloads.

YPs recognize that they spend a lot of time manipulating data and see that this is a further transferable skill, along with the skills of quickly learning new technical applications, and making applications work together.

YPs thought that there is a buoyant market for purchased geological data, which can be used to build and improve regional geological models, leading to better understanding, which will be valuable when activity levels increase. There are examples of where reworking data has identified new prospects despite the area being drilled many times before.

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