April 3, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Oklahoma State University
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi professor
Western Kentucky University
Eastern Washington University
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Sul Ross State University
University of New Orleans
The University of Oklahoma
University of California - Los Angeles
Oklahoma State University
Boone Pickens School of GeologyWebsite
Dr. Camelia Knapp Ph.D.: Generally speaking, I believe we will see more and more of data scientists who have the programming skills to statistically analyze large volumes of information. In Geosciences, I think we will see a similar trend. Employers of all sorts and flavors will look for enhanced efficiencies and automatization. You hear about artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, supervised or unsupervised.
I also believe there will be more and more opportunities in the field of carbon capture, utilization, and storage, a growing field with the need for expansion at a global level since many countries are signatories of the Paris Agreement. This is a tremendous near-/ mid-term opportunity for Geoscientists to work together with Engineers in taking carbon storage to the commercial deployment level.
Also, we may see more jobs in geothermal and rare-earth minerals as well as wind and solar. Oil and gas jobs will recover some after the pandemic. In the end, more than 80% of the global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels. Natural gas will still be on the upswing while petroleum will perhaps stay flat and coal still slowly decline. Oil and gas companies will start rehiring, soon. Environmental jobs will also become more dominant on the job market.
Dr. Camelia Knapp Ph.D.: Quantitative reasoning and computational skills are becoming increasingly prevalent for employers hiring Geoscientists. With larger datasets and technological computational and technological advances, there will be an increased need for employees who are good at math, physics, and computation. In addition, communication skills, team building orientation, managerial/ business skills are necessary with increased workforce diversity and more interdisciplinary projects. Data analytics and machine learning are becoming increasingly popular. In addition, employers in our discipline look for deep technical knowledge in the field of choice (geophysics, geochemistry, sed-strat, etc.) and field experience.
Dr. Camelia Knapp Ph.D.: I think it depends on the employers. The oil and gas companies have always paid well and they kept up with the inflation. Environmental companies pay depending on their size and portfolio. Geoscientist, by and large, are fairly well paid in comparison with other fields according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geoscientists.htm).
Jobs in academia are pretty compressed, salaries have increased during my career, but I can't say by how much, it depends on the university. The following is a good reference:
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi professor
Department of Physical & Environmental SciencesWebsite
Jennifer Smith-Engle Ph.D.: Yes! Pandemic layoffs and an economic slowdown, coupled with an anticipated long-term global shift away from fossil fuels due to greenhouse warming and climate concerns, should guide many upcoming graduates to consider different geology career avenues than they might have originally planned. The coronavirus pandemic with its switch to online operations has rapidly revolutionized the workplace, demonstrating it is possible for employees to effectively work remotely. The coronavirus-caused economic slowdown is short-term, but geology graduates should consider the pandemic's cultural shift to more remote work, also the expected shift towards plastic production rather than energy production as a major driver of worldwide petroleum demand over the next decade, as longer-term trends which may more profoundly impact their careers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (updated 2/18/2021) projects that employment of geoscientists in all sectors will grow 5% between 2019-2029, driven by needs for energy, environmental protection, and sound land and resource management. Geologists employed by the petroleum industry have generally enjoyed the highest median salaries compared to those in government, environmental industry or academia, but the petroleum industry has also experienced boom-and-bust cyclicity. The current federal administration is promoting substantial shifts to sustainable energy sources and this same commitment is being strongly articulated by leaders of many other industrialized nations, also by automobile manufacturers, public transportation, and other major industries worldwide. In the future, manufacture of plastics will largely drive future petroleum demand. The increased impacts of plastic pollution are clear but technical solutions and alternatives are less clear. Plastic recycling is increasing but overall demand for plastic products is increasing even faster. Recent geology graduates are wise to monitor projections for worldwide petroleum demand as it impacts their long-term career growth prospects in the petroleum industry.
Recent retirements within the oil and gas industry have created job openings but at the same time many major petroleum companies (ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Southwest Energy) are also restructuring and have laid off additional personnel. Thus, recent geology graduates should not expect to land positions with petroleum companies as easily as in the past. This does not mean opportunities in petroleum exploration/production are unavailable but will be more limited and finding employment in this sector will be more challenging for new graduates.
