I remember my first year in the industry very fondly: it was 2006, oil prices had been climbing steadily for over half a decade, and the “big crew change” was starting to become dinner table discussion. The brain drain that would eventually come from the retirement of senior employees was imminent, experts advised, and it seemed like companies were taking advantage of the good times to hire like crazy as they positioned themselves to hedge the effect on their operations.
I vividly remember a recruitment event organized by a large independent during the ATCE for which they rented the entire Sea World theme park in San Antonio and threw a party for us. It was an extraordinarily memorable event for any impressionable recent grad, and the future seemed prosperous. The Petroleum Economist encapsulated the hiring spree by quoting the head of US recruiting for one of the supermajors as saying, “Times are very good for us…and we are expanding– USD 60 [a barrel] oil will do a lot for your business. At the same time…a large number of employees are in their 50s and we need to increase our hiring across the board.”
Academia listened to industry’s pleas for help, experiencing a meteoric rise in petroleum engineering enrollment not seen since the 1980s (Fig 1). Unfortunately, those students in the 1980s largely found themselves unemployed upon graduation as a result of cost-cutting measures following the oil price collapse of 1987, the result of which became the very same “lost generation” of talent that evidently now needs to be bridged by the big crew change.
Fast-forward to today and, after some wild swings in commodity prices, to be sure, we nonetheless see oil once again hovering at around the same USD 60 mark which I fondly recall from the birth of my career. But a quick study of the headlines paints a starkly different picture this time around, as seemingly every company is either laying off people, freezing hiring, or doing both. An onslaught of such headlines has turned the mood in university campuses to an anxious and somber (if not pessimistic) one, which is completely opposite to the confident euphoria when I was there. I encourage you to read the TWAInterAct section, which features comments from SPE student chapter presidents on how the price drop is affecting students.