New Year’s Resolution – New Careers Revolution!
Guy Loftus and Simon Neal,14th January, 2019
Are you Happy with your career prospects? Two separate initiatives were rolled out in 2018 to provide oil & gas sector professionals with free tools for autonomous career management. The first (SpatialCV™) was aimed at seasoned geoscientists to make their experience more visible to a global market that was haemorrhaging knowledge at the time. The second (Career Health-Checker) was designed as an aid for less experienced “Young Professional” geoscientists to frame a conversation around what success looks like to them in a career. The big question was, outwith the transition to a fossil free future, “are young professionals today being offered realistic expectations for their careers in the future?”. Combining career experience with career outlook creates new insights for autonomous career management not previously available. The career aspirations of young professionals can now be “ground-truthed” by the experiences of those who have already been there, either through career matching anonymously or by identifying potential mentors.
In July 2018, an interactive platform was launched to frame a conversation with young professionals (YPs) around what success looks like to them in their future careers. What emerged was not exactly scientific (there was no hypothesis to prop up or dismantle) but a series of observations, shared briefly in this article, did help to frame one-on-one discussions with both YPs and experienced geoscientists alike.
Professional careers, whether based in geosciences or any other technical discipline, tend to be streamed by industry in to either technical or managerial career paths. Incipient careers commonly start as technical but the direction we take is shaped by combining personal development and broadening assignments, with learning and experience. Consider for a moment the popular metaphor for career options: using stepping-stones to cross a river. The stepping-stones (header graphic 1.) are presented as potential job titles that advance our career development in the Oil & Gas sector. To get to our destination, we need to choose a sequence of stepping-stones. Eventually we achieve our full potential, whether as captains of industry or in technical leadership, through mastery. The hardest part for any YP is in selecting the appropriate combination of stepping-stones to get to the other side, either by getting there as quickly as possible or, by exploring the river bed itself. If you knew that someone else had crossed the river before you, it might make the selection of stepping-stones easier (some are slippery, others are firmer), mindful that most of us start in the same place but have very different experiences along the way. Sequence these correctly and you have the means to navigate towards your destination, whether you are just starting out or are already half way across and are having difficulty finding the next footfall. If you are not interested in detail, fast forward to OBSERVATIONS.
A survey was constructed for a live interactive session with YPs using handheld smart devices to respond to 18 questions aimed at revealing the career aspirations of respondents and establishing what success looks like to them. 15 of the questions were subjectively scored against managerial and technical outlooks, as well as personal drive, sense of realism and incentives. Even though the survey was designed for having conversations with YPs, crowd-sourced participants also contributed from all demographics ranging from graduates through to retirees. The scores were summed and plotted to visualise these metrics illustrated in four formats:
“Ambition” is not a popular term in many cultures but it is used here to represent the drive for change for self-improvement. The Oil & Gas sector has been recruiting from academic institutions delivering technical excellence for decades with the reported aim of identifying future captains of industry, as if technical excellence was somehow not enough. The reality is somewhat different, however, but it still helps to have a conversation about which way individuals would like their careers to go: managerial or technical.
The plot above displays coloured bubbles plotted on managerial versus technical axes, with motivation or drive along the diagonal. Experience demographics are depicted as different coloured bubbles, with the size of the bubbles defined by achievability (the inverse of challenge) and the colour of the bubble rim illustrates the sense of optimism for, or confidence in, the future. Motivational outlook on the diagonal has been subdivided in to 4 zones describing how individuals are sometimes inspired to change by being “driven” at one extreme through to “motivated”, “cognitive” and “dissonant” at the other extreme. These four words have been deliberately chosen to describe different states of personal drive but take care not to be misguided by the language of numbers:
Those who are driven need little explanation and possess the clearest vision about how they see their futures developing. At the other extreme, dissonance, does not necessarily display a lack of drive but does identify potential disruptors who are often the agents for change. They are rare, however, in a non-random population sampled from those already aspiring to work in industry from within, because those individuals already accept the rules handed down to them by industry. Motivated individuals represent the core of the survey, where most YPs also start out. What YPs lack in experience to guide their vision, they gain in determination. Somewhat less motivated are those described as “cognitive”, who may actually be demotivated by having made the wrong career choice or the opposite: are so happy where they are right now that they have lost the motivation to change. The defining difference is in how they feel about where they are in their careers (rim colour).
The colour, the size and the rim colour of the bubbles in this second plot (below) are the same as the Peer Ambition display but the axes have changed and are now “financial security” versus personal or “career fulfilment”. The display shows whether career choices are motivated by the desire to increase their spending power or inspired by intellectual fulfilment/job satisfaction.
