I devote a lot of time to emphasizing the importance of “soft skills”, those that involve your “emotional quotient” as opposed to your “intelligence quotient”. I don’t want this to imply you can skate by without keeping your technical acumen sharp! After all, ideally your doctor would be competent AND pleasant to speak with, but no one would argue that bedside manner takes precedence over a physician’s ability to heal. To the extent that the oil & gas industry takes on incredibly complex projects around the world, every day, those who undertake those projects must also be fully competent.
This is where the process of earning and renewing certifications is very important.
Certifications and industry training programs are interesting because they must be maintained and refreshed throughout your career (as opposed to a formal academic degree, which you finish once).
Thankfully, I don’t have to retest constantly to keep my engineering degrees, but even after I (hopefully) earn my “Professional Engineer” license, I will have to fulfill several obligations every year so that the accreditation board is sure that I am still worthy of that particular title.
That’s a good thing.
I find that certifications are excellent ways of protecting the integrity of certain job titles. Personally, I cannot stand how the term “doctor” is very well defined (someone with either a medical degree or very advanced level of academic achievement as demonstrated by a Phd), and yet the term engineer is used by almost anyone who wants to pump their role up a little bit (cost engineer, sales engineer, sanitation engineer…)
The more a role or professional title can be defined precisely by some oversight board, and then granted only to those who meet certain criteria as determined by that board, the better. Indeed, you might think that passing examinations and obtaining licenses and certifications sounds tedious and unnecessary, but it’s precisely that level of difficulty that helps maintain a high level of standards within a given industry, which ultimately means more earning power and job security for those with the right credentials.
Furthermore, when you count industry and country/state-backed credentials among your list of achievements, you present to your clients a very transparent view of your capabilities. Perhaps you may not know everything, but what you DO know is clear, and you have the weight of the regulating agencies standing behind your abilities.
Though my experience involves an engineering certification, I want to stress that there are countless certifications for every type of professional: the CFA for financial professionals, the CPA for accountants, HAZMAT qualifications for truck drivers transporting cargo that needs special handling, well control certifications for those working on the rigs…
When you commit to earning and maintaining these certifications, you’re sending a message that you are serious about keeping up with the current best practices in your field, and that you are dedicated to keeping your technical skills sharp.
Keeping up to date on these certifications is also simply a matter of being personally prepared. Let’s suppose that a fantastic opportunity to observe a job offshore comes up, but you don’t have the required offshore survival training.
That’s a huge missed chance!
Every so often, make a list of the credentials that you absolutely must have to move your career forward, those that would be “nice to have”, and those that you don’t necessarily have to have for your day to day work, but would be mandatory if something unexpected came up (like that aforementioned offshore trip). Put those forth to your training manager, and see what they say.
Oil & gas companies take the training of their personnel very seriously, and they tend to be very generous in the help they grant them to pursue this training. For instance, many of my friends working for operators who pursued their PE license were reimbursed for review courses, books, and the registration fees themselves. That is an enormous amount of aid, and that being the case, you are really the only person stopping yourself from earning these qualifications!
One final advantage to these certificate programs – assuming you’re weighing going back to school full-time, or even part-time while you continue working – is that they serve as a good middle-ground between not doing anything, and a fully-fledged academic program.
If you work a few months to study for a new certificate, and decide that’s enough, you’ll still have gained something that will help your career. If you get to the end and realize you have the capacity for more, that’s a clear sign you can move ahead with your application somewhere else.
In summary: career advancement comes from developing both your soft skills and your technical ones, and industry certifications are a fantastic way of developing and proving the latter.