Graduates with field, laboratory and relevant internship experience, and good networking skills, will have an advantage. But geology graduates should also comprehensively assess their skill sets and broadly explore other career areas within academia, state and federal natural resource agencies, environmental services, agriculture, mining, education, non-profits, etc. Careers for geologists are diverse and changing. While the future number of new hires in the oil and gas industry may be modest, some of these hires may become involved in new "green" technologies such as carbon-capture. There may be increased demand for geologists elsewhere to help in siting "green energy" facilities, in land-use planning to minimize losses from natural disasters, in hydrogeology, mining and land reclamation, etc.
Jennifer Smith-Engle Ph.D.: The pandemic has revolutionized the trend towards a full or partial telework and this will continue, driven by employer needs to work with employees in the field and at multiple work locations, also by employees seeking better work-life balance. Both companies and employees are adapting to long-term remote work. Recent graduates might expect that at least part-time telework may be an option. Telework will allow employees in the field or at distributed locations to effectively collaborate. Recent graduates should be versed in networking, use of shared drives and computer security. Many meetings may be conducted remotely and graduates will need to be comfortable with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other virtual meeting platforms. Remote collaboration on projects may be critical, involving participants at far-flung locations.
Jennifer Smith-Engle Ph.D.: Students should seek opportunities to engage in a variety of lab and field experiences (research experiences for undergraduates are excellent) as well as multiple summer or academic-year off-campus internships during college to build up their resumes and professional connections. They should find ways to increase and broaden their technical skills, written and verbal communication skills, and proficiency working in teams. They should be comfortable working and collaborating remotely. As the economy recovers from the pandemic undergraduates nearing graduation should strongly consider remaining in school to earn a master's degree in geology, geographic information science, environmental science, hydrogeology, engineering, computer science, business administration or other relevant discipline. In general income foregone during those two extra years of schooling will be more than offset by broader career options and better career advancement if not an outright higher entrance salary. Finally, recent graduates may find additional opportunities working internationally rather than domestically.
Western Kentucky University
Department of Earth, Environmental, and Atmospheric SciencesWebsite
Nahid Gani: Geoscience job market is shifting because of the pandemic. Some, particularly oil-related jobs, are decreasing rapidly. If students graduate with an environmental-related geoscience degree, they have a better chance of getting a job in this pandemic market.
Nahid Gani: Environmental, sustainability, and climate science related skills, with lab-analytical, technical, and big data knowledge.
Nahid Gani: Environmental and climate science related research and internship experience.
Eastern Washington University
Department of GeologyWebsite
Chad Pritchard Ph.D.: The number of geotechnical and environmental geology jobs have remained steady, if not increased, during the pandemic. As construction and property transactions continue, people need help with environmental and geotechnical site assessments. GIS positions have also maintained, if not increased, as newer web-based software allows geoscientists to work remotely.
Chad Pritchard Ph.D.: With many entry-level jobs getting cut, I would advise continuing education as opposed to a gap year. For graduating high school students that don't want to commit to a four-year university, taking math or other science pre-requisites at a community college should help reduce the time to graduation (though check first to see if the credits will transfer to a university). However, a gap year can do a lot to help people learn more about accountability, finances, and the importance of a professional work ethic. It just seems that this year, with everything going on, finding entry-level positions will be difficult.
Chad Pritchard Ph.D.: Talk to your faculty and career services center to get you resume, CV, and cover letter polished. Keep going, and don't get too fixated on one job. Try to keep you options open. Being able to move for a job can help you find more jobs and gain experience towards becoming a professional geologist, which then creates more possibilities. If jobs in your area are slim and you cannot move, then you might consider graduate school, so that when the market rebounds, you have that much more experience and will stand out to potential employers.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Department of GeosciencesWebsite
David Boutt Ph.D.: Certain entry-level positions (say in the environmental consulting field) won't change too much as a lot of that work is in the field collecting samples, taking measurements, etc. Remote work could give people an opportunity to take on work outside of their immediate geographical area as tools and technology allow. I think there could be a shift towards sub-contracting certain environmental services.
David Boutt Ph.D.: Improving your quantitative and data analysis tools. Picking up a programming language, learning how to use cloud-based datasets, and accessing geospatial data online. There are lots of good web-based resources for learning python and R. If you are fortunate to have someone you know that is proficient in a particular language, reach out to them for some example codes and scripts. I find decoding scripts that work is really helpful in learning a language and new tricks/tips.