Clearly for many, financial security and career fulfilment are inseparable as they plot in the central diagonal zone (defined by the 3 faint diagonal red lines) where financial and intellectual gain are mutually re-enforcing. Some people are clearly motivated by one or the other extreme but it is worth pointing out that this plot is sensitive to changing circumstances. The need to clear student debt, or perhaps make provision for a new addition to the family, both introduce short term needs that can literally change perspectives over night. Understanding incentives has potential value if it can be demonstrated that there are differences in peer groups, although how such insights might be used is not so obvious.
Both Peer Ambition and Peer Incentives are personalised to show where an individual plots within their peer group. The Peer Summary just delivers a written summary of that peer group, which may or may not agree with individual opinion, depending on how close the individual plots in relation to the centre of their peer cluster.
The plot below shows the stepping stones of a single individual displayed on the “Ambition” plot. The plot shows quite strong swings from technical through managerial, becoming more technical again later on. This individual clearly changed career direction part way through and ended in a comfortable place. Are all careers as opportunistic or as "Brownian" as this?
Plots 2-4 show the spread of perspectives from YPs only. It gets a little bit more interesting when you start to split out broader, more experienced demographic peer groups [2 - click HERE]. Each demographic has a slightly different view on its own future determined by a combination of experimentation and changing personal circumstances. YPs at PETEX 2018 were compelled by the desire to achieve their full potential. But they were also powerfully inspired to “make a difference” in the world, which augurs well for the energy transition.
Using stepping-stones to cross a river from one side to the other (illustrations 1 & 5) is a simple enough metaphor but what emerges is that few of us really know before we’ve started where we want to be on the other side. The few who do know steer themselves along the most direct route from day “one” and are often picked out from the crowd. Most of us, however, have no clear idea and are forced by circumstances or by inclination to have a career that is opportunity driven, which removes some of the autonomy from career planning and may result in more time being spent mid-stream. And yet opportunistic careers suit a new world where the professional workforce has been commoditised, trading brand loyalty for lateral mobility: people expect in the 21st century to switch companies much more than they did in the last century .
Over the last 2 years, more than six hundred geoscientists from the oil & gas sector have sequenced their stepping-stones by pinning their experience through over eight and a half thousand job assignments across the globe. Two and a half thousand of these can be seen on the SpatialCV™. By sequencing the assignments, we now have hundreds of testimonials to establish whether choices selected by YPs match anyone’s actual career experience. Matching actual career paths with the projected paths of YPs can help to ground-truth the aspirations of YPs for the future. The relaunch of SpatialCV™ scheduled for February, allows users to identify sequences and to potentially initiate a dialogue with the owner of the sequence to request career guidance.
The challenge for YPs remains how to position themselves to succeed in a chosen career when there is so much uncertainty around outcomes. Exploration is by definition a journey in to the unknown and careers are no different. If you want to realise your full potential you must first articulate what success means to you before you attempt to select your own stepping-stones to cross a river with uncertain pitfalls.
If you have gone to the trouble of making a meaningful New Year’s resolution this year, you could do worse than to boost your own career choices. But which is it to be? Autonomous or automaton? We have a tendency as a discipline to over engineer our uncertainty; but when we only have one life, the incentive to make the right choice early on is compelling. What comes out strongly from this work is that knowing what the career opportunity landscape looks like helps to make choices that work for you. Over engineer that and you find that by the time you achieve your goal, industry itself has moved on, the job is no longer what you thought it was and most importantly: you yourself have changed along with your outlook . As with all uncertainty, keeping the aperture wide is your best safe-guard against failure or disappointment. In reality, it neither pays to be an automaton or to be fully autonomous because luck plays a more important role than many of us would like to admit. Seneca is often quoted as having said, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’ Luck only favours those who are best placed to make it work for them. Pinning what you know and examining your own outlook may not get you the career you are looking for but it might tell you what is possible. As with all journeys, a map and a compass will always come in handy.
If your New Year’s Resolution is to rejuvenate your career, there is now a revolutionary approach to rebooting autonomous career development. Wherever you are in your career, you have never been more interesting to know than you are now; now would be a good time to review the past, the present and the future. It turns out that far from being commoditised, the job sequences of each individual are entirely unique. Even though there are elements that we have in common, we are unique and are uniquely qualified to do “that” job. Paradoxically, our uniqueness is the only quality that we share with everyone else.
 Career blending (what every explorer should be wearing this summer) [www.k2vltd.com/article-5]
 Geoscience Career: preliminary observations [www.k2vltd.com/article-16]