By Lorena Rios
Since the sharp fall of oil prices in mid-2014, the oil industry has been forced to act with dexterity and composure, like an acrobat balancing across the tight rope. In spite of uncertainty, the acrobat relies on skill, instinct, and great effort to cross the suspended bridge that will lead him to stable ground.
The oil and gas industry is shaped by uncertainty, rapid technological innovation, new discoveries, geopolitical instability, and the responsibility to meet growing global energy needs. In our 100th issue, we are highlighting work and accomplishments of some of the best and brightest members of the oil and gas industry in Egypt, that are not simply acrobats and jugglers jumping through rings of fire, but those whose ambition match the every day challenges of the industry. We spoke to outstanding engineers and professionals at Apache, Shell, Schlumberger, and GDF Suez, mapping their journey to success and exploring the support they received along the way.
The jump from textbooks to drilling rigs; from the stress of passing a Mathematics of Enhanced Oil Recovery and Remediation exam to orchestrating a billion dollar exploration and production (E&P) project is as daunting as it sounds. Thankfully, oil companies in the industry help young professionals make these leaps through intensive development programs.
Training and career development is indispensable in the oil and gas industry. A looming “skills gap” has clouded the prospects of the oil and gas industry, leading oil companies to seek out and attract a high quality applicant pool. The industry is constantly evolving, and as such, must continue to develop its team and replenish its talent pool.
A recent report released by recruitment company Manpower revealed that one of the most pressing concerns among oil and gas executives in the US is attracting quality candidates, both new and experienced. However, the industry is taking the necessary steps to ensure the sector attracts the best players and guarantee their growth in the energy sector.
“New hires at Schlumberger start as trainees for eight months,” said Ramy Hafez, the wireline sales and marketing manager at the French firm. “Then you move up to ´preschool´ for one month, ´school´ for two months and ´post school´ for another two months.” The average probation period—a time when new professionals get a taste of the company’s operations and different departments—is three years for major IOCs.
In a fast paced industry, efficiency and innovation go hand in hand. In order to keep up with technological innovation, the industry pushes young professionals to increase their array of knowledge and skills by adding responsibility. “After the first eight months at the job, you are on your own,” he said with a playful smile, recalling the mix of nervousness and excitement that comes with great responsibility. “We are not hiring engineers, we are hiring future managers,” added Ahmed Ragheb, the Bits and Advanced Technologies Operations Manager at Schlumberger.
Knowledge is a building block in the industry and its members must continue to be active learners. At Schlumberger, “you have to study for your promotions,” Hafez said. “Every promotion is a test, like a new job each time.” Most importantly, “it builds your character,” Hafez finished.
Apache is another example of the industry´s commitment to train new generations. “You are given responsibilities from day one,” explains Miguel Munoz, Senior Production Engineer at Apache. “You are soon sitting at a table sharing the same responsibilities as people who have 10-15 years of experience.”
Given the fact that the talent gap is expected to widen in the next five years— especially among petroleum engineers and plant/operations engineers—it does not take long for students to become mentors. “I still have a mentor-student relationship with my manager,” said Brian Hradecky, Senior Reservoir Engineer at Apache, “and I was mentoring with as little as three years of experience.”
“At the beginning it may seem impossible,” said Mina Fahmy, a Financial Analyst at Shell, referring to recent hires. However, Fahmy believes that “each individual is driving his own development. Your success depends on your performance.” He trusts that Shell will hire competent people who will excel.
Fahmy is the country chair for Shell Egypt’s young professional network, which gathers young professionals from across the world in conferences, workshops, and events. The goal of the network is to keep people well informed about the industry. Shell’s network in Egypt organizes workshops with students at Ain Shams University in an attempt to attract young talent.
One of the challenges facing the industry is the decrease in number of experienced petrotechnical professionals—including geologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and petroleum engineers. The number first started falling in 2013 and is expected to continue to decline until the end of 2016, according to Schlumberger projections. Consequently, the industry needs to sharpen its recruitment methods to attract new talent, especially women in STEM positions. Recent graduates have an amazing hiring window to seize.
Leadership succession is another key industry concern. Estimates show there is a need to promote as many as 60% more petrotechnical leaders now than in the preceding four-year period. “We all start young,” said Hafez. The ascent through the ranks is generally a gradual one. “It´s a long ladder,” continued Hafez, “but if you perform, they reward.”
Apache is aware of the industry’s need to attract and develop a large number of new technical staff to maintain current business and technical performance. “This [Apache] is an aggressive, fast moving company,“ said Edward Cross, Geologic Manager at Apache. He began his career at ARCO, worked in Shell, and then moved to Apache, where he has been for the last five years. “The industry needs people who move fast and are attracted to the action,” he finished.
“This is a high risk, high reward industry,” said Munoz, as he recalled the time a mentor at Apache told him that to succeed in the industry, you need “fire in the belly, and not the one you get from a bad meal.”
“To be selected by E&P companies you have to be unique, show that you are capable of adding something new and that you have important skills,” said Wahby.
The transfer of knowledge in the industry is not a one-way street. It is closer to how Cairo operates, with vehicles shooting by in every direction. “You have the sergeants and lieutenants,” as Cross jokingly refers to senior staff and his own age. They pass down knowledge to the new engineers. But due to the industry´s high tech nature, knowledge also comes from the bottom-up. “The key to success is natural curiosity,” said Hradecky. “Ask as many questions and seek out all the answers you can.”
By 2018, the demographic profile of the E&P industry will be much younger, closer to other high-technology industries. For this reason, Egypt Oil & Gas asked these outstanding young professionals to provide their colleagues with advice for success.
“I advise young graduates to keep on learning and developing. They must know how to carry themselves and show their capabilities. It is not an easy job and they should expect high competition,” said Wahby.
The team of outstanding professionals at Apache identified the following as keys to success: take pride in your work, seek the bigger picture, be creative, seek out the unconventional, and make sure to develop your communication skills.
“We have a wide range of exciting unconventional exploration,” said Hradecky. Egypt affords the opportunity to get “really great experience,” he added, especially with recent developments in the West Nile Delta, West Mediterranean Deep Water, and North Alexandria.
Egypt´s rich natural resources, thriving energy sector, and constant challenges make it an exciting place for the oil and gas industry. “There is always demand for energy, but manpower is the most important resource,” said 27-year old Hadil Nagy, Asset Team Explorationist at Shell.
“The oil industry is not a piece of cake, said Nagy. “It requires hard work, dedication, and a strong belief you can change something.” The young engineer suggests to always stay positive.
Success is about hard work, you have to be competitive enough,” continued Nagy. “Employers in the oil and gas industry are looking for employees with analytical and negotiation skills, dedication, and willingness,“ added Fahmy.
The “skills gap” plaguing the oil and gas industry may be global in scope, but in Egypt, young professionals are proof of a bright future for the oil and gas industry in the country. Their drive, alongside their companies’ mentorship and training programs, has allowed them to meet the industry’s rising demand for skills to tackle Egypt’s exciting challenges.