The Return of Headhunting
While living in Borneo, I have had the opportunity to visit villages where, as little as one generation ago, the villagers were headhunters. Dutch and English missionaries worked hard to end the practice, occasionally losing their head in the process. The practice was all but eradicated in the early 1900’s, but saw resurgence during World War Two, when the natives developed a taste for Japanese food, if you know what I mean.
For decades now, headhunting raids have been a thing of the past. This spring however, there was a headhunting raid of unprecedented proportions in Malaysia. A group of Arabs set up camp adjacent to the famous Petronas Twin Towers, and headhunted Petronas employees for work in Saudi Aramco. Likewise, I am aware that there have been numerous headhunting raids on companies throughout the United States and Europe.
So what does this all mean?
There's a Shortage
Well first and foremost, it means that there is a serious shortage of geoscientists and engineers available to the industry, so companies have to look to other companies to get the staff they need to conduct their business. How we respond to that depends on your perspective and whether your outlook is short-term or long-term. There are three perspectives to consider; that of the individual employee, that of the company, and that of AAPG.
For individuals, it means that for the next three to five years (perhaps longer), we can be comfortable in the knowledge that our skills are in demand. That does not mean that we can “take it easy” because we do not need to fear the annual lay-off. In fact, I would argue that now is the time to become the best employee that you can.
Firstly, this is what being a true professional means – giving your employer the best value you can for their investment. Secondly, it makes you a stand-out employee. As such, you are more in line for rewards, whether it be through your current employer, or by becoming a top target for the headhunters. Finally, it positions you well for the day this boom goes bust, and someday it will.
One way to be among the best is to use AAPG to your advantage. Become active on committees where you can establish contacts and you can expand your talents, give talks and papers, and take advantage of the training available.
For companies the challenge is different, to attract and more importantly, to retain people in a highly competitive market. To do this, you need to create a work environment that makes employees want to stay. Believe it or not, employees, particularly good ones, are motivated by much more than money. They want to feel that their efforts make a difference, and that they want to feel recognized and rewarded for their efforts.
Also important is the opportunity to grow as a professional. Again, AAPG can provide services that help you in these efforts by conducting short courses and field seminars for your staff. Companies should encourage their staff to be active members of AAPG and their local societies, and furthermore, they should reward those employees who are active in their profession, particularly those who are certified, as they have shown individual initiative in maintaining their professionalism. After all, it is these employees that will, for the most part, be the ones adding reserves to your portfolio. You can’t afford to lose them.
Challenges Facing AAPG
And finally, what are challenges facing AAPG in this current environment?
We have a mix of opportunities and challenges. I have already touched on some of the opportunities; that is to become a provider of continuing education to individuals and to companies. But AAPG has more to offer than that.
For quite some time now, AAPG, under the direction of Rick Fritz, has been working to become the one place where professionals can turn to for all aspects of managing their career development. The environment is ripe for individuals, and for companies, to capitalize on these efforts. However, many of these services remain under-utilized, largely due to the fact that many members remain unaware of just what services are available and how to take advantage of them. As Delegates, one of our responsibilities should be to help members be aware of these services (see related article, this issue).
In addition to providing some opportunities to AAPG, this dynamic job market also poses a number of difficult challenges, which we must meet in order to survive as the premier geological association.
First among those is growth in "domestic" membership. The majority of our Sections are losing members, and the average age of the members of those Sections is increasing.
The challenge to the Association in regards to Sections is two-fold: to find ways to encourage membership growth in the Sections, particularly with younger members, and to provide the services that the existing membership need to help manage their careers in a cost-effective manner. If we fail to meet these challenges, over the next decade, some Sections could become endangered species.
Your approval to add a Vice-President Sections is a good first step, but all of us need to work together to develop creative solutions to these challenges.
The challenges faced by the Regions are completely different. Membership in the Regions is growing; however, we have a very high turn-over rate in many regions. Moreover, unlike the US, there is a large pool of young geoscientists, at least in Asia.
I recently attended the Geologic Society of Thailand’s annual meeting. At the dinner, there was only one table at which the majority of the individuals were over 40 (my table unfortunately). The problem here is that although there are plenty of youthful members available, there are very few experienced geoscientists to teach them.
The challenge to the Association in regards to Regions is two-fold: finding ways to retain members once they join, and finding ways to provide mentors to help them develop the expertise they need. At first glance, one would think that an easy solution would be for US-based companies to recruit overseas for the staff they need. Not so easy says one of my headhunting friends, the problem is visas.
The time, expense and hassle involved in bringing expatriates to the US make this a non-starter for many companies, particularly small ones. However, non US-based companies are able to take advantage of the global market and recruit geoscientists from all over, as seen in Saudi Aramco’s headhunting raid of Petronas. Perhaps, through our Washington office we can convince the US legislature that our industry needs to have a waiver on the strict visa requirements.
In the meantime, AAPG, through its meetings, forums, conferences and training programs, may be able to provide a means to bring the more experienced Section members into contact with the less inexperienced Region members to the benefit of all.
Let me close on a personal note. I would like to thank Donna Riggs and Linda Ramsey for their dedicated help and support in putting together The Delegates’ Voice. There would be no Delegates’ Voice without them. I would also like to thank Don Clarke. He has been a true joy to work with, and an inspiration to me to achieve a better level of performance. Most of all, I would like to thank all of you for serving as Delegates, especially those of you who have had the perseverance to read my columns. Your willingness to serve the Association is what keeps the Association alive. Finally, I would like to wish Larry Jones, Marty Hewitt, and Jeannie Fisher Mallick the very best as they take over the House leadership. I hope and trust all of you will give them the same level of support and encouragement that you gave to us.
Kapoon Kop (Terima Kasih, Xie Xie, Danka, Merci, Gracias and Thank you).