David Boutt Ph.D.: Be flexible. Don't try to land the dream job, get some experience, make connections, and new opportunities will come with that. Ask lots of questions at the new job and approach the opportunity with a good attitude while keeping an eye on moving up and learning more.
Sul Ross State University
Department of Biology, Geology, and Physical ScienceWebsite
Jesse Kelsch: What we saw in 2020 was the temporary elimination of most summer internships for geoscience majors, which is so unfortunate because those internships almost always provide not just unique and valuable experiences but also a "foot in the door" for employment. Now with the widespread vaccine rollout, if it ever gets underway, we'll likely see their return in Summer 2021. I imagine that a 2020 graduate who missed their internship opportunity while still a student could still apply for summer 2021 internships even though they've graduated, under some kind of "pandemic" clause.
Jesse Kelsch: That greatly depends on what the graduate hopes to do. For example, I know that hydrogeology consulting companies want their employees to have well-rounded knowledge, so they must be able to construct a geologic cross-section even though they're working in water. Going into the environmental field, people will need to work with spreadsheets and tabular data. And in all sectors, WRITING WELL is a critical skill. A gap-year graduate could continue to read and write for their own practice, perhaps especially about science articles related to the field of their interest.
Jesse Kelsch: Know your long-term purpose - not just your economic hopes and dreams but the kind of work that will satisfy you, keep you interested, and make you proud of your contribution to society. Be open to different job openings in different fields and sectors though and recognize not just that your goals may change, but also that different types of work could fulfill that purpose through your career.
University of New Orleans
Department of Earth & Environmental SciencesWebsite
Dr. Kraig Derstler: Yes. Two effects are unavoidable. One is the quality of education that students receive during the pandemic. Instructors had to instantly throw something together midway the Spring 2020 semester, replacing carefully crafted courses with ad hoc, remotely taught jumbles. To some degree, Zoom saved our collective butts. Otherwise we would have had to simply cancel courses and return tuition.
Since then, most higher ed institutions had tried to do a little better, but frankly, we are not set up for remote teaching and the results are watered down: no hands-on labs, no lab demonstrations with study materials at hand, no field trips, no study groups, no meaningful group projects, no face-to-face instruction where the instructor can instantly recognize and respond to a student's puzzled face. And there are the inevitable tech issues with online textbooks and online lectures that drink up contact minutes and hours. Personally, if I was a student, I would rearrange my academic plans, sit out the COVID-19 semesters, and do something more productive for the duration.
Dr. Kraig Derstler: Fewer and fewer geologists are finding professional rock/fossil/stratigraphy jobs. Meanwhile, environmental positions are expanding. In both areas, employers are asking that graduates seeking technical positions have a solid background in basic science and math (physics beyond Newtonian mechanics, chemistry, biology, calculus, basic computer skills and familiarity with Adobe and MS packages, plus GIS software). For professionals, they want the same, plus improved skills in oral and written communication, basic business background, and leadership skills.
Dr. Kraig Derstler: That's easy - anything that demonstrates a well-developed work ethic, the ability to work in a team, and persistence in completing tasks. Within this framework, the sky is the limit so far as I can tell.
Department of Earth and Environmental ScienceWebsite
Dr. Nicholas Davatzes Ph.D.: Core themes:
- Geographic and data science skills
- Solid science-based education, including experimental design and project execution, including documenting its implementation and outcomes
- Effective scientific writing and data presentation
Dr. Nicholas Davatzes Ph.D.: There are earth science problems that need to be addressed in every part of the United States and the world. The American Geosciences Institute estimates the rate of jobs added to the economy for graduates, in most of the earth science sectors, outstrips the number of graduating university students. These issues become more pressing as the population grows, and resource demand and land-use intensity increase.
Therefore, I would demur from saying there are "good places" for work opportunities. However, it is fair to say that some sectors are more strongly developed in different geographic regions. Water resource management is more of an issue in the west, but quality management is an issue everywhere. Natural hazards occur everywhere, but the type of risk varies by region and from the coasts to the interior. The petroleum industry is centered in Texas and has a strong presence in California, the west, and the south. Among the alternatives, solar, wind, and geothermal heating have diverse applications throughout the United States, although geothermal energy for electricity is mostly developed in the west. Other natural resources, again, vary by region by geology; economic geology is more active in the country's western half.
