“The most valuable asset of a company is neither its hydrocarbon accumulations nor its technology patents, but rather its employees,” said Ahmed Kawanna, Recruiter and University Relations Manager for East Africa and East Mediterranean, during an information session for Schlumberger held at Suez University. However, not all employees are viewed the same way.
For human resource departments, many factors come into consideration; including education, personal qualities, and the quality of service given. When all these factors are combined together, a general and comprehensive term is needed: Professionalism.
How the Industry Defines Professionalism?
Professionalism means different things to different people. From our brief and humble experience in the industry, we have noticed a common misconception; that the definition of professionalism is applied to any person who has any prior career experience; regardless of their abilities as an individual.
These are not sufficient to define a professional. Professionalism should not be judged by the daily competence of an individual. The long-term performance of that person is what it must hinge on.
Websters defines professionalism as, “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” The ways that professionalism is fostered in an individual takes many forms, but to succeed in the oil and gas industry in Egypt, many assume that a high level of education is required.
This idea is criticized by John Campbell in an article published in the Journal of Petroleum Technology in 1990, titled “Improved Professionalism: A Critical Need.” Campbell believes that employees of the industry can become professionals through practice, and regards higher levels of education as a requirement not necessarily fulfilled by all.
Campbell states that about 50% of the employees of the oil and gas industry in the United States have an engineering job title, but do not possess a higher degree of education in engineering or scientific disciples.
When considering a professional’s personal qualities needed for the oil and gas industry, there is one trait that stands out to employers more than any other; the self awareness to recognize a lack of knowledge or skill, and the drive to rectify the problem.
A simple solution to help employees recognize their deficiencies and overcome them is by using a program or software that measures skills and technical abilities such as the SPE competency management tool, or similar program. By quickly recognizing and rectifying their gap in knowledge, employees remain viable and enhance their value to their respective employer.
Innovation is Necessary
In the oil and gas industry, many companies follow the principal that standardization is key to fewer mistakes. These companies regularly criticize actions that deviate from the norm, thus restricting innovation or creativity from their employees. This is especially true in the Egyptian government. The problem is that this discourages workers to pursue any further knowledge than the baseline of what is necessary for performing the job.
However, innovation and creative thinking are crucial in this industry, as it is the basis for developing new technologies or finding new ways to exploit hydrocarbon resources using simpler techniques and cheaper operations. Companies should promote these virtues by recognizing their value and awarding employees who practice innovation and creativity.
Another problem affecting the professionalism of the industry—which declining oil prices have recently magnified, is redundancy. Due to redundancies in the industry, many employees assume tasks that are not originally their own to perform. This results in substandard performance, reflects poorly on managers decision-making, and ultimately, is unprofessional.
A constant challenge to professionalism in the oil and gas industry is the cyclical nature of employees retiring and others being freshly recruited. Sustaining a certain level of professionalism depends on the successful transfer of knowledge and experience from seasoned veterans to beginners. Serious investment needs to occur to better facilitate this as one of the most important parts of training.
A less striking, but still serious problem, is that Egyptian students often see cases of favoritism in hiring by national oil companies. This has not only affected the petroleum sector, but has leaked into many national industries. Relatives and friends of a high-ranking employee have priority in employment over others.
When the recruiting process is not centered on choosing the best candidate for the job, the professionalism of the company as a whole is compromised. This problem affects not only individual companies, but also the industry as a whole.
Inadequacy of Education
In addition to the previously mentioned problems, there is another more serious issue endangering professionalism in Egypt. This is the inadequacy of the technical education received by students in their specialized institutes and universities. The problem is acutely felt when students encounter the modern technology actually used in the industry. Software, simulation programs, and laboratory facilities used today by companies are a world away from the study scope of Egyptian students.
As a consequence, new hires joining the industry face a significant gap between their technical knowledge and what their senior coworkers already know.
