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The Oil Industry is Digging for More Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists

The oil industry is one of the most lucrative industries for engineers, geologists and geophysicists. And companies are digging for talented workers who will be worth every penny.

Drilling for Jobs

Petroleum engineers search for oil and gas supplies on land and offshore. They do lots of different things. For example, a production engineer develops systems and equipment for oil and gas production. Drilling engineers work with geologists to design and supervise drilling operations.

Geologists are experts in the composition, structure and history of the Earth's crust. They study rock formations to find oil and natural gas. They use microscopes to examine rock fragments from wells being drilled. They also develop surface and subsurface maps.

Geophysics is closely related to geology. Geophysicists use the principles of chemistry, physics and math to study what the Earth is made of. They study atmosphere, oceans, ground and surface waters, as well as the Earth's magnetic, electrical and gravitational forces.

Vince Augustine is an engineer for an oil company. When he was shopping around for his first engineering job in 2006, the oil industry offered a starting salary 50 percent higher than the other industries he looked into.

"Salaries in the oil business are probably the highest of any engineering field. This has always been the case traditionally and still holds true," says Anna Giove. She is an engineer in the oilsands.

There's always a catch. With the oil industry, it's location.

"You either choose your job or you choose your city," says Augustine. He explains that oil jobs are located in cities close to oil -- makes sense, right? Jobs are only available in certain areas and workers must be willing to relocate. In the U.S, many oil and gas jobs are in Texas, so if you don't live near Texas, you may have to relocate.

Ali Tura is a consulting scientist in the oil industry. He specializes in geophysics. Tura says the recent trend of students pursuing education in the high-tech field has led to a decline in earth science enrollment. Fewer grads lead to fewer capable prospects in the job pool.

"In this situation, in the last five years, it has been very rewarding to study earth sciences since jobs were readily available and demand for new talent was high in the industry. With oil prices coming back to normal, hiring is leveling out," says Tura.

He adds that the average age of workers in the oil industry is over 40. As workers retire, companies are losing their most experienced workers. They need replacements.

A similar demand was created in the 1990s. Giove explains that schools stopped teaching mineral processing, since mining companies stopped hiring for a long time. This eventually led to a shortage of mineral and mining engineers.

With Giove's education and experience, she was able to take advantage of the shortage. She trained as a metallurgical engineer. She studied mining, mineral processing and metallurgy (the science and technology of metals).

"It's very important to remember that the mining and oil businesses are cyclical," says Giove.

The oil industry is affected by downturns in the economy. Augustine was hired a few years ago during a hiring boom in oil. But in 2008 when stocks crashed and oil prices dropped, a hiring freeze started. He says he and his co-workers are now "walking on eggshells."

Giove explains that during a boom cycle, it's easy for engineers to get good jobs and move from company to company every six months. "I've seen a lot of young engineers squander good opportunities in the past few years, since there was such a demand for engineers, no matter what their experience -- if any," she says.

She says that in tougher times like these, this type of behavior can really backfire.

"Companies will always fight to retain their hardest working engineers. The less committed ones are the first to be let go," she warns.

Augustine says he'll be "hugely surprised" if the industry doesn't turn around in five years. He explains that it takes five to 10 years to bring big projects together.

And the current hiring freeze means a lot of projects have been put on hold. A lot of work will need to be done on these projects when the industry picks up again. This could mean more jobs.

"Now's one of the better times to invest in education during the down cycle. When you come out of school, it'll be on the upswing," he says.

In the past five years, demand for oil has been strong and oil prices have increased. Oil companies have been making large profits. And companies have been sharing the profits with their employees in order to retain them.

"New hires have been difficult to find, and incoming graduates have been getting very good pay to join," says Tura.

Augustine advises high school students interested in entering the oil industry to focus on their grades. "Marks really matter to compete to enter university. Buckle down and do hard work," he says.

Tura recommends students think about their interests. If you like math and physics, you should study geophysics. If you like rocks, formations and nature, you should study geology. If you like engineering, you should study petroleum engineering.

"In short, there are people from many backgrounds that can work in the oil industry," he says.

"In fact, refineries are mostly chemists and even a civil or mechanical engineer can work on oil platforms and drilling. It is a multibillion-dollar, integrated industry."

Gain work experience while you're a student, suggests Giove. Think about a co-op program or even a summer job in the field.

"The more varied the experience, the more you'll get a feel for what types of jobs are out there. It also broadens your technical expertise," says Giove.

She adds that going the extra mile to make a good impression with employers can often land you a permanent position when you graduate.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure that what you choose to study is a good fit for the lifestyle you want or where you want to live.

"There's nothing worse than chemical engineers who can't stand the smell of chemicals," says Giove.

"If you plan on being a geologist, you should expect to work where the dirt is. If you want an office job in a big city, maybe this isn't the right career choice. When times are tough, you need to be mobile and be willing to go to where the jobs are. This is especially true in the first five years of your career."


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