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REVIEW: DEVEX YP Event – I get knocked down but I get up again!

Review by Jamie Vince

This year’s YP event at the DEVEX conference in Aberdeen focused on the theme of building resilience and how Young Professionals both currently in and trying to enter the industry can take advantage of opportunities to retain their skills and survive in the current downturn.

There was a varied panel of industry experts from different disciplines who shared their experiences of riding the peaks and troughs of the oil industry and highlighted some of the ways we can be resilient and adapt to the challenges we may face in the future.

The first speaker was Professor John Howell, Chair in Geology and Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen who reminded us all of the opportunities awaiting young professionals in the next few years when the older generation retire and people holding middle management positions are promoted. For those still trying to enter the industry he advocated keeping your hand in anything remotely geological until that opportunity arises.

Beverley Smith, Director of POWERful Women – a professional initiative that exists to advance the leadership and development of women across the UK’s energy sector – was the next speaker. Beverley had previously worked at BG as VP of Exploration and Growth for Europe. She laid out the stark fact that most of us will face redundancy rounds in our career and to combat it we should aim to consistently outperform expectations of our colleagues and leaders once we start work. Beverly also gave some inspiring stories on failure – the mother of invention. Only when we are faced with huge failures, such as drilling seemingly endless dry exploration wells or a well underperforming, do we find out what we are made of. Challenging circumstances can be the push we need to step up and discover fresh resilience in ourselves, and we can draw upon this as we develop.

Next up was Mike Cooper, Consultant at Exploration Excellence and Director at M7 Geoscience who promoted the concept of keeping your own 3 or 4 line personal development plan (PDP) in order to stay focused on what you want to achieve from working in the industry. He went on to talk about career development and how it is best to spread yourself around a multitude of projects and disciplines in order to build a diverse skillset. This broad skill and knowledge base can then help you settle in an area of the industry which really interests you.

The next speaker focused on the subject of entrepreneurism and renewable energy. David Townsend, a Geology graduate who didn’t get a job in the geothermal or carbon capture storage industry, decided to start his own company – Town Rock Energy, a geothermal energy company. David spoke about the reality of climate change and the need to transfer away from fossil fuels in the future. He reminded us that there are many transferable skills which we use in the oil and gas industry and said that many petroleum specialists in the Netherlands and Germany are currently transferring to the geothermal industry. David emphasised that there are many sinuous routes to employment, and that we can take our careers into our own hands. The advantages of becoming an entrepreneur were highlighted with top tips such as applying to local grants and competitions.

The fifth and final speaker was Carla Wise, a Transition Coach with a varied career background. Carla started life as an actress and then went on to become Regional HR Specialist in Learning and Development at Hess. She talked us through the process of dealing with the negative emotions which we might experience, caused by the current industry downturn, whether through redundancy or unemployment. This is where resilience is key, to get us back to focusing on our goals.

A lively Q&A session followed with a focus on gaining extra-curricular experience, getting involved with charities and joining organisations like the PESGB Young Professionals in order to make yourself stand out.

Overall, those attending praised the constructive and positive spirit of the event. The varied panel brought a fresh look at the industry, with some great ideas and tips for staying relevant and resilient. The mood was hopeful and energetic and we look forward to more positive events like this in the future!

Review by Max Sheridan

This report covers the PESGB Young Professionals panel discussion on ‘I get knocked down but I get up again’. It looks to answer how professionals can deal with the inevitable peaks and troughs in the industry and how we can manage our careers.  

DEVEX is now in its 14th year and this time the theme was Building Resilience and Driving Growth. It is a 2-day event aimed at showcasing technical insight on evaluation development and recovery in the UK. The technical program attracts operators and service companies of many sizes and the regulator.

One of the highlights of this year’s event was the PESGB YP panel discussion which focused on how young professionals can deal with the cycles within our industry. The session included thoughts from a variety of speakers; both experienced and early career professionals in what proved an engaging and valuable discussion the panel shared insights into vital skills and tools to build resilience.

John Howell– Aberdeen University opened the discussion and he said current young professionals should maintain a positive outlook despite the current downturn. He believes that long term a vacuum will be created in the 25-35 age group. Figures from the SPE membership reflect this with 60% of operations geology professionals over the age of 50. The great crew change is now a reality. He commented that the UK’s Petroleum Geoscience courses; Aberdeen, Imperial, Manchester University are still producing ~50 graduates each year. Clearly these graduates want to see a return on the significant investment in time and money that studying entails.

