Abstract

Along with the dramatic price changes in the petroleum industry including gas and oil, there is one resource that has been seriously overlooked and undervalued: experienced personnel in the field, including engineers and other technical specialties. The real challenge is how this lack of experience is overcome in the short term, rather than just waiting for the passage of time. The petroleum industry can make significant gains quickly by investing in true, on the job mentoring. It could mean the difference between success and failure. Companies could be focusing less on headcount, and more on effective and well organized mentoring programs.

The shifts in supply and demand over the past three decades have at times left many within the technical side of the industry barely holding onto their jobs or looking at other vocations in order to maintain employment. Hoping to ride out the waves of boom and bust, those with valuable experience are not passing on their knowledge at a rate that can sustain our industry. These trends have led many colleges and universities to back away from true Petroleum degrees. Now that a demand is increasing again, how can the voids be filled quickly in the field with qualified and well-trained personnel, while the slow process of ramping up academic programs begins?

The only way to fill the void is through hiring from other engineering fields along with the inclusion of like-minded individuals with technical backgrounds. But now that they have been hired and are on the job, how can we maximize their success? The answer is mentoring. This paper will present the case with a personal perspective as told by mentors in the petroleum industry on both sides of the struggle, spanning three decades.

The Art of Mentoring

To begin, let us describe what the process of "mentoring" means. Mentoring is defined as the exchange of knowledge or wisdom from one individual to another. While this knowledge can be taught in groups, the greatest successes and lasting impressions are to be made by one on one transfers. The knowledge and wisdom of experience that can be passed spans the academic, instructive, and hands-on categories.

However, the ability to transfer one's knowledge and wisdom successfully through mentorship is not an inherent trait of many individuals in the industry. In reality, successful mentorship is an art form because it requires not only the transfer of facts and skills, but the passion and commitment one has to the industry. Most companies will focus on only training individuals instead of encouraging the mentoring of co-workers by more experienced personnel. The commitment to a strategic mentor program is critical, but with the pressures to accomplish one's own tasks and meet deadlines, the value of artful mentoring is most often rushed into if not overlooked altogether.

It is this inability to approach mentoring strategically that leads to a struggle among new hires, supervisors, managers, and co-workers, to sufficiently address the very fate of a company or the industry itself. This struggle is best explained as an art through the lens of Sun Tzu's historic work "The Art of War."

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