Alan Alexeyev: Tell us a little bit about your current (or latest) position and what you do, as well as how you found a job.
Ilyani Sanchez: I’m currently working as a warehouse supervisor for one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wellhead, surface and flow control products. In this leadership position, I am responsible for managing the warehouse activities (receiving goods, storage and shipping materials), the personnel and the inventory, as well as ordering materials and supplies for the operations of the business.
I started with the company in 2013 as an intern in Venezuela when I received my degree as an industrial engineer. Later that year, they employed me as a planner and, over the next few years, I worked in several areas, including materials, production, warehousing, quality and engineering. Each experience gave me the opportunity to acquire more knowledge from the company and my coworkers and develop my expertise. When the oilfield downturn happened in 2016, I left the company for a brief period of time, and then came back to work for the same company. I was transferred to Veracruz, Mexico, in 2017 and promoted to master scheduler, responsible for providing lead time proposals for customers throughout North America. I was promoted to warehouse supervisor in August 2018, and transferred to the company’s warehouse in Odessa, Texas.
AA: What inspired you to start a career in the oil and gas industry?
IS: I’ve always had a strong identification with the materials environment and, when I started working with materials, I decided I wanted to pursue my career in that area. I am very interested in the equipment and technology involved in producing oil and gas.
AA: How valuable was it to have the university experience and has it helped you in the workplace where you meet people with diverse backgrounds?
IS: University experience is very valuable because it helps you add context to what you learn on the job. The workplace then allows you to expand upon the knowledge you received at the university. An academic and professional career can be seen as different sides of the same coin, and the interactions you have in both environments help you to grow and develop your career. Working for a global company demands that you can lead and collaborate successfully with people from diverse backgrounds.
AA: What was your experience like transitioning from the academic environment to the industry? What would you tell people who are about to make such a transition?
IS: That transition from university to the corporate setting is very demanding because it requires you to put into practice what you learned in academia and in your industry training. I would recommend that you give your best and keep your mind open to learning anything new. I believe it is important to continuously challenge what you learned – that’s how you innovate – and also surround yourself with people who are willing to share their knowledge and industry experiences and become your allies. Building relationships with people you can learn from, and then helping others learn and grow, are very important both professionally and personally.
AA: Has the industry taken initiatives to help young professionals transition smoothly into the oil sector? What, if anything, could be done better?
IS: I do think the industry does a good job; they definitely see the value that young professionals add to the workplace. If anything, I would suggest that the industry provide young professionals with more opportunities for face-to-face introductory training, so they know what to expect in the oil and gas environment, which is very unpredictable and fast-paced. It would also be good to create support groups with experienced professionals who can provide help and guidance through the ups and downs.
AA: The oil and gas industry has lots of conferences and events. Have you attended any of them? If so, how useful do you find them and what’s your takeaway?
IS: I have attended some conferences and events related to petroleum and inventory management. I find them very interesting as a way to keep up with the latest trends in the industry, as well as technology updates. They are also helpful to create and develop connections with possible future vendors, suppliers and customers. Anything that enables you to stay on the leading edge and expand your network is valuable.
AA: What advice would you give college students who have an interest in the oil and gas sector? Should they pursue a career in the industry during these constant downturns?
IS: I think this industry always pays back even throughout the constant downturns. Working in the oil and gas industry prepares people for a wide range of opportunities, if you learn to extrapolate the knowledge and your experience to apply it within the energy field or other industries. I can speak from personal experience: When I left the oilfield [during] the 2016 downturn, I went to work in the food industry for a couple of months. I have to admit, it was very challenging to learn such a new and different business model but, at the same time, they also benefited from the skills I [had] gained from the oilfield, like working under pressure and having the flexibility and ability to adapt to changes. Change is a common factor in any industry. I returned to my previous employer because I enjoy the challenges of the dynamic oil and gas industry. I still believe that it is an excellent field in which to grow your career, with many opportunities to make professional contributions.
AA: Based on your experience so far, what are the technical skills you think will be needed for the industry in the near term?
IS: With the technology era more present than ever, technical skills become more critical every day. It is very important to maintain high proficiency with the software that is being used for management in the industry, such as Microsoft Office 365® tools and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and this goes together with strong project management skills. In the oil and gas industry, there is a lot of integration between different divisions and areas that are all working together with the single goal of producing oil, so you must understand how to use and optimize the tools that facilitate workflow, the supply chain and all the steps and parts involved in oilfield services operations.
AA: What would you like to learn in the near future from experienced people who are in their mid-to-late careers?
IS: I would like to learn how to grow my managerial and leadership skills to manage bigger teams at higher levels in the industry.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.