Call them the Millennials, Generation Y, the Online Generation.
Call them the Young and the Restless.
But don't call them slackers.
Today's young petroleum geoscientists are after meaningful jobs in the industry.
In a few years, they might be after yours.
"I've seen an increase in professionalism" among geology students, said Timothy Bralower, professor and head of the Department of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.
Penn State has turned out bucketsful of petroleum geologists over the years. Petroleum engineers, too, for that matter.
"Undergraduates and graduate students are now extremely concerned about looking good when they come out of school. They know the employers are going to look beyond their grades," Bralower said.
That prompts students to get hands-on company experience through internships, to take on special research projects and to involve themselves in other industry-related activities, he said.
Natalie Uschner, Support Geoscientist II with Schlumberger Information Solutions in Houston, points out a difference of her own: The younger generation is more mobile than their predecessors.
"You can obviously see distinct differences between the older guys and this younger group of geoscientists," she said.
Dedicated and Devoted?
Uschner chairs the Houston Geological Society NeoGeos, a group of young professionals that generally have five years' experience or less in geoscience jobs.
The NeoGeos group began five years ago "as a networking tool for young geologists and geophysicists," she said.
Uschner described six main attributes of her age-group peers in the industry:
- They have a passion for doing what they love.
- They are "typically very dedicated because of their interest in the field."
- They like to share camaraderie with others in the industry.
- They enjoy discovering new things -- being a detective.
- They are risk-takers willing to do what it takes to succeed.
- They like to take on new responsibility.
"People I know are really dedicated to their job. I know quite a few people who go in early and stay late," she said.
"It's more of a work-hard, play-hard attitude when you're younger," Uschner noted.
But young geologists don't show the same affinity for the idea of remaining at a particular company.
In general, they aren't looking for a lifelong career at a company, especially if the atmosphere or chemistry is wrong.
"Nowadays, if they don't like it, they'll move," Uschner said. "They may not think there are that many advantages to staying.
"A lot of people go into big companies to get the training, then they go to work for a smaller company," she added.
VERY Ancient History
Here's a question for any young geoscientist just entering the petroleum industry:
After years of layoffs, turn-downs, mergers and meltdowns, who wants to take the chance?
As it turns out, that's all ancient history.
It's no use talking about what happened in 1986, because some of these new-hires weren't just babies then.
"Students here are not aware of how things were in the 1980s," Bralower said. "I knew that the industry was very cyclical, but I only found out about the 1980s and the background of the industry when I came down here (to Houston)."
What new geoscientists know well is the hardship caused by the dot.com meltdown and the economic slump that began in 2000.
"Everybody knows somebody who's unemployed," Bralower noted. "This generation is more concerned (about securing employment) than earlier, when people thought everything was going to work out."
Two other factors might help explain why new graduates don't show much concern for the industry's up-and-down history.
First, most companies now are more likely to add employees slowly and reduce their work force slowly.
"Oil companies are extremely aware of the bad PR they got in the 1980s," Bralower said.
Second, if the petroleum industry has layoffs sometimes, what industry doesn't?
"Geoscientists are concerned about layoffs," Uschner said, "but I don't think that they're that more concerned than people in other industries, because all industries are experiencing layoffs."
Coming Up to Bat
The petroleum industry has good reason to study this new generation of geoscientists, a group just now entering the workplace.
A typical demographic approach identifies the following divisions:
- Traditionalists/Veterans, born 1925-45
- Baby Boomers, born 1946-64
- Generation X, born 1965-80
- Millennials, born 1980-2002
Also called Generation Y or Nexters, the new generation will provide the industry's entry-level employees and mid-career professionals for the next two decades.
Its most striking characteristic could well be expertise in technology.
Traditionalists are labeled "unsure of and resistant to" high tech, Baby Boomers "willing to learn" and Generation X "adept with technology."
Millennials are called "technologically superior."
This is the first generation that does not know what it's like to be without a computer.
Younger Millennials can't remember a time before the Internet.
"They are much more computer literate, much more used to getting information from a computer," Bralower said.
"These students are not as used to going to the library," he added. "Now, almost any journal is online."
In other ways, the new generation resembles Traditionalists.
- While Traditionalists have valued a stable environment, Millennials look for structure.
- While Traditionalists are respectful of authority, Millennials are respectful of tradition -- and of Traditionalists.
- While Traditionalists make work and career a priority, Millennials look toward work and earning power.
But Millennials also shy away from conformity, and embrace their own diversity.
Diverse and Dual?
Chakib Sbiti, executive vice-president of Schlumberger Oilfield Services, set out five essential steps for the industry in a speech earlier this year.
Sbiti said the following must happen to develop a human resource for the future:
- Increase the industry's collective expertise in oil and gas production.
- Utilize the human resources of all nations.
- Improve the role and participation of women in the industry.
- Reverse the poor image of the oil industry among young people in Western nations.
- Respect the role of professional societies that "provide a rallying point for the collective professionalism of our wonderful business."
So far, building an adequate human resource base seems an especially difficult problem for the U.S. industry.
"It was reported recently that while 43,000 law students graduated last year in the United States, only 430 geologists and 279 petroleum engineers graduated," Sbiti noted. "This is of concern considering the world's insatiable appetite for hydrocarbon."
Sbiti cited both national diversity and gender diversity as key concerns in developing the industry's future work force.
Women make up a growing segment of geology and engineering students in some countries, but "female enrollment in engineering schools in the West is stuck around 20 percent," he said.
Supporting the career goals of today's young professionals also will challenge the industry, according to Sbiti.
Traditionalists hoped to leave a legacy. Baby Boomers tried to build a successful career, while Generation X looked for portable careers.
By contrast, Millennials want to build parallel careers with their spouses.
"Dual careers will become the norm -- currently almost 50 percent of our top management is in a dual-career situation," Sbiti noted.
"Dual careers require special planning, sensitivity to the couple's intentions," he said. "And we must remember that it's no longer necessarily the man these days who holds the primary career."
Talkin' 'Bout My
The new generation of geoscientists displays innate optimism, scientific curiosity and a sense of adventure.
It continues a trend toward advanced degrees for young employees.
"Almost any employer is looking for a master's degree. That's entry-level, at this point," Bralower commented.
Students and young professionals also tend to be generalists with broad knowledge.
"The message that comes across loud and clear from petroleum companies is 'Stay broad' and 'Learn how to think,'" Bralower said.
"They aren't looking for an expert in Mesozoic paleofossils. They want someone they can train in-house," he added.
Managers, especially Traditionalists, may be confused or put off by the Millennials' approach to career development.
Blurred lines between home and office space, and family and work life, are changing the traditional concepts of careerism.
From another view, earlier generations of employees probably aren't as technology-deficient, fully matured and inflexible as Millennials may think.
In fact, many geologists remain physically active and mentally alert well into their mid-30s. (Just kidding.)
Overall, the view of young professionals as a 9-to-5, home-based, private-life generation just won't hold.
If anything, this new generation of geoscientists has bought into the romantic ideals of the petroleum industry and the thrills of discovery even more than did their elders.
"It's a fast-paced industry that's very exciting and intriguing," Uschner explained. "I like the fact that this industry is very international, that there are a lot of places you can go."
The industry's biggest challenge may come in helping these new, young employees find reward and fulfillment in their jobs.
If future exploration takes place on spreadsheets instead of drilling sites, oil companies could end up with offices full of the Disappointed Generation.