Scotland native Mark Guest is managing director of OilCareers, an international online job board for the oil and gas industry which recently opened its first office in North America in Houston. In an interview with P&GJ, Guest, a former newspaper writer in London and Aberdeen who became interested in the technical challenges faced by the oil and gas sector, said OilCareers (www.oilcareers.com) plans to increase its user base of 640,000. The candidate base carries about 7,000 jobs listings per month, he said.
P&GJ: What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
Guest: Keeping up with the pace of online technology and ensuring that we can continue to provide a 24/7 service for our clients, as they often depend on our system to find the best talent in the business.
We have a vast database of people in the energy industry. Many are looking to take the next step in their career while others want to break into the sector so we offer them help, advice and opportunities to take the first step on the ladder. It’s rewarding to knowledge that we help provide help to so many people at different stages and levels in the industry.
P&GJ: How has OilCareers evolved?
Guest: OilCareers was started to help address the energy sector skill shortage in 2000. It was initially set up as the official recruitment site for the UK oil and gas industry with exclusive endorsement by the sector’s National Training Organization. Over time, the site has become a global resource with about 9,000 jobs promoted at any time and more than 600,000 registered users. Today, more than 450,000 people a month from more than 200 countries visit OilCareers. Its success is a combination of good clients, companies people want to work for, and first-class candidates who can fill the vacancies on offer. With effective search engine listing, we also make sure that the site and its jobs are easy to find.
P&GJ: How has the financial crisis affected business strategy?
Guest: OilCareers has focused on international development the past 18 months; this has introduced many new customers and allowed our business to continue to grow despite the general downturn in energy jobs. However, the financial crisis has been very challenging for some of our clients who have been unable to survive.
We aim to support our clients as much as possible; one way is by investing in the development of our candidate base, with high profile marketing in the major oil and gas centers. Making this investment to promote our client’s vacancies, at a time when not all of them are in a position to implement their own campaigns, has been extremely powerful and well-received.
P&GJ: How have you seen technology advance since you began working in this field?
Guest: I have been involved in the oil and gas industry for 20 years and have seen how people who can combine technical expertise with creative thinking have sustained and enhanced an industry, which in the UK sector at least, would now be redundant without some of these innovations. We used to talk about the North Sea lasting until perhaps 2010, yet here we are looking forward to a few more decades of activity.
The most important technology development is the Internet. Our business exists as a part of the Web and the whole energy sector has been transformed by the Internet’s ability to bring a global industry closer together. Online engagement brings people together, so challenges can be addressed by the best minds in the business, regardless of how far apart they may be.
P&GJ: What challenge is driving energy companies in their staffing efforts.
Guest: There are several challenges in terms of staffing such as distribution of expertise. National oil companies need to develop their own people but also need to import skills.
Another factor most people still highlight is the aging population and experience leaving the industry. I don’t think this has to be as big an issue as many make out. Universities worldwide are developing first-class graduates with skills their predecessors didn’t have as they are more familiar with new technology.
What is sometimes missing are the opportunities for these bright talents to kick-start their careers. If I have a general observation about the whole industry, it is its conservatism. Although exploration is a hugely risky business in terms of investment in new wells, there remains real risk aversion when it comes to individuals sticking their necks out to try something, or someone, new and this can slow the pace of development. Where in the past, companies were willing to invest in training candidates, they have tightened up on specific requirements, not leaving much room for flexibility of skill sets; rather, they are looking for the “perfect” fit at the outset.
Wage inflation becomes another challenge. The most experienced people know employers often perceive them as a safe pair of hands; as a result, and understandably, this demand means they can continue to push up their prices.
P&GJ: Is there a particular challenge posed by the staffing requirements of the midstream component, such as liquids and natural gas pipelines?
Guest: Industry has to be high profile to attract the best talent these days. With that in mind, the midstream sector may not have the right image. When most lay people think of petrochemical pipelines they probably think of refineries, which have a tarnished reputation on a number of levels and this might not seem the most attractive career path for a young engineer or technician.
That said, many of the skills that the midstream industry needs are common to the new world of renewables, which, with its clean, modern and politically correct image, might be more appealing for many who would otherwise find themselves in a midstream environment.
P&GJ: What are some of the more subtle challenges posed by working worldwide?
Guest: Cultural differences. OilCareers is essentially an online business and via the Internet we can trade with anyone, but when it comes to getting a new client on board in another country we have to think carefully about how those particular needs may differ from that of clients in other parts of world. Because of this, we aim to strengthen our presence in the key energy regions. Having increased our presence in the U.S., we hope to expand into the Middle East.