James

From Airborne Infantry to District Manager for Schlumberger


     

In January 2005, at the start of a tour of duty in Iraq as an Airborne Infantryman, I still remember the adrenaline rush as I contemplated the uncertainty we would all face over the next 12 months. We were literally jumping into the unknown.

Prized skills

I couldn’t have guessed that – just seven months later – an epileptic seizure would put an abrupt end to my 10-year military career. Suddenly, I had to consider my civilian career options. Until then, I had never had to worry about medical insurance or the many other comforts the military provides. But I was still a husband and a father, and had to provide for my family. What was I going to do? I hadn’t been to a job interview since I was 17. What qualifications did I have? I felt the same gnawing uncertainty again.

On a visit to ACAP, the Army Career and Alumni Program office – by luck, on the day of a careers fair – I got talking to a recruiter from Schlumberger. One thing he said stood out in particular: Schlumberger intentionally recruits military veterans because of their qualifications.


Discipline, dedication and teamwork

Leadership, honesty, integrity and many of the other skills and qualities you develop in the military are transferrable to oilfield services. You’re used to responsibility. You’re calm under pressure. You know how to work hard and work long hours. You’re focused on safety. Teamwork is second nature.

All those skills are vitally important in a job that is always exciting, but never easy. You spend time away from home. The hours can be long and hard. You can find yourself in stressful situations and the solution usually relies on teamwork. Contrary to what you might assume, you’re actually perfectly qualified for a career in oilfield services: Schlumberger wants disciplined leaders – people that won’t veer away from its standards, who will follow its procedures and who will do the right thing no matter what.

Recruiting process

During a thorough, three-day interview process, you visit several Schlumberger bases to see the different service lines. At the end of the three days, they ask you questions designed to test your ability to adapt to, and overcome, difficult situations. Don’t be intimidated: it’s like a military-style board – only more relaxed.

Professional training and development

Schlumberger employed me in 2006 as a coiled tuber. Coiled tubing is a long, continuous length of steel pipe that is stored on a spool and can be pushed into a wellbore to perform a variety of well interventions. If production drops, our objective is to identify and fix the problem. If a well needs to be cleaned out, for example, we run in coiled tubing and circulate special cleaning fluids around it.

At first, I knew nothing about oilfield services, but Schlumberger teaches you everything. You are enrolled in a three-year program that trains you to be competent and proficient at your specific job. I learned what goes on in an oil well, I learned about the hydraulics, the tools we use, the mathematics and the related software. The key to success was hard work – I studied early in the mornings and late at night to pass the regular tests. And I strived to perfect my craft by paying close attention to my supervisors. It was excellent preparation for a career in well-intervention services and gave me the skills I would need to become a supervisor myself.

Unlike some of the other trainees, I didn’t have a background in mechanics and the first six months, in particular, were a steep learning curve. But once I went into the field, everything clicked and I understood what I’d read. I’ve seen how other companies do training and if you want to really succeed, the training Schlumberger provides is the best in the world.

Career opportunities

I’m now in charge of our coiled-tube services based in Bakersfield, California. I have nearly 40 people reporting to me, including engineers, supervisors and crews. We run up to 45 jobs a month. Most of my work now is office-based, although I take every opportunity I can to get out into the field. Whenever I do, I try to lead by example, helping rig up and being as much a part of the job as I can be without hindering the operation.

There’s limitless scope for career flexibility within Schlumberger. From my current position, I could move to an overseas posting or to a different area of the business. But, for family reasons, it suits me to stay in the US and professionally I want to remain in coiled tubing. In my next job, I could be California operations manager, which includes offshore activity as well the onshore wells currently under my supervision.

Career support

When Schlumberger took me on nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect, or even if I was going to be good at it. All I knew was that I was going to give it 100%. What surprised me most of all, though, was how well I was taken care of. Our staff is made up of people from all over the world – from the US, but also from Mexico, Africa and many other places – and they all come together to support each other. In that respect, it feels a bit like the military. Even though Schlumberger is a large corporation, you’re a person, not a number.