Reflecting on his experience in the late 80’s when there was a similar downturn he now knows only three fellow geology graduates who are still in the industry, many went into jobs in finance, or other industries. In the early days, John was paid £7k/year and simply couldn’t afford to live in London. Another graduate who went to Hess was paid just £100/week and each Friday they were told if they were required back for the following week. The ones that did stick around are now senior professionals who have had very successful careers.

Next was Beverly Smith director at Powerful Women. She started he career at BG in 1990 after graduating from Imperial. Moving up the ranks as a geologist to then team leader and latterly as exploration manager in Algeria, UK, Norway and China. The theme of her talk was ‘necessity being the mother of invention’. When BG were drilling in the Southern North Sea they were effectively drilling blind into a reservoir due to poor seismic. They drilled a development well which produced at only 20% of the exploration well volume. Under increasing pressure and after a ‘parachute’ talk by her manager the team decided to start drilling multi-laterals which doubled production for only a 50% increase in cost.

Mike Cooper is a Physics graduate who had a chance conversation which led to him joining Shell back in the 70’s. He now consults for Exploration Excellence and is a Director at M7 Geoscience. The chance to conduct some really ‘expensive experiments’ i.e drilling wells was what got him into the industry. His insights were focused on having a personal development plan; which can be as simple as three or four lines about what you are hoping to achieve in your career. He explained that ups and downs are inevitable and he remembers dropping the Chief Geophysicists’ suitcase over the side of a seismic vessel and living to tell the tale!

Mike reckons that 11 years is what is needed to become an independent Geoscientist. With the ideal rotation being 2 years in each of Exploration, Appraisal, Development not the current 6 month blocks. He stressed the importance of building a core technical skill but then focusing on an area of the industry which really excites you.

The next speaker was David Townsend founder of Town Rock Energy. He encouraged the young professionals to look outside the upstream sector and join the growing Geothermal industry.  He suggested that renewable energy would be growing at a faster rate without government subsidies for the oil and gas sector. In-fact 2016 was the 1st year that renewable energy investment exceeded spending in our sector. He believes that many of the skills we have are transferable to Geothermal jobs. David understands the industry dynamics and explained that his father had worked for 35 years for BP which provided the financial safety net which enabled him to take a risk and start Town Rock Energy. As we know Scotland is a great place for starting a company and David had lots of support from the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation securing £65k of grants.

If we look at the Geothermal sector it clearly has potential for significant growth. In the Netherlands a mature hydrocarbon province with reservoirs similar to the North Sea 1000’s of professionals are transitioning into the sector. Meanwhile in Germany 15,000 are employed and the growth in accelerating.

To really take off Geothermal needs three key things underpinned by a supportive government; 1. Licencing- which is not in place. 2. Feed in tariffs which are active. 3. Dry hole risk insurance which covers the risk of a failed well. 2015 was a landmark year with the Scottish Government pledging support through their Energy Framework.

David left the audience with 3 take-homes; take risks, ask for advice and input from senior pros (find a mentor) Use entrepreneurial resources like Business Gateway and Elevator in the Aberdeen area to start your business.

The 5th speaker was Carla Wise who is now a career transition coach at Wise Transformations. She is from a stage background and acted for many years before moving into Geology so understands how work can be hard to come by. She became the manager for learning at Hess in 1995 and her talk covered the emotional impact that a job loss can have on the individual. She said that companies are looking for professionals who can cope with sudden changes and that everyone should be building a resilience which is in essence ‘buoyancy’ to go through difficult periods and then reach greater heights. She referenced the work of Mooli Lahad an Israeli Psychologist who has pioneered creative methods for stress treatment.

The session concluded with Q&A from the audience. Christine Telford provided a brief update on her work with Pat Spicer which is focused on setting up professional accreditation for Operations Geologists. The consensus was to try and spend 5-10% of time networking and students should not lose the community sense once they graduate. Young professionals should remember that there is an active community especially in Aberdeen and by engaging and collaborating we all have a once in a generation opportunity to remake the industry over the coming years.

This YP event is part of the wider PESGB drive to support the membership during the current downturn. The team has produced a surviving the downturn publication which, and run a series of coffee mornings, events and socials which provide key networking opportunities and support. 

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