From 1996 until 2014 I was a geophysical engineer and, to be more precise, a borehole seismic engineer. I was forced out of that job at the insistence of a particular manager. It was partly my own fault though. For the sake of my partner I had put my own career on the back burner to enable her to move forward with her own. In short, I had ceased to grow.
While it was nasty losing my job in 2014, I wasn’t unduly worried. Sure enough, I had a new job within seven weeks. It was a wrench but I could do it. The three-four months of office based work was tough on me, so it was a complete joy to return offshore, even if it was for Christmas 2014. I really enjoyed the change from rigs to seismic vessels, even if the working conditions on a ship were not as good as I previously enjoyed. It didn’t matter: I was back.
Not for long though. There was a global industry downturn in 2015. I knew when the redundancy notice was announced, that it would be bad. The day my immediate boss was called into the director’s office I was watching. When her head turned suddenly and looked at me, I knew that it was over. I entered a state of shock and then denial. Hope made the next seven weeks some of the worst of my life up to that date.
What I had failed to understand then, and that it has taken many years of unlearning to see, is that business and careers are ultimately about relationships. As a seismic engineer, few people actually understood what I did. All I had to do was rock up and do it. Not so as a seismic planner. Yes I can explain complicated ideas and tasks in very simple ways, making it easy to understand. Yes, I am a good person. But I was never really great in cultivating relationships. I honestly thought that being good at the job was enough. I am sure many of you are laughing at such naivety. When I lost my job as a seismic planner, I knew I lost my career. I knew it would be bad. Job hunting in my sphere of expertise revealed three vacancies: globally. I knew the gig was up.
It is amazing how many people approach you when one is unemployed. I can now see why those in retirement complain of being really busy. In addition to Air-BnB (which didn't prevent me from sinking but did buy me more time) I did a ton of work for people and various organisations, none of which paid a dime. I also took an M.Sc in Energy with Heriot Watt University, which I enjoyed greatly. I did this in the hope that I would be able to secure a career in the renewable energy sector, making that transition that so many talk about. I failed. What I did not realise at the time was, at least in terms of employment, how small the renewable sector is compared to oil and gas industry. Between 2015 and 2017, 200,000 oil-related jobs were lost in the UK. In 2017 I had an interview with a wind farm operator, the fifth largest company in the UK. They controlled thirty four UK wind farms and were purchasing more in Spain. How many people did this company employ? At that time, 42. Forty two, but there were looking to increase their team to sixty by 2019. I recently check up on they and they now employ about eighty.
Beware of politicians who speak of green jobs. The jobs do exist: just nowhere near in the numbers claimed.
I was not the only one in such a position though. I learned this year that a colleague in a similar line of work, also made redundant in the great downturn, also went back to university. He obtained an MSc in Oilfield Decommissioning. Despite this undoubted logic of the move, he too failed to find work in the sector and is now retraining again, this time to be a teacher.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. While I am still on my journey of work, I am only in employment now because several of those threads which I possess have come together in a new weave. Several of these related to the unpaid work I did while seeking a new direction. Standing as a political candidate cultivated both my public speaking and leadership abilities. One of the insights I did gain as a candidate debating in public is that even if the audience is unsympathetic to one’s party, most would hate to see you fail on the evening. They want speakers to do well, they want to be both informed and entertained. It is really positive to know that even hostile audiences are, on a certain level, on your side. Having a Masters degree does elevate one into a new range of career options. My work with potential IT startups, while actually costing me money, has ultimately resulted in paid work. It even led me to my choice of dissertation: the challenges of setting up sustainable data centres in tropical climates (it’s a heat thing).
What are the lessons that can be drawn from my experience? Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t take your current career for granted. If you are getting tired of it, address the issues. See what you can do proactively either to move it forward or change it, before change is forced upon you.
- Do consider extra training or qualifications but do your research first. Make sure there will be a market for your new skills.
- Do be open to new opportunities, whether paid or not. Don’t however let yourself to be exploited. It is a fine line to walk.
- Do be resilient and don’t ever give up. Receiving a stream of refusals is disheartening. If this keeps happening though, change something. I had to invest £120 for a professional CV rewrite. It worked.
- Do put yourself outside your existing comfort zones. Don’t be afraid when trying something new. People are often nicer and more supportive than you think.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you try something and it doesn't work out, it still could be a stepping stone to the opportunity that is right for you.
- Do remember that professional relationships are important.
Most of all, remember this: there is no such thing as staying still. One is either moving forward or moving back. If you think you are still, you are moving backwards. Make the effort to always move forward.