An Industry Still In Crisis

Staying on the subject of the oil and gas industry, this article in Upstream Online elicits no sympathy from me whatsoever:

A shortage of highly-specialised professionals including sub-sea engineers, geoscience experts or reservoir engineers has caused painful cost rises for oil companies, even though many are now earning nearly $70 a barrel for oil.

The younger generation may be turned off by oil’s image as a heavy, sunset industry, industry executives say.

Well, industry executives probably will say that, because it is a lot easier and less embarrassing than having to examine their own ludicrous recruitment policies, by which I mean the insane list of requirements they attach to even junior positions in the industry.  At this point I will refer to my post on the subject from October last year and take the lazy route of repeating myself:

We all laugh at the mythical job description that asks for a 25 year old with 15 years experience, but there is some truth behind the joke.  It appears that companies are only interested in recruiting people who have a minimum of 10 years experience in a particular field of expertise.

[R]ealistically, a person who has at least 10 years experience in a particular field of expertise is going to be in his early 40s at best, and most likely in his mid 40s.  If, as many companies do, you want somebody with 15 years experience you’ll be looking at somebody in their 50s.

So as somebody of the younger generation in the oil and gas industry, I’d say the reason the younger generation is turned off by oil’s image is because the industry for the larger part refuses to recruit them.  And sure enough, back to the Upstream article:

“The demographics of the industry are changing,” said David Lesar, chief executive of US oil services company Halliburton. “It’s no secret that the average person in the industry is now in their mid-40s, statistics show.”

Now there’s a suprise!!  We insist on recruiting only those with a minimum 10-15 years experience, and the average age is in their mid-40s!  What other revelations are we in for today?  Nursery school intakes are devoid of pensioners?

Tom Botts, executive vice president of exploration and production at Royal Dutch Shell in Europe, said skilled staff in sub-surface engineering and reservoir and well engineering were in particularly short supply.

And in the UK there are not enough students on engineering courses.

“We need to get into the schools because just getting them out of university is not enough,” said Botts.

Whilst I don’t want to say anything harsh which might jeopardise my fledgling career in the oil and gas industry, I would like to gently advise Mr Botts that the problem is likely to remain unsolved for as long as the oil and gas industry values longevity of service – and by this I don’t mean experience – over and above ability.  In the year that has passed since I broached this subject last, I have seen little to persuade me that I was mistaken when I wrote this:

Companies in the oil and gas industry insist on a person having 15 years experience, and are adamant about this longevity of service, but are not so fussy about what those 15 years have actually entailed.  In fact, they barely ask.  So long as you have grey hair and have done something since you left university, you must be okay.  Hence it is better to have on your CV 15 years of blinding incompetence than 5 years of brilliance.


7 thoughts on “An Industry Still In Crisis

  1. Well, comparing to my own field, architecture and interior design, I can suggest one possible reason for HResources not willing to hire “brilliance”. As one of my former bosses used to tell me: you’re here to draft and to follow, and Mr.J-n is here to think and direct. Not so much in gas-oil industry, probably, since innovation gets translated into immediate savings for the Co (judging from my father experience. I don’t know how many “innovation certificates” he has, probably hundreds…he never pursued it to the point of acquiring patents, not here, nor in Tatarstan. Yes, Tatarstan, imagine). But there might be something similar to Mr.J-n’s attitude. The biggest task he ever gave me to deal with on my own, in almost 6 years I’ve worked for him, was to determine configuration patterns on renovation job – and count the occurrences, on 12 floors.
    On the other hand, being now in hiring position myself and having to arrange interviews with applicants for a junior position in my current firm, I came across some very unrealistic expectations. Like a guy who said he “chose” not to have a portfolio of presentation drawings (a standard in the industry), because he sees himself more as a visionary, a conceptual artist than an architect. Guess, what chances he had to be hired?

  2. As a recruiter in oil and gas industry I have to agree with this post. Every job description I get sent from the headquarters does mention 10-15 years experience (although most fail to stipulate what experience they are looking for). Add this to the hiring age cutoff in the Middle East (I am sure you’re familiar with that!) and it seems that there is an easy explanation for an extremely high personnel turnover industry wise in the region. If you only want to hire someone with 15 years experience but you can’t retain anyone over the age of 55, how many years of service can you realistically get out of the employee? And is it cost effective?

  3. The knock on effect of the 10-15 year experiance requirement is that it promotes a poor skill level in the profession. The young engineer has little incentive to improve on technical skill with the knowledge that the only way to get a placement or promotion is to chalk up years on the CV.

  4. The oil and gas industry isn’t the only one suffering from the skills problem (as if that might be some comfort).

    You may be right when you highlight the demand for experience as one factor. But I think a more fundamental issue has been the rise in the status of HR and accounting and the matching decline of the status of engineers. Who would want to study for a profession which bears all the responsibility and none of the “glory”?

  5. I just have no sympathy for industries and enterprises that bleat on about skills shortages but show no interest in developing or retaining their own workforce. e.g. hiring young recruits or graduates, training them up, putting the incentives in for long servce (e.g. a good company pension that pays out at 60+), giving them good pay and conditions for tough overseas assignments.

    Instead its another industry that lives by short term contracting, as they claim the recruit from a worldwide workforce. But they have to live with the variable quality and try to stick on the 15-years experience filter. But in reality the labour supply for this filter is too small to fulfil demand. Bollocks to them.

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