The changing face of geosciences in the 21st century. What you need to know to survive

By Larry Herd

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The changing geosciences world

It wasn’t long ago (at least it seems like just yesterday) that the domestic upstream oil and gas industry was still in the exploration phase – looking for new reserves, exploring for new play concepts and enhancing technology to find new resources. Our geosciences disciplines were generally isolated disciplines that got together as technical teams but operated as generalists within their silos. The majority of geoscientists were involved in the exploration side of the business, and we spent our time and energy looking for new and yet undiscovered resources.

Now, the industry compass has swung around to other directions. Today, the most hydrocarbons being “discovered” are by the drill bit as unconventional resources. The new resource plays are based on resources that we’ve known existed in the ground for years – we just couldn’t economically get them to the surface. The “mining” of oil and gas (oil shale, tight gas, heavy bitumen) is now a materials-handling process rather than true exploration. Much of our current technology advancement is in the area of horizontal drilling, rock mechanics, and induced fracturing – all designed to assist in the extraction of hydrocarbons from known areas and to bring the resource to market.

The geoscientist of today

For the benefit of the undergrad student peering into the looking glass trying to get a glimpse of our industry, I have classified today’s geoscientist into three broad classifications.

The Explorationist: there are still a myriad of small to medium-sized companies in the exploration game, and they are doing a great job of finding oil (since natural gas is a four-letter word today). Geoscientists still play a vital role in finding these resources, and many senior geologists and geophysicists can be found at the helm or in the management team of most small outfits. They have a general knowledge of many aspects of their respective fields – seismic including acquisition, processing and interpretation, and geology – depositional environments, core and cutting analysis and play-making, having all cut their teeth early in their careers with large oil companies or major service companies.

The Exploitationist: If you “follow the money” however, you find that most investment dollars are flowing into the unconventional resources. These geoscientists work as part of an integrated team to develop unconventional resources. They possess more specific knowledge of resource extraction technology and apply geology and geophysics to rock mechanics, pore connectivity, and fracture analyses.

The Specialist: one segment of our discipline, which I believe is a growing component, is the geoscientist who excels in a specific field of geology or geophysics. These are the ones most likely to speak at technical luncheons, and who understand and do research in a specific narrow field of study. They are the technical leaders in whatever field they work in, and are usually, but not always, found in major service or oil and gas companies.

A primer for the gen-Y geophysicist

What do you need to know to survive once you “get there”? Well, here are my credentials: I graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1978 and am a full-fledged stereotypical baby boomer. My parents are classical “builders” (traditionalists) and my children (a relative term) are generation Y. I have managed a service company of baby boomers, gen-X and gen-Y staff for many years and I have at least a cursory understanding of the issues. For my sources of information, I flagrantly plagiarize from reliable Internet sources like Wikipedia and various blogs, rely on innuendo and hearsay, discuss issues with my peers over beverages and read the odd professional management article. All in all: sound and reliable sources of fully pedigreed information – see note of apology below.

Kids these days… “they waste time chatting with co-workers. they show up for work in shorts and t-shirts. They plug in their music, text on their phone and try to work at the same time. And then they take the afternoon off to go skiing.” (overheard in a management meeting).

Microsoft Word - 20. Changing face of geosciences.docx

Welcome to the “Age of Entitlement”, the brave new world of generation Y. Gen-Yers value positive reinforcement, autonomy, positive attitudes, diversity, money, and technology. They have grown up in prosperous and tranquil times and as a result, have a very optimistic outlook on life. They demand more input into their learning regimen, crave supportive feedback and lots of variety in the workplace, and expect good salaries to spend on multitasking gadgets. They are the generation of “multi-taskers” and utilize technology to read, listen, type, and talk all at the same time.

Why understanding the generation gap is important to the Gen-Yer

You (the gen-Yer) need to understand the relational working environment in which you (hopefully) find yourself. I call it the “Totem Pole Concept of Corporate Hierarchy” – chances are that when you start into your new role as a young geoscientist, you will be at the bottom of the totem pole. Your boss will likely be a gen-Xer and his or her boss will likely be a baby boomer. If you think your boss doesn’t understand you – try talking to his or her boss!

