Work Force Is a Major Concern

I started writing this column from Tyumen, Russia – the oil capital of Western Siberia and one of the key “oil capitals” of the world.

Founded in 1586, Tyumen is a great oil city in Siberia that is growing rapidly. It is about the same size as the Tulsa metropolitan area  (a bit fewer than 700,000 people) and reminds me of Houston with its great oil and gas atmosphere.

Of course, it’s a little colder than either Tulsa or Houston.

AAPG just completed the joint Tyumen Conference and Exhibition with Rosnedra, the Euro-Asian Geophysical Society and Society of Exploration Geophysicists. There were some great talks, and AAPG had a terrific session chaired by John Dolson with featured speakers including Henry Possamentier, Robert Handford, George Pemberton, Dolson, Ekatrerina Kuzina, Chris Cornford, Peter Gutteridge, Keith Shanley and Johannes Singer (in order on program).

The first day of the conference I gave a talk on “developing a global energy work force.” We discussed that even though the world is using a lot of hydrocarbons, we are quickly developing the capacity to produce more. The reality is that the world is not running out of oil but we are running a little short on people. 

Manpower, womanpower, human power, whatever you want to call it – work force is a major concern. It is important to understand that a people shortage may be a greater problem to deal with than an energy shortage. Serious supply problems of skilled petroleum geoscientists and engineers may make it difficult to complete major new petroleum projects worldwide.

So what are the dynamics?

Let’s start at the beginning of the supply chain. Young children have a great love of rocks and dinosaurs; however, as students enter preparatory school, science and engineering are seen by some students as too difficult with math requirements – and other top students may not see the challenge, especially with the lack of advance placement courses in earth science.

The result is there are too few talented young people interested in careers in the energy industry. Many top students tend to choose careers in medicine, law and business because of profile and job security. Generally, we see less students going into science – and new geoscientists tend to prefer government or environmental jobs over petroleum, even through the pay is significantly better in the energy industry. This is not helped by past job security issues, nor the perception that oil is not “green.”

So how do we solve a long-term “people” supply problem?

First and foremost, industry, governments, academia, professional societies and other related institutions must work together on the solution. AAPG is working with other societies like AGI and GSA and is searching for (and finding) opportunities to work with government entities to study work force. There is a lot of good information from the National Petroleum Council and the National Academy of Sciences.

The following is a summary of goals that may help work force development:

Improve communications.

Communication content, style and design are critical to reaching talented young people. Marketing and public relations are important. More recently companies are improving their public relations by good advertising.

Support and improve teaching in K-12 education.

One of the best solutions is to train the teachers and provide materials for use in understanding energy needs and the relationship of energy use to the environment.

Support energy teaching and research in the universities.

Increased scholarships should be developed for geoscience and engineering and new research grants should be considered for a broad range of energy problems.  

Develop good training programs and opportunities.

It normally takes four to six years to develop a productive petroleum geoscientist.

Develop new methods to recruit and retain female and minority geoscientists in the industry. 

Develop a globally mobile work force.

Visa requirements should be reviewed with increased immigration quotas for trained petro-technical professionals and skilled workers.

Energy is a global strategic priority.  Building a talented energy work force is a long-term, supply-centric situation. 

As I am finishing my column I am on the ‘third leg” of my four leg return from Tyumen to Tulsa. The Atlantic fly-over is the longest leg and I call it the “chasing the sun down” stage as I have been watching the same sundown for eight hours now.

Building a global work force may be as frustrating as chasing a sundown – but we are not in a sundown industry. Prospects are bright for careers in petroleum geoscience and engineering.

Developing the people to find and produce that energy should be a top priority.

Happy New Year!

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Rick Fritz
AAPG Executive Director
Rick Fritz AAPG Executive Director

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