As 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic wind on, the thing I have missed the most is attending conventions and sharing experiences with other professionals. I look forward to the day we can again responsibly meet in person to share experiences and innovations, and recruit new professionals.

I especially miss the many discussions with young men and women — at the South Atlantic Jubilee, Groundwater Week and elsewhere — seeking out opportunities. The pause in our in-person routine saddens me, but I am thankful for responsible choices made this year by the Jubilee and National Ground Water Association teams. Those choices can prevent the spread of this crazy virus and protect the immune-impaired. 

Since the rest of the year is officially virtual, I thought I would lay out my advice to the new hires for 2020 and 2021. 

First and foremost, welcome to the industry! You have endless opportunities to make an impact on the future of the drilling industry. We need you to become the expert drillers, engineers, scientists, innovators and humanitarians who help provide resources for our rapidly growing population. The World Resource Institute (WRI) states that about a quarter of the world’s population depletes more than 80% of their available water supply every year. In 30 years, when our planet hits 10.5 billion people and the water crisis hits critical mass, you will be the experts we call. 

Just Do It!

How do you become an expert? As a new hire, you have two ways to learn. First, you can stand back, watch, learn and, once you are comfortable, try the task. Or, you — safely, of course — jump right in the middle of the job and get muddy. Muddy women and men learning by doing built the drilling industry. You don’t learn the day-to-day operations of the drilling industry in a textbook. The drilling industry culture wants you to start learning the moment you step onsite. You gain credibility among your team by doing, and the faster you learn standard processes and procedures, the more impact you will have.

Embrace Old-School Methods

The disruptive drilling process requires proven methods and equipment that can efficiently complete a given task while withstanding a high degree of structural stress. Many techniques and tools utilized on a drilling project are either the same as they were 50 years ago, or a slight variation. Breaking out a bit, tripping tooling and setting casing — along with many other tasks on a rig — look scary when first experienced. After you get familiar with the task, that initial fear turns into caution and respect for the process. As always, if it is not safe, I do not care how long the process has been in place, it is not the right way to complete the task. Understanding the roots of the drilling industry is a crucial component of success. That comes from embracing safe, proven, old-school methods. 

It is OK to Question Everything

Once you have embraced the old-school methods, question everything. Start with the process that made you feel the most uncomfortable, safety-wise. Regardless of whether you are graduating college or high school, your generation has experienced advances in technology and information far beyond anything colleagues even 10 years older can understand. It is a great advantage to grow up with the ability to seek the best answers and insights right from the palm of your hand. Brains of young people entering the workforce today are wired to seek new ways to solve old problems. Once you have experienced the standard operating procedures, start questioning and collaborating with the team to seek out better ways. Remember, the old-world stigma that the new hire cannot offer new insight is just that — old and outdated. Furthermore, if you find yourself in a culture that does not value your insight, run away. Many companies out there will welcome your new perspective. 

Share 21st Century Solutions

I expect that you will take for granted many 21st century solutions — smarter ways to work that your company may not have even considered. Think about your daily routine and processes that make you a more efficient and safer person. It could start with the weather or traffic app you use to prepare for your day. Beyond the basics, you can share your methodology for researching online to find the latest innovations in groundwater. Finally, your ability to learn unconventionally through virtual learning looks very different from traditional professional development. You, as the late millennial or early generation Z, may have been forced to finish your education virtually. Take what you learned of those online methods, and share it with your company. You have a lot to offer the earlier generations when it comes to 21st century solutions. As a late Generation Xer, I have learned a lot from my millennial and Generation Z colleagues.

Finding the Right Mentors

While you spent the past years learning about advancing technology, new methods and innovations, much of the industry has held tight to traditions. Think about visiting your great grandmother’s house. She has a big box TV, rotary phone and the strawberry-wrapped hard candies in a lead glass dish. Everything in her home is still practical. It works for her. You can learn many memorable experiences and insights from her, but one thing you will not learn is what the future will look like. Understand where the men and women you work with come from and are going. Some are content with the current means and methods, and others seek out the next innovation. 

This will be a hard lesson to recognize and implement. Although innovative technology is frequently at our fingertips, virtual communication can lack empathy and sincerity. We lose some of our ability to read a colleague’s mood in our blended digital and in-person forms of communication. Therefore, we find ourselves missing out on being in the moment — what is happening or said. You can find help in learning this lesson by finding mentors. Yes, mentors, plural. One is not enough to learn everything that the industry has to offer. They will help you develop your ability to communicate effectively among all generations.

Next, recognize the top qualities that made your mentor successful and slowly adapt those qualities to help you. At Baroid IDP, I created a notebook of discovery questions from my mentors. I would invite mentors on conference calls and into the field with me. I would watch how they handled issues and the questions they asked to help solve problems. Find a mentor who wants to teach you everything they know, as wells as learn from you. They will be tough on you and have high expectations for your performance, but that is how you know they want you to succeed. Once you unlock your understanding of where they come from and where they are going, you have access to a source more advanced than any other — a human brain with a heart determined to make you successful. 

Today there are more resources than ever to learn about drilling and the groundwater industry, including National Driller’s Drill-EDU, industry articles, videos and podcasts. The best book I recommend for you is “The Art of Water Wells,” by Marvin Glotfelty. Soon enough, we will be able to return to in-person trade shows and professional development. These are all great resources. But the best resources, mentors and technologies still fall short without first-hand experience in the field — muddy, hot, tired and watching water developing out of the ground.