Microsoft Word - 20. Changing face of geosciences.docxGen-Xers believe in investing in their own development rather than in their organization’s and they embody the entrepreneurial spirit. They are cautious about investing in relationships with employers because experience has shown that these relationships are not reliable. To a gen-Xer, this may mean two-week’s notice. They usually have clear goals and prefer managing their own time and solving their own problems rather than having them managed by a supervisor. This generation works hard but they would rather find quicker, more efficient ways of working so that they have more time for fun. While the baby boomers worked hard to move up the ladder, gen-Xers are working hard so that they can have more time to balance work and life responsibilities. When communicating with this generation, use email and texting as your primary tool, and talk in short soundbites to keep their attention. Keep them in the loop and ask them for feedback regularly.

Baby boomers, who coined the phrase “workaholic”, value peer competition. They work hard because they view it as necessary to climb the ladder of success, which is a fundamental belief. Boomers are the “show me” generation and body language is important when communicating. When dealing with boomers, answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pressed for the details, and present options to demonstrate flexibility in your thinking. They embrace the team approach to business, and as long as you perform to their standards, they will accept you as an equal. They don’t appreciate rules for the sake of having rules, and they are not afraid of challenging “the system”. Baby boomers have strong principles and will fight for a cause if they believe in it.

Supportive tips to gen-Yers

As a guideline to help you, the gen-Yers:
• Experience does count. Learn from others’ experiences.
• If you don’t know – ask. If you don’t get an answer, ask again.
• Continue to network – your bosses may not understand, but your network of peers is an invaluable tool for both you and the company for which you work.
• Technology is a tool, not an answer. Use the technology to its fullest but remember that technology only assists in the creation of knowledge. Auto-picking the 3-D seismic survey on a workstation provides the data picks but doesn’t tell you how to interpret the trap.

Supportive tips to gen-Y bosses and their corporations

As a guideline to help the supervisors of gen-Yers:

• Don’t manage; mentor. Don’t assign; explain. They thrive on learning through mentorship.
• Use action words, and challenge them at every opportunity.
• Don’t dictate; solicit. Gen-Yers appreciate interaction, and resent being talked-down to.
• Don’t ignore; respond. Gen-Yers have little patience for bosses who don’t respond. Email is preferred.
• Don’t conceal, communicate. Provide an open-door policy and make sure you talk to your gen-Yers. Seek their feedback and provide them with feedback regularly.
• Use humour and create a fun learning environment. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
• Encourage risk-taking. Encourage them to break the rules so that they can explore new ways of learning.

As a leader of a corporation whose employees span the three generations, you might consider restructuring leadership across the generations, providing compensation, benefits and incentives to satisfy each generation. The traditional boomer’s “one- size-fits-all” strategy won’t work. Stop trying to communicate using the standard company line – effective corporate communications must now include multiple formats and styles.

Closing note: the scale-up challenge

Microsoft Word - 20. Changing face of geosciences.docxAs an industry, we are facing an incredible dilemma. our brain trust demographic is retiring, and we have a small group to fill their shoes. While the job market should be running full throttle to replace us, the rapidly departing baby boomers and early gen-Xers, hiring is still subjected to the whims of the ebb and flow of oil economics. Yesterday, all of the new grads were offered jobs; today, there are many who go without an interview. As soon as the industry regains its traction and needs to fire on all cylinders, where are the experienced talent to drive business forward? We had better figure out more ways to keep our young people enthused about the geosciences or we won’t have replacements coming in our stead.

Author’s note: An apology to my sources (Sharyn Devereux, Catherine Jones, Shane Austin, Jennifer Blanchard and Ray Williams); I have mutilated this discussion so much over the years so as to make all references from reputable sources indistinguishable from my own. If you recognize any of the text as direct quotes, I will just plead igno­rance so i ask your indulgence.

About the author: Larry Herd is the president of RPS Boyd Petrosearch, a geophysical consulting arm of RPS energy, and is also the 2011­/2012 president of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

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