Whether upcoming young professionals work with companies exploring the Atlantic Margin potential of offshore Nova Scotia or Alberta’s ever-challenging Bakken Shale, the stakes are high for university graduates and young professionals pursuing energy industry careers in Canada.
And with the impending exit from the global petroleum industry work force by retirement age geoscientists, companies are stepping up their recruitment efforts at many universities.
Since taking on the role of co-chair for the International Barrel Award Program (IBA) in 2012, AAPG member Chuck Caughey has talked with representatives of many companies who are either recruiters or senior level explorationists serving as industry judges for the global annual IBA competition.
Caughey observed that E&P companies in Europe and the United States tend to recruit from graduate programs, while more undergraduates are hired in Canada.
“In my experience,” Caughey said, “most large independents and majors in the United States hire at the master’s and doctorate levels, whereas more students are hired at the bachelor’s level in Canada.”
A reason for the difference may be that in Canada undergraduate students following a prescribed program are eligible for professional accreditation as professional geologists/geophysicists.
Professional accreditation is regulated by each Canadian province. In Alberta, for example, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) sets practice and ethics standards, registers professional geologists, geophysicists and engineers and confers the designations P.Eng., P.Geo., P.Geol., P.Geoph.
Only those individuals licensed with APEGA can practice or use titles relating to these professions in Alberta.
“Students do not need a master’s degree to obtain a professional position in Canada in any sector, petroleum, mining or environmental,” said AAPG member Grant Wach, a professor of petroleum geoscience at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and recipient of the 2012 AAPG Foundation’s Professorial Award.
“In fact, students enter these fields directly after completion of their undergraduate degree,” he added.
As Wach explained, professional registration in Canada ensures that universities have industry feedback – professional associations like APEGA are directed by councils of industry professionals and representatives appointed by the province.
Professional associations provide direct input on university curriculum development, and as Wach noted, “associations like APEGA keep universities current on government and industry’s expectations for undergraduate training as accredited professionals.”
In Canada, standardization of professional skills is stressed and students are encouraged to apply with professional organizations like APEGA for registration as a geologist or engineer-in-training. Then, with five years’ experience and proof of education competency, graduates become registered professionals.
By comparison, the AAPG Certified Petroleum Geologist designation requires 10 years of industry experience.
Canadian undergraduates are offered a number of opportunities through internships. All universities in Canada have a built-in structure to the academic calendar that results in a longer break period. Canadian universities offer classes over the same number of weeks as schools in the United States, but Canadian schools finish classes by early May, allowing a full four months for internship opportunities.
Other career advantages offered by Canadian schools include specific courses that give students training in interview skills and how to develop CVs.
The result? “Employers come to Canadian universities and post positions,” Wach said. “Students have first crack at these positions.”
As senior industry staff numbers diminish through retirements and as the world’s energy resources become increasingly more difficult and costly to find and produce, universities may see a shift in expectations from industry.
Skyrocketing costs associated with drilling and producing deep offshore wells or wells producing from extremely tight reservoir rocks may drive industry to realign training budgets at the expense of field schools that emphasized sedimentology, stratigraphy and structure. And as more and more experienced geoscientists reach retirement age, companies have fewer mentors available for training and supervising recent graduate hires and early career professionals.
With this shift away from high cost in-house field schools combined with the loss of senior personnel who can lead the schools, Susan Nash, AAPG director of education and professional development, sees the shift in demand for AAPG field courses from companies doing business in Canada and elsewhere. "Some of our field seminars that are directly applicable to the skills used in exploration and drilling are in higher demand than ever," she said. “For example, we have a course led by Keith Shanley that involves traveling to the Book Cliffs to show correlations between outcrops and sequence stratigraphy. It's very helpful for geologists after they return to the office and are involved in planning and geosteering wells.”
Wach notes another kind of shift, as industry recruiters from the United States make their way up the Atlantic Coast past prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT to recruit Canadian students.
“In the past,” Wach said, “industry would come to universities asking who were our brightest students… they were not concerned about which geoscience discipline students were pursuing.”
Wach described a shift in skills that industry expects universities to provide away from workstation skills toward a greater emphasis on basic skills in petroleum geoscience.
“Now I see that industry wants undergraduates or graduate students with outcrop and field experience,” he said, “along with sedimentology, stratigraphy, structure and sedimentary petrography. But field camps are expensive, and universities need to keep these vital programs alive.”