Dr. Nicholas Davatzes Ph.D.: The availability of cheap sensors and drone-based systems, the publication of data gathered by large satellite or long-term monitoring systems from government and private agencies to the web, and the mandate to publish federally funded data sets produce a rich set of digital resources. These are complemented by advances in data processing techniques implemented in both free and commercial software. The abundance of data, cloud-based processing power, and advanced computing have several significant impacts:
-There is an exact role of data science in future earth science careers that leverages these new resources.
-The software and web tools coming to market should make advanced data analysis accessible to workers for applications to their problems.
-There will continue to be a need for people with a background in earth systems and scientific training to combine these data and tools to answer questions.
-There will always be a need for people to go to the field to make new site-specific measurements.
-We are in a better place to develop and sustainably manage resources than ever before.
Students should seek critical data management, geographic information, and data science skills as part of their degree. This does not mean they need to be experts in data science first (although that is an option), but that they should be familiar with fundamental concepts to employ them in their work effectively. The goal is to be ready to apply these tools to study earth systems and processes better.
The University of Oklahoma
School of GeosciencesWebsite
Kurt Marfurt Ph.D.: Let me address that by sector. The service companies are highest on the food chain and; thus, undergoing the strongest retrenchment. I do not expect this to change in the next 2-3 years. The software technology companies are slightly better off. Here, a new hire can learn new state-of-the-art skills such as machine learning and computer programming, and learn how to work with clients, write, and market. If things don't turn around, they can use these new skills and work for a different technology company ranging from big Pharma to Google.
The big oil companies are, in general, more stable than the smaller ones, but they are also retrenching. A disadvantage in a big company is that you may be a small wheel in a very specialized area. As the big wheels in the company turn slowly, you whirl around and maybe lose a few teeth to the more giant gears. Furthermore, if the job you are working on is no longer relevant to the future market, you may not have had the opportunity to diversify your skills and land a different internal job.
The smaller independent oil companies are less stable but provide for a great deal more professional growth. As the focus changes, a geoscientist will need to learn and master drilling, petroleum engineering, land acquisition, negotiation with partners, finances, etc. If you are good (and you need to keep up to date and master new skills), your company may be bought out or go bankrupt, but you will be well-poised to join the next smaller independent oil company.
An advantage of the service, technology, and small independents is that people outside the company get to know who you are at what you can do. If you are in a big oil company, you might be highly valued, but your competitors have never heard of you.
The corporate culture varies wildly from company to company. New grads should size each company's culture and see if it's a good fit for them. Some have internal structures like a fire ant mound with everyone trying to climb to the top of the ball of fire ants, even if it is floating downstream after a flood. Others are much more collaborative. Others are externally focused. This latter culture - whether the focus is on partnering/marketing/sales or technology support - is where you will best build your professional network.
Kurt Marfurt Ph.D.: There is a decrease this year and into next. Perhaps 33% of jobs in G&G have been lost. Few companies want to hire when they just let valued people go. It demoralizes the survivors who were their friends. Nevertheless, companies want to avoid the demographic headache they had ten years ago when their employee age distribution had a moderate peak at 25 years old and a larger one about 55 years old. There was no one in the 35-50 year-old group to move into middle management. They also risked losing technical expertise when all the 55 year-olds left - which has since happened. They will start hiring young people again in 2022. In the meantime, students will react and change their majors. Universities will respond, and given the green movement, even close programs in oil and gas exploration. This has already begun (and been completed) in several universities with a track record in this area. So, If you are going to graduate in 2022 or 2023, you will be in good shape. Just cover your butt and make sure you have skills that are not exclusively oil and gas. For geoscientists, it might be machine learning, GIS, environmental cleanup. For engineers, it might be broadening your engineering expertise and credentials into mechanical and civil engineering. These later fields have paid less thanP.E., but are much more stable, with jobs in every union state. A problem with P.E. is that the licensing requirements require a ridiculous amount of specialization. Their professional society (SPE) needs to address this mistake.
