Factors contributing to the obsolescence of knowledge and skills are discussed. This information, coupled with surveys of individuals, companies and universities relative to their present and future objectives, needs and educational programs, is used as the basis for proposing all SPE-sponsored continuing education program.


What is an obsolete petroleum engineer? The dictionary defines obsolete as "no longer in use", "antiquated" or "out of date". Hence, we could conclude that an obsolete petroleum engineer is one that has reached a limited usefulness at a particular time in his professional life. Contrary to what some would lead us to believe, this is not a new term or a new concept with respect to its application to individuals. The only thing new about obsolescence in our time is the early age at which some engineers become obsolete. Let us examine the factors contributing to an engineer's obsolescence. Petroleum engineers are engaged in the exploration, drilling, production, transportation, processing, research, development and management branches of industry. A petroleum engineer's usefulness to industry and to society lies in what be knows and what he does; and, like other engineers, his principal function is decision. He collects data, organizes, analyzes and synthesizes, using appropriate mathematical tools, and reaches a decision based on scientific and technological knowledge. In performing this function he must employ the skills of learning, innovation and problem solving coupled with a knowledge of science, technology and analytical methods. The knowledge and skills be utilizes as a professional were acquired in his formal academic training and industrial experience.

In the everyday practice of problem solving and decisions the engineer uses the aforementioned skills and, as a consequence, ordinarily becomes more adept in them. Competitive pressures are such that he attempts to keep abreast of the newest innovations in creative and problem-solving skills, such as computers. However, at the same time his knowledge of science and technology becomes more obsolete. This situation develops because of the accelerating scientific contributions and the desire and necessity in modem competitive enterprise for the frontier of technology to keep abreast of scientific development.

Hence, it is my opinion that petroleum engineers become obsolete because of their inability to

  1. keep abreast of scientific developments,

  2. keep technology attuned to the latest scientific contributions and

  3. utilize modern mathematical tools and machines in making decisions.

Why Obsolescence

Since no one wants to become obsolete, we must ask why so many petroleum engineers face this prospect in the very near future. Although the experts in education and industry have been telling us for a decade that 10 per cent of the average engineer's knowledge becomes obsolete every year, there are few who have considered this observation seriously. However, during the past three years the starting salaries and performance of recent engineering graduates from universities have focused attention on engineering obsolescence. We must assume that petroleum engineers have been performing service for their employers in accordance with compensation which they have received. But, we must also recognize that many of these same men after 10, 15 or 20 years of service are now considered obsolete. Why did they become obsolete? Simply stated, they did not spend adequate time learning. How much time is required? I doubt seriously if anyone claims to know. However, E.M. Williams has proposed an equation which could be used to estimate learning time in terms of an individual's learning rate, fraction of time spent in learning and the rate of obsolescence.


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