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Getting started in oil and gas

Even with the recent dip in oil prices, the long-term outlook for oil and gas careers is strong. Learn how to get ready to break into this field.
Getting started in oil and gas

The short-term employment outlook in the oil and gas industry may be more uncertain with lower oil prices.  However, the long-term outlook for oil and gas careers is still good, as the world’s need for more energy continues to grow.  Many anticipate a “crew shift” change as many current oil and gas employees retire or leave the workforce, resulting in an overall increase in open positions. Even with a slowdown in hiring now, companies will shift gears and look for new talent when oil prices pick up again. Be ready to take advantage of the upswing in the cycle. There will always be demand for many different skills and workers, from roustabouts, engineers, geologists, and drilling supervisors, to environmental consultants.  This is an industry in which a few years of crucial experience translates into great opportunities and career advancement. So how do you get started?

Many enter the oil and gas industry through entry-level or technical positions.  These types of positions may require a college degree, but not all do. A background in construction or as an electrician is very helpful, as there are many skills transferable to oil and gas.  Technical or safety-related certifications can also strengthen your position as a candidate. In addition to technical skills, employers also look for problem-solving and communication skills, attention to detail, the ability to work well in a team, and a strong work ethic.

What types of positions are available?  There are opportunities for field hands, radio operators, heavy machinery operators, roustabouts, welders, drivers, and even cooks, to name just a few. Many companies offer training on the job.

Positions are available onshore and offshore. Usually, offshore jobs are better compensated because more-experienced people are selected to fill these positions. Offshore operations are expensive, and efficient and safe operations are paramount.  Some view offshore work as more hazardous, and the routine shift work usually requires extended time away from home.  These types of roles may require long hours and challenging work, but the pay and opportunities are extremely appealing. 

College and technical school graduates in professional and technical positions usually earn the most in oil and gas.  It might be worth investing time and money in your education to yield long-term returns.

A degree from a technical college can open the door to many different positions.  You can earn a two-year degree in engineering technology, construction management, welding, and many other fields. In addition, direct mechanical or technical experience on the job will often trump degree requirements. In addition, apprenticeships are starting to gain favor in the US.  Many technical colleges partner with the business community to set up apprenticeships that result in great on-the-job experience.

A bachelor-of-science or graduate degree opens the door to even higher-level positions.  If you plan to earn a bachelor’s degree, take a look at engineering.  Engineering talent continues to be in high demand and is very well-compensated in the oil and gas industry.  A degree in Petroleum, Civil, Mechanical, Electrical or Chemical Engineering or in Geology or Geophysics would really pay off in the long run. 

As with any job search, it is critical that you network to find a position in the oil and gas industry.  Many positions aren’t widely posted or advertised.  Talk with friends, neighbors, instructors, use social media sites, and join trade or professional organizations. There are often great opportunities offered to student members of professional organizations, both local and national. 

It is often more common to get your foot in the door at a service company, rather than starting at one of the major operators, such as ExxonMobil or Chevron.  Service companies perform a lot of work for large and small operators and also do a lot of interesting R&D.  If you stay plugged into industry news, you will often hear that a company is expanding and hiring.  If you want to break into oil & gas, you may need to be willing and able to relocate. The majority of these positions are in states involved in oil and gas extraction, such as Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Alaska as well as other locations around the world.

A career in oil and gas can be challenging and rewarding.  As the world’s need for energy continues to rise, there is still lot of long-term opportunity in this field.

 

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