It may be helpful for young job-seekers to recognize that geological employment has traditionally been cyclical. During periods of rapid growth and expansion, the major oil companies – the primary employers of geoscientists – have added employees. In other times, such as now, the major companies (or “majors”) downsize, selling many of their domestic properties and reducing staff size.
Timing of the periods of high employment has been difficult to predict. Many students in past years have made the decision to major in the geosciences during boom days, only to find few prospective employment opportunities when they were ready to go to work. Other students who began their undergraduate or graduate program in geoscience during periods of low employment found, to their benefit, that they were much sought after when they had completed their schooling.
For the past half-century or so, majors have determined hiring patterns. Not only have they been the dominant employers of geoscience graduates, but also they have set salary levels and have supported the departments and schools where they hired their personnel. The relationship between academic institutions and oil companies generally has been a beneficial one for students, although critics will contend that closer cooperation might have helped dampen the swings in the employment cycles. Always there existed the belief during slow employment times that the industry was between booms, and that majors eventually would once again increase the number of new hires.
This time may be different. Representatives of the majors are now saying that their future is elsewhere because of a perceived lack of large exploratory targets and an unfavorable political/environmental climate in the United States. They are shifting their attention to overseas areas. With downsized domestic operations, these companies presumably will need fewer United States-trained geoscientists. For geologists specializing
in petroleum or mining, employment patterns here may never be the same again.
Nevertheless, a case can be made that recent events inside and outside the petroleum industry provide significant new opportunities for employment. Entry-level geologists, as well as experienced geoscientists who are willing to adapt to current condition and to consider new vocational activities, may find that now may prove to be one of the best times ever to launch or shift careers.
Much oil and gas still remain to be found and produced. Successful explorationist will be making discoveries here for many decades.
It’s true that fewer funds are going into exploratory prospects now than during some past periods. But it is equally true that funds always seem to be available for projects that offer significant returns: witness the millions of dollars now financing three-dimensional seismic surveys and drilling programs in Texas and elsewhere. Sometimes, well-conceived and well-controlled prospects don’t get drilled because their original become discouraged after a few (sometimes many) turndowns. Consult the possibility or finding new funding sources for your projects.
Talk with any successful explorationist inside or outside a company about his or her career. Almost without exception, each person will relate experiences of the difficulties of selling prospect ideas to a skeptical boss or to wary investors. Their common trait, however, has been to persevere in convincing others to join in the search.