How to (Skip College) and Become a Super-Paid Drilling Consultant

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photo of Bryan SUlly

Eric Roth is a different sort of person, in many ways – and very good role model for young people contemplating jobs in offshore oil and gas.

Some of his differences include:

While not required, he did attend a number of years of college while in the military and after, but never received the actual piece of paper, even though it would have been a virtually free ride on Uncle Sam’s dime for being a veteran.
He actually enjoyed the military, a U.S. Marine, and worked many glamour jobs, his work history reads like an adventure novel: embassies, bombings, the works.
Somewhere along the way, he decided that working on offshore oil and gas rigs would be exciting too, so he started out cleaning toilets on rig supply boats and making the usual potty-cleaner’s pay for it.
But, he had uncharacteristic enthusiasm for even cleaning potties – because he also had great big dreams, which are now a reality.

Dream #1: He would somehow work every job there was on oil and gas rigs while still in his 20’s, learning the various trades as much as possible before he decided on one for long term.
Dream #2: Save his money, also very different for people that age.
Dream #3: Go to all sorts of technical classes, despite having to pay his own way. And voila!
Today, this native Louisiana “boy” is only in his early 30s and a drilling consultant: the top paying job, white or blue collar, in “De Ol’ Patch.” He won’t disclose his annual pay, but confirmed the amount of $200K+ was “In the right neighborhood and maybe a little low.” According to the Rigzone Compensation Tracker*, Drilling Consultants reported average compensation of $227,793 in 2011, up 13 percent year over year.

Easy Street Lovers Need Not Apply
Yet despite the power-paychecks, the world travel, etc., this was anything but easy street.

For one thing, you have to have so much discipline + dedication that you have to be able to forget for weeks on end that niceties such as streets, pretty buildings and much more even exist. Yes, there is a community television set on many rigs, but a typical rig worker is too tired to watch TV at the end of 12 hour-plus days and 14 or 28 straight days working.
And, forget these jobs just being hard work: “It has to be some of the most challenging work in the world, a big reason I just love my work, but many people burn out young, which is so sad,” said Eric.
Another downside for many: So-called “blue collar” rig worker jobs are like Rodney Dangerfield, pun intended: They can be way unsafe, one has to think Safety First all the time, or else, you too, could become the next blotto person.
Plus, these jobs also get less respect than “white collar,” i.e. college degree-needed jobs. Short-handed as the industry is for rig hands these days, preliminary Rigzone research indicates there are few company “hands” figuring out white collar-like niceties for rig workers such as clear career tracks; free off-the-job training for the next step up; enough time off to take the required — okay, not college, but very difficult — demanding technical courses; and even Rigworker Appreciation Day once a year.
“Appreciation is in especially short supply,” Eric quipped. “It gets to some of the O&G workers. The front line does most of the actual work, but the drilling engineers and geoscientists get most of the respect and appreciation. This is okay also, because that’s what they went to school for; however, one would not believe how much technical and engineering knowledge rig workers like us have, even though we don’t have engineering degrees.”

So, what was another “different” sort of thing Eric did?

Self-Education Most Welcome
A pragmatist in the extreme, he dropped out of working for a while, paid for and took every course in which he was interested that also spelled Better Career Success.

“This was the really lonely part,” Eric confessed. “My great savings began to run out. Friends and family sometimes teased me. I constantly worried and wondered if I was doing the right thing.”

“It seemed like an endless tunnel but there was light, lots of sunny light, at the end of it, and I knew this, even when I had just spent my last dollar on a course most others would only wait to take until a company MADE them take it and PAID for them.”

“That’s where discipline and forward thinking comes in, rather than simply thinking about what was in your pocket at the end of the month. There has to be an investment for personal and professional growth there, and a focus on those things you know that you want, rather than simply on something you think should be given to you.”

“Importantly, it does not matter whether you are working as a permanent employee or a contractor, the thing that our younger generation has to understand is that companies will not want to know only your education and experience level, but above all they want to know what kind of VALUE you can provide to their operations.”

And here’s a sampling of the courses Eric took:

NASP/IASP Certified Petroleum Safety Manager
NASP/IASP Certified Petroleum Safety Specialist
Advanced Oil and Gas Drilling & Completions Technology
IADC WellCAP combined Surface/Subsea Drillers Supervisor level
IEMA Environmental Management
IOSH Managing Safely
Management of Major Emergencies – OPITO
NEBOSH International Technical Oil & Gas Management certificate
OHSAS 18001 Internal Auditor
OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Manager certificate
And, if that isn’t daunting enough, here’s one upside to persevering such a rough academic load. Get a load of these titles at the top of Eric’s resume:

Eric Roth, MIIRSM, RSP, SPE
Wells HSEQ (Health, Safety, Environmental Quality) Advisor Deepwater Drilling & Completions at TOTAL E&P

Nice business card material, too, huh?

But, there is one other deep downside to jobs like Eric’s. They tend to be hard on conventional family life. So, asked what there was left to dream about or do with his life, having attained so many dreams so young, Eric paused, thought and said:

“I have a couple of high career goals for sure, but if I told you some of them, (such as becoming one of the most respected and valuable young professionals worldwide in my specific field), it would probably sound pretty silly and for most people, who think in narrow terms, unreachable. … I’m quite involved with giving, supporting an orphanage, etc., but I don’t usually speak about that unless I am asked, because then people think you are bragging about ‘what you do for others’ and it sounds narcissistic. I also want to be a great father and positive example to my children, as I hope to have a lot, two so far, plenty more to come!”

“I enjoyed the heck out of all of my 20s, getting into debauchery worldwide, from Colombia and Rio, to the foam parties of Ibiza, to the seedy joints of Thailand and Cambