key challenge to maintaining a robust petroleum industry is ensuring
an adequate supply of well-trained professionals now and in the
Education in petroleum disciplines is more critical
than ever, as the industry work force is aging, and employee numbers
are dwindling through attrition. This is compounded by a "productivity
gap" of somewhere between eight to 10 years, from the time students
take up studies to the time they accumulate enough knowledge and
experience to be productive petroleum geoscientists or engineers.
With these sobering assertions as a background, the
AAPG sponsored a workshop at the annual meeting in Houston titled
"Summit on Teaching Petroleum Geology: Where Do We Go From Here?"
About 40 participants from 20 universities representing eight different
countries attended, plus recruiters and training-related managers
from seven oil and service companies.
The summit's goal was to discuss what is needed to
train the next generation of geologists for the petroleum industry.
Summit findings included:
Our industry is "graying", with few young people filling the
ranks of those who are near retirement. Between 40 to 70 percent
of the geoscientists in the industry will be eligible to retire
within the next seven years
Issues at the Universities
➤ Attracting undergraduate geology students.
At the undergraduate level there is a significant problem of
attracting geology majors. In the United States, Australia, and
the United Kingdom the lack of earth science programs in the kindergarten
to high school level limits the number of students who want to
major in geology.
➤ Negative perceptions of industry.
Students hesitate to enter a graduate program in petroleum geology
because of the perceived lack of job security.
➤ Funding declines from governments.
Federal and provincial/state governments have decreased their
support of higher education markedly in all countries surveyed.
Most departments are surviving by outside grants and "contract
In most countries a master's degree with the thesis option is
required as the entry ticket into the petroleum industry. The
thesis is considered important training for independent work.
The coursework component should include a strong background in
basic geosciences, including some geophysics coursework.
Chris Heath's survey of U.S. and U.K. oil companies suggests
that senior line managers view field mapping skills as not terribly
important. Recruiters who were present at the summit, however,
disagreed, unanimously wanting the new geological recruit to have
had a strong field-oriented background.
This apparent dichotomy of responses was clarified during discussion
periods: Oil companies rarely have need for geologists to go out
and do field mapping, but these same companies want their employees
to have a firm background in field work so as to understand scale,
stratigraphy and structural relationships — all of which are
best learned by looking at rocks in the field.
All companies wanted new geological recruits to be able to think
— not just regurgitate by rote memory. All viewed the ability
to collaborate with others (team work) as extremely important.
Presentation skills also are of critical importance; most companies
require the interviewees to make technical presentations during
the interview process.
➤ Desirable, but not necessarily required.
Geological and geophysical workstation skills on a UNIX platform
are desirable. This does not mean that the companies want universities
to train technicians to know all of the software functions. A
strong candidate will not jeopardize employment chances by not
having these skills.
The importance of participation in industry internship program
cannot be understated. Every company wanted the recruit to have
done an industry internship, preferably with their own company.
For some companies industry internships are desired but not required,
but for other companies an internship is a requirement for employment.
Where Do We Go From Here?
- Universities should not train the student to be a technician.
A greater emphasis needs to be given to presentation skills, exposure
to numerous outcrop examples, and to teamwork.
Basic geology courses are still a necessity for creating a
functional geologist. Geology departments must continue to require
all masters graduate students to work on a thesis.
p The requirement by many oil companies of an internship in
the petroleum industry should be communicated to all universities.
It would be a disservice to graduate students to prepare for
a career in an oil company, and then find that they have a low
chance of employment because they did not spend a summer with
an oil company.
- As traditional university funding sources dry up, most departments
are faced with difficult strategic decisions: do they forgo the
role of fundamental research in favor of the more lucrative contract
Companies should consider increasing their funding of applied
and fundamental petroleum research that involves both graduate
and undergraduate students.
Companies need to have relatively steady recruiting and avoid
the cyclic pattern that is now common. Most of the recruiting
is occurring in a handful of schools. The industry needs to
broaden the number of schools that they recruit from.
The student expo sponsored by AAPG needs to be expanded to
be part of all Section meetings and a major part of the national
and international AAPG meeting. Student and faculty involvement
in the AAPG meeting needs to be encouraged.
Universities must accept that changes to traditional formats
of degrees, courses, research and general ethos are required
to survive. To replace professional staff in five years time,
companies need to be currently investing in universities to
safeguard earth science education.