The demand for G&G and Petroleum Engineering hit a local peak about 2016. Since then, it has tapered down, and now with Covid and petroleum oversupply, the demand for new hires is close to zero. Summer 2020 was the worst time to look for a job. Summer 2021 will be l-i-t-t-l-e better. Remember, though, many, if not most, 55+ folks have now either changed professions, retired, or worked as independent consultants. The oil companies will need people to do the work they used to do.
If you read the newspapers, the writings on demand for oil and gas in the future are overly pessimistic. The average American drives their car for ten years. With <5% of the current sales being electric vehicles (EVs), we've got to fuel the gas guzzlers for at least 20 years. Overseas, the average vehicle is driven from 12-20 years. Even environmentalists, like me, are not going to junk a perfectly good car that costs more than $30,000. Even if I sell it, somebody else will drive it. The conversion to clean energy will be most rapid in North America and Europe. The rest of the world will be 10-20 years behind us.
Kurt Marfurt Ph.D.: The big companies in the U.S. are mostly centered in Houston, with smaller companies in Denver, Oklahoma City, and so forth. Production from shale will continue, not on federal land, but in places like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The payout for a new well in an existing field is on the order of a year. I THINK I can guess what the market will be a year from now, unless another dang Covid19 comes along! Exploration in deep water is a much higher risk, with payouts on the order of a decade. Hey, maybe we WILL all be driving be driving EVs by then... To fit in with the shale resource players, you need to be broader than a geoscientist and acquire petroleum engineering and business skills. Can you measure the cost/benefit of a given tool or process that you are recommending?
Given the demographics of younger people in the U.S., don't focus exclusively on the the U.S. If mom and dad speak a language other than English, learn it. We are still a highly international business. Unlike in the the U.S. and Europe, there will be growth in our industry in Brazil, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. If you like the mix of technology and diverse cultures and adapt (as in learning a language or two), you will be in good shape.
University of California - Los Angeles
Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space SciencesWebsite
Mackenzie Day Ph.D.: The pandemic has caused many companies to shift toward remote working and telecommuting. I suspect this trend will continue in the coming years, making it essential for new hires to be independent and take the initiative in remote settings.
Mackenzie Day Ph.D.: Being fluent with technology associated with remote work is now essential, instead of optional. Also, having the skills to interpret geology using small sensing methods, such as geographic information system (GIS) platforms and techniques, may become more valuable in a socially-distant workplace.
Mackenzie Day Ph.D.: Demand for geologists fluctuates with the changing economy and changing the price of natural resources. Demand changes in different ways in different subfields, but overall, if companies' ability to hire decreases in the short term, they will have to make up for it down the road.
Peter Harts: Employers are looking to hire graduates who are resourceful and demonstrate a balanced mix of hard skills and soft skills. Though hard skills can show off graduates' experience and understanding of a specific, quantifiable ability, soft skills indicate a graduate's ability to work with others and grow within an organization. Graduates also need to be well versed in global citizenship, with an appreciation and understanding of other cultures. This is particularly true in the gem and jewelry industry, as new markets emerge and technology improves efficiency in the supply chain process from business to consumer. Ultimately, a balanced mix of hard and soft skills can help graduates gain confidence-an invaluable trait in the business world.
Peter Harts: Major metropolitan cities and international trading ports provide an abundance of opportunities in various roles within the gem and jewelry industry. This is why GIA offers comprehensive education in many of the world's top gem trading and jewelry manufacturing centers.
Graduates can find opportunities with national retail chains, independent businesses, and manufacturing in all parts of the world, both rural and metropolitan. Additionally, more than ever before, people are working in places outside of a conventional office or place of business. E-commerce and the design field provide burgeoning opportunities with advances in technology and remote options - allowing employees the freedom to work where they choose.
Peter Harts: With the emergence of new technology, we are seeing new ways in which companies are building brand awareness, acquiring talent, and increasing efficiencies. The increase in jewelry manufacturers adopting technology to increase accuracy and automation in various processes will play a large role in the next five years in the gem and jewelry industry.
A great example of this is the recent partnership between the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and IBM Research to develop an advanced artificial intelligence system, based on data from tens of millions of stones graded by GIA, to evaluate diamond clarity. Advancements such as this, revolutionize the diamond grading sector.
It's no secret, technology changes (and will continue to change) the jewelry industry. As systems and technologies are scaled to meet market demand, the entire industry is set to bring new excitement to the products, processes, and customer experiences like never before.