You Are Self-Employed; Believe It

Are You Seeking A Job -- or Work?

A lot of brainpower that yesterday was dedicated to solving the world's energy problems is today unemployed.

Really talented people are being let go.

The current round of layoffs is focused on the survivors of the cuts in the mid-1980s. It is dominantly people at mid-career -- that part of the geoscience population that has matured over the past decade.

One rough guess places the average years of experience per individual at about sixteen; it is clearly not "fat," but rather very competent people who are the victims of cost cutting as companies react to persistently low product prices.

Of course, there have been so many rounds of layoffs that it is hard to imagine any average performers left.

No one knows whether the current downturn will be short or long, so people are left with some difficult decisions about their future.

Rough estimates indicate that about one-third of those who are let go will retire; one-third will opt to leave the profession; and one-third will actively seek to find jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Some fraction will find corporate jobs in the industry. People who have high skill levels with strong reputations and effective personal networks stand the best chance of this. This is particularly true if they know about or can discover a strong fit between their skills and high priority projects that need them.

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A lot of brainpower that yesterday was dedicated to solving the world's energy problems is today unemployed.

Really talented people are being let go.

The current round of layoffs is focused on the survivors of the cuts in the mid-1980s. It is dominantly people at mid-career -- that part of the geoscience population that has matured over the past decade.

One rough guess places the average years of experience per individual at about sixteen; it is clearly not "fat," but rather very competent people who are the victims of cost cutting as companies react to persistently low product prices.

Of course, there have been so many rounds of layoffs that it is hard to imagine any average performers left.

No one knows whether the current downturn will be short or long, so people are left with some difficult decisions about their future.

Rough estimates indicate that about one-third of those who are let go will retire; one-third will opt to leave the profession; and one-third will actively seek to find jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Some fraction will find corporate jobs in the industry. People who have high skill levels with strong reputations and effective personal networks stand the best chance of this. This is particularly true if they know about or can discover a strong fit between their skills and high priority projects that need them.

(This would seem to be an ideal time for companies with foresight to acquire some brainpower that they will need in the future.)

For many others being laid off, the option is some form of self-employment, either temporarily or permanently.

In the past many people forced into this alternative have found it rewarding. Others have not.


AAPG is exploring ways to help every dedicated professional who wants a future in this industry find a way to have it.

Any response to problems today must be prompt, on-point and personal. Products and services must be targeted to the specific needs of individuals; therefore, those needs must be assessed.

Obviously, the problems faced by a forty-something exploration manager are different from those of a forty-something ex-pat, which are different from a forty-something research geochemist.

In all cases, however, ny expectation of success will require a very strong effort by both the individuals and their professional associations and societies. The concept of "partnering" will be severely tested over the next few months.

Also, it will be important for people who have any hope of sustaining a career in the industry to stay involved in their professional society and to be forthcoming with what they perceive their needs and expectations to be.

People who have assumed that they will retire or leave the profession in frustration may find -- after the shock of severance has past -- they want to stay involved in the profession and maintain some of their skills.

For those leaving the corporate sphere there is the need to adjust to the reality of the market place. This is a matter of mindset, and two very useful concepts come to mind.

  1. Think of yourself as self-employed.
  2. Think about seeking "work" as well as a "job."

The current round of layoffs will emphasize the need for everyone to take stock and get serious about managing their own careers. It is surprising how many people in our profession know that they should take control, and how few go to the trouble of learning how to do it effectively.

So many jobs have been cut that it is difficult to imagine this group simply changing jobs and rejoining the corporate work force. Some of these people have changed jobs before, but none have experienced a game of musical chairs in which so many chairs have been taken away at one time.

There are several sets of needs among these people.

Some will want to find a job like the one they just left.

The initial thought about this group of people is that there are a lot of people competing for very few company-style jobs. There are other options.

Some will have the desire to become independents and some will want to become contractors.

They will need marketing, business skills and an entrepreneurial attitude.

Some will want to create consulting businesses based on their specific technologies.

People want jobs; they need work.

Industry is saying that it cannot afford to sustain the number of jobs that it has in the past. The question is whether or not there is enough work to sustain a larger population of geoscientists. How many projects need contract-based technology to be successfully completed?

The unemployed population may find more opportunities within itself than in the established structure that let them go. Within this population there are some leaders and managers. One of the groups that would be particularly hard hit is the forty-ish middle managers who have been away from active, hands-on technology for some time.

But if the core value for success in the future is organized brainpower, entrepreneurial opportunity should exist to create new ventures by identifying creative and technically competent people among the unemployed and assembling them into effective small, flexible organizations designed to "eat the dinosaur's eggs."


There is a deeper issue involved in this round of layoffs. In 1988 we talked about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Years of experience were being flushed down the drain then, too. How much the industry suffered from doing that is open to debate. The fact is that there was a younger group just behind, that became the front-line whether they were ready or not. Now that group is being decimated by the layoffs of 1998-99.

With the current round of layoffs we are on the brink of losing something else besides years of experience: It is creative culture of our industry.

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