A Message From One of the ‘Oldest New Guys’

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

At the age of 33 and with 10 years of work experience in the oil and gas field under my belt, I find myself at a transition point that I never thought much about.

By most accounts, I am rapidly approaching the limit of my designation as a Young Professional (YP).

I am, therefore, uniquely positioned to challenge on the following statement: AAPG does not meet the needs of today’s YPs.

The source of this statement is inconsequential to the issues it suggests. Chief among these are that modern YPs are somehow different than their predecessors and that AAPG is somehow ill-equipped to handle their needs.

I graduated and began work at the tail end of the last major hiring “freeze,” which lasted from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. This “freeze” has defined our YPs and affected the demographics of most companies in the oil and gas sector.

A large age and skill gap exists in what is now the 35-45 age range throughout the world. This has set our industry up for the “Great Crew Change,” where those who are currently 50 years of age or older are nearing retirement, but there are few middle-aged professionals to fill the many soon-to-be vacant positions.

To counteract the wave of impending retirements, the industry has been hit by an influx of new hires. Not only does this mean that the YPs represent a large segment of today’s industry, but also that there are fewer mentors to train them. As a consequence, YPs will necessarily have to take on greater responsibilities sooner rahter than later.

This is what makes today’s YPs different from in the past – and compounding the typical hunger to learn and prove themselves is the urgency for YPs to grow and achieve at a faster pace.

AAPG always has been my lifeline to the industry-at-large and a huge part of my education as a geologist.

Like many who do not go to work for the major corporations, which have established training programs, my first job out of graduate school was analogous to crazy Uncle Dave throwing you as a six-year-old into the deep end of the swimming pool to teach you how to swim.

After a few weeks at my first full-time job, it became readily apparent that there’s a high degree of stress that comes with planning an exploration drilling program – and in dealing with that stress, I came to realize the value of the monthly lifesavers that AAPG delivered to me in the form of the BULLETIN and EXPLORER. The mapping workflows or exploration ideas they provided in the articles were like on-the-job training that I could directly apply to my projects.

Sometimes what I tried worked well, and sometimes it did not, but science thrives on trial-and-error.

While the publications and Internet components of AAPG are more resources for the individual, the Section/Region meetings, continuing education courses and international events are what breathe life into the earth science community. This aspect of AAPG is indispensable for YPs, because while leveraging what you know is a good way to solve a problem, leveraging the knowledge in your network is a powerful recipe for success.

In the AAPG Eastern Section, the few of us who were hired in 2003 fondly refer to ourselves as the “oldest new guys.” At the Eastern Section’s annual meeting that year we were the youngest people there by 15 years. We knew no one outside of our companies going into that meeting, but after a few days and lots of handshakes we came away representing not only our respective companies, but also “the Industry.”

I keep in close contact with the friends and mentors that I met at my first Eastern Section meeting. This sense of community is a great and necessary service that AAPG provides to YPs.

AAPG has come to realize how large and important the YP sector is – and that they have specific needs.

In a major effort to meet these needs, AAPG has revitalized the Young Professional Committee and created YP liaisons for each Section and Region. These efforts have given YPs a voice within the Association at both the local and global levels.

I am proud to be a part of this initiative as the AAPG YP Eastern Section “lead,” because it provides an easier way to network and help newly hired or graduated geologists feel part of the larger AAPG community. The recent YP events at ACE Pittsburgh are an excellent example of this – and from my perspective, the future looks bright for YPs.

If you would like to help shape future YP events and contribute to your earth science community, please get in contact your Section or Region liaison.

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Josh Hickman is the chief geologist for EdgeMarc Energy Holdings Inc. in Pittsburgh, a private oil and gas company focused on producing the Marcellus and Utica Shales. He has spent his career in the Appalachian and Illinois Basin working for Cabot Oil and Gas, CONSOL Energy and Marshall Miller & Associates.

The interaction of good geology and good business is what Josh enjoys most about the oil and gas industry.

“Geologists are born, not made,” said Steve Lenhart, geology department chairman of Hickman’s undergraduate institution, Virginia’s Radford University. In Josh’s case, that might be true; he always had rocks in his pockets from an early age. After graduating from Radford University, Hickman attended the University of South Carolina, where he received a master’s in geoscience in 2003. While working, he also attended Pennsylvania State University’s MBA program and received a degree in 2008.

AAPG has been a constant companion in Hickman’s career and provided a much needed connection to other geologists. As an organizer for the Imperial Barrel Award and a reviewer for the Grants-in-Aid Program, Hickman has a long association with helping students through AAPG.

Young professionals were few and far between when Hickman started in the industry in 2003. At that time, AAPG served as the catalyst to finding peers and lifelong friendships in the industry – functions Hickman hopes to promote in his role as Eastern Section lead.

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