The best way to confront the problems above is to take into account the different stages an individual progresses through withi n the industry; analyzing each stage and customizing solutions for it specifically.
Stage one begins with the junior and senior years of university for students; ending upon graduation. Solutions to the problem of beginning a professional career at an early stage must be addressed. Oil and gas companies should promote awareness of the type of jobs offered, specifying the nature of the environment graduates will be inserted into and be expected to perform professionally in.
Student Chapters at universities should expand their outreach. These small business model entities offer a great opportunity for students to acquire and sharpen interpersonal skills and add to their professionalism. By joining management of the chapter or simply attending lectures and participating in research and technical events, students can guarantee a more useful university experience than constraining themselves simply to assignments and exams. Students and fresh graduates should also have realistic expectations, recognizing that a reputable company may not hire them immediately after graduation.
In Egypt, most university students supplement the education they receive with constant learning of modern techniques and technologies, as well as networking with professional employers through company visits, technical workshops, and summer internships—the latter being the most effective for future employment.
Public Sector Role
The role of the government and university cannot be overlooked. Professionalism starts at an early age and develops over the span of an individual’s career. Much of the responsibility for maintaining a high level of professionalism among students and graduates falls to institutions of learning. The Egyptian government should participate in and fund educational programs offered by companies and professional bodies such as the Amal Program and the SPE YP Educational Week. The government should also require oil and gas companies to expand their summer internship and graduate programs. This would engage larger numbers of students who could collectively raise average levels of professionalism.
The next stage begins from the moment of hiring to becoming a full-time employee—on average 1-3 years later. Nearly all companies offer some form of induction training when a new employee is hired. A fresh hire is put through long training courses and is pumped full of large amounts of information and practical knowledge in an attempt to prepare the person for regular employment. The trainee must absorb all the training to be ready to uphold responsibilities as an employee.
Professionalism at this stage is assessed differently than regular employment, as the competency of the recruit during the training is important. The trainee must be able to demonstrate understanding of the big picture for how the individual job or tasks will affect the company overall. Furthermore, the importance of the concept of safety begins to emerge at the beginning of this stage. Trainees must demonstrate the ability to follow safe practices for themselves and for equipment.
In addition, a contributing factor to the professionalism of young employees is the amount of time they spend in contact with other professionals. Either formally, in the form of apprenticeships; or informally, learning from more experienced employees about the job.
A new factor critical to professionalism comes into play at this stage: the principal of giving back. This is to ensure that a diverse and wide variety of experiences are offered to other students in the future.
The next stage relates to employees with 3-7 years of experience. This stage is characterized by employees who have acquired practical knowledge; and are now accumulating experience. The lack of desire to continually educate oneself tends to appear at this stage. During this stage—especially within service companies—young engineers learn methods and knowledge only as required for a certain task.
Rarely do engineers at this stage pursue further knowledge than what is needed for daily operations. Professionalism calls not only for a high level of competency when introduced to new tools and procedures, but also for a level of innovation and creativity in using the tools.
The final stage this article focuses on are employees with more than seven years of experience. By now employees start to showcase skills; but the matter of education becoming outdated may arise. A hypothetical example on this issue is drawn from the career of a drilling engineer responsible for drilling wells in a major oil and gas province. The geology of the province does not change drastically enough to give unexpected or entirely new drilling problems that would greatly expand the engineer’s experience. If the drilling engineer in question does not keep in mind advances in technology, he may cease to become a successful professional due to the outdated information possessed, no matter how adequate it may seem.
Professionalism in this stage requires applying safety practices, as well as observing good ethics, but the dominant factor is continued education. In addition, employees at this stage are also evaluated by their level of contribution to university programs and the support they offer to professional bodies, drawing on extensive experience in their respective fields.
In conclusion, all in the industry need to recognize the importance of professionalism. The efforts of governments, universities, companies, and professional bodies must be synchronized in order to complement the work of the other, to improve professionalism in Egypt.