Why is it? People are starving when there is no shortage of food in the world.
The problem is not supply and demand; it is global distribution systems, misunderstanding, politics, power and greed.
So it is with our job market. A paradox exists within the industry. People are being laid off now when there is a looming shortage of experienced people on the horizon.
Despite the fact that expert economists are urging corporate leadership in America to identify creative talent and bind it into the company for the future, people are being let go.
The tragedy is that these people will only get better in their scientific thinking -- this is no longer a case of trimming deadwood or making room for more talented youngsters. These experienced geologists will improve with age. Talent and crucial leadership for the future is being truncated.
And a generation of geoscientists is being discouraged from pursuing the career of their choice.
The oil business is not labor intensive, and it is becoming less so. The numbers of people needed to run the business has declined -- but the quality of people needed has increased.
After all, technology is powerful only when it is linked to creative minds.
I have met people who "drive" the million dollar computers that create the visual images for the advertising and entertainment industries.
It is imposing hardware that fills a room -- and it allows the driver to do literally anything with the images in front of him/her. The tiniest unwanted flutter of the Chihuahua's ears can be removed or altered. The colors can be enhanced pixel by pixel.
But without the talent in the heads and hands of these people the equipment is a million dollars worth of junk.
A key driver left a company and within a short time his accounts were gone. No actions by management could do anything about it. They could -- and did -- hire a talented replacement, but without the experience the critical competitive edge was lost.
Years ago I was told that as a rule everyone was replaceable. Today the rule is that there are no rules.
Clearly, technology has become increasingly critical in our industry -- but it is the creative use of the technology that finds oil and gas.
Technology enhances experience and brains. It does not replace it.
When I was manager of applied technology I could set directions but I could not mandate creativity. We succeeded, but not because I decided that we were going to be exceptional in clastic sedimentology or diagenesis or structural modeling. We succeeded because we were taken in those directions by the drive and insight of talented scientists.
Everyone is an individual. When a key person leaves a project, the project changes. Modular we are not. Today a lot of experienced, creative people are involuntarily sitting on the sidelines. Now is the time that companies could significantly upgrade their talent base. Instead we hear that people do not get the courtesy of a response when they send applications answering published ads. Talk about burning your bridges.
Let's turn the clock ahead a few years: Demand for energy in the Third World has increased. Emerging nations are building dams, power plants, airports and highways. Pacific Rim nations are struggling to protect growing populations that are occupying some of the world's most dangerous geologic terrain for human habitation.
The demand for geoscientists in petroleum, water supply, construction and geohazard mitigation easily outstrips supply.
Or look beyond the earth: Space exploration has been revitalized with the prospect of a permanent lunar station and increased remote sensing missions to Mars and beyond.
Experienced, creative geological talent for these diverse efforts is virtually non-existent because of the negative effect of past corporate employment strategies on college enrollment.
The military has learned not to reduce manpower to dangerously low levels and become overly dependent upon and enthralled by the technology alone. They have learned that a well-trained peacetime army of committed and dedicated individuals is the key to security.
In the absence of real conflict they invent challenging war games to keep the professional armed forces sharp. They invest heavily in research.
It is not clear today if industry has learned similar lessons.
The scientists are no longer coming to the companies with hat in hand; they send their agents. It has become a consumer-driven market. Knowledge is power -- and unique knowledge commands unique power. Individualized knowledge demands individualized attention. All transactions are based on negotiated contracts that satisfy the demands of the individuals.
Putting a project team together has become an art form of its own, as has the negotiation of contracts between companies driving the projects and the talent they need to execute them. Projects are stalled as the agents of scientists and engineers are locked in negotiations with corporate management.
The manpower marketplace reaps revenge for the past and an increased share of the profits for the future. Everything is a deal. The negotiations are a struggle for power in an environment oversaturated with information. Competition for experienced people who know how to use and interpret the data generated by sophisticated technology is especially keen.
The disbanding of research organizations has blinded corporations to longer term perspective, broad-based scanning of the scientific and technological environment, search for generalized principles and cross-discipline fertilization of ideas.
Is this an appealing picture? Is it plausible? Did you ever think that the NBA would come close to canceling an entire season of play?
So what can be done?
Leadership is the key.
Leaders create vision. People follow visionary leaders. Leaders turn visions into plans, they share the vision in such a compelling way that people become committed; and, they reshape the organizational systems to fit the vision. If the core of the vision is the need for a creative workforce, then priorities are reordered to satisfy that need.
New strategies are tested.
Maybe someone can figure out how to "redshirt" talented people the way college teams put athletes on hold until they are needed.
Maybe excess "post-docs" need to be under contract to industry instead of academe.
Maybe experienced people will work for a different package of rewards. No one will know until the conversations are held, the negotiations take place and the deal that breaks the rules is struck. There are experienced professionals willing to work for less than $100K, if you bother to ask.
Leaders follow their own vision and ignore the pressures to conform to short-term expediency. Leaders have the responsibility to articulate their vision.
It is a time for courageous, creative leadership. It is time for clarity.