Finding Work as a Consultant
Finding work as a consultant is a lot trickier than finding work as an employee. A consultant is a person who typically specializes in one area and has years, usually a decade or two, of industry experience. As an electrician, Lyle Porter owned an electrical company in the 1980s and did contract work for Imperial Oil. After selling his company, Imperial Oil asked Porter to consult for them. ?I believe Imperial Oil asked me to consult for them because I had a technical background as an electrician, I had over a decade of experience at the time, and I had a proven track record with the company,? said Porter.
Oil and gas companies look for specific capabilities and traits in a consultant. ?Consultants are usually expected to have an expertise in one particular field but also to have an idea of how other disciplines work as well. A consultant needs to understand how to manage risk, and the processes and procedures of the company they are consulting for,? said Porter. Consultants who are in demand all share the same traits. ?Consultants must be entrepreneurial, dependable, responsible, and accountable for their actions, and be very versatile,? said Porter. Some of the more obvious traits a consultant must possess are the abilities to be a good listener, a quick learner, and above all, to be honest. Porter says the number one thing a consultant must be able to do is be willing to travel or relocate.
The defining difference between an employee and a consultant is an employee receives a regular salary and benefits package that is managed by an employer. ?A consultant must manage their earnings very carefully as there could be dry periods where there is no work and you must manage your own investments, in particular your pension, and find a private benefits plan. Another challenge is the amount of traveling that is required and the amount of time that you have to spend away from home. Everyone?s situation is different, but if you have a spouse and children at home, a lot of travel could definitely have an adverse affect on your family life,? said Porter.
A major benefit to consulting is that it provides a certain amount of freedom which allows a consultant the ability to pull away from a company or a job if things go wrong. ?If the company you are working for runs into financial trouble or there are serious personnel issues being experienced, you have the ability to walk away from the company. An employee, especially one who has planned a life-long career with the company, is usually not in a position to be able to control the company?s problems and has to stay and tough it out,? said Porter.
But with this freedom comes great responsibility. ?As a consultant, you must find your own work and make it on your own. This means knowing how to sell yourself. It?s not just a matter of asking for a job. Consultants have to talk to people and ask them what they do, what type of employees their companies are looking for, and what education and skills do they require. These are the people consultants need to sell themselves to,? said Porter. Consultants also need to network with everyone they work with and work for, maintain an excellent track record of doing good work and being safe, and get along with everyone.
Safety is Key
At the same time industry is addressing a shortage of skilled workers, it is also trying to address the issue of safety. The oil and gas industry is considered one of the most dangerous industries which makes being safe and working safely a vital part of every position in every company.
The reason why safety is important for ?green hands? is research indicates the most unsafe workers are those with less than three years experience in the industry. This makes industry companies and service companies wary of hiring people who have less than these three ?magic? years of experience. Scott explains the reason behind the research results. ?Typically, a lack of training and supervision is what results in a person having a poor safety record who has worked less than three years in this industry. But experienced employees who have a bad attitude towards safety or workers who have a lack of awareness can be equally as dangerous. ?Old school? isn?t always best.
If service companies want to be invited to bid on jobs with reputable companies, they must develop and maintain a better than industry average safety record. Service companies that have poor safety records, which means a company has a higher than industry average number of ?loss time incidents? or ?total recordable injuries?, will not be invited to bid on most oil and gas companies? work. A bad safety record could result in a loss of profit and even determine whether or not a service company stays in business. ?One accident could cost a company any profit that could have been made even on a small job and preclude the company from being able to bid on future work. At CORE, safety is our company?s lifeline and we are very proud of our safety record and that is why we place special emphasis on hiring safe employees,? said Scott.
Advice from the Employers
For each type of employment, there is a different set of advice for finding work in the oil and gas industry. For industry company jobs, DEGT recommends that people who are interested in jobs in the industry review information on the trades to gain an understanding of what type of education or skills training and experience is required. ?At DEGT, the level of experience required varies and is dependent on the specific position. Individuals should assess their skills and training to determine if they meet the qualification requirements for the types of positions available. We also look for individuals who have a willingness to live and work in rural and remote areas,? said Malcolm.
To ensure its business doesn?t lose experienced workers and to mitigate the shortage of skilled workers, CORE has implemented a common sense plan. ?We are trying to line up young people with experienced foremen to learn the trades and we are also working with aboriginal communities where we are providing training and jobs with the potential for advancement. We have also discovered the key to attracting and retaining good employees – we treat the employees we already have well so they will want to stay working for CORE. A little loyalty goes a long way,? said Scott.
Porter?s advice to people who want to become a consultant is simple. ?Start with a Master Plan. You need to decide what you want to do, what type of education and skills you will need, and which companies you want to work for. Most people who don?t start out with a Master Plan wind up working for years in dead-end positions that don?t provide any satisfaction or advancement in their careers. You can always revise your Master Plan but a complete lack of one could mean you might wind up working 10, 15 or 20 years in the same type of jobs only to realize one day you aren?t satisfied with your career path.?
?After getting a technical background, working your way up the ladder to get the type of experience and the required number of years of experience, then a person can try to find work as a consultant. It?s important to take what you can get, make the best of it, and go from there,? said Porter.
The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada gives this advice to people who are thinking about entering the oil and gas industry. ?High school math and sciences are an important fundamental to working in the upstream petroleum industry. We also know that new entrants will be more marketable if they develop entry-level skills through education at a university, college or technical (trade) institute. If a person possesses interpersonal skills, knowledge of business, understands technology and can solve problems, he or she will be of interest to industry. These general skill sets will become increasingly important to industry as time goes on. People who are adaptable and mobile to work in different environments are also required by industry. The jobs in greatest demand will be trades and technology positions. The Petroleum Council suggests that potential workers in this industry take a look at the many trades-related opportunities that exist such as heavy equipment operators and electricians,? said Cheryl Knight, executive director and CEO of the Petroleum Council.
Finding work in the oil and gas industry will be easier if you have an idea of what you want to do, do the research for the positions you are interested in, and make sure you get the required education and skills needed for the position you are interested in. After you land your first job in this industry, that?s when the hard work starts – working hard, working safe, and working towards a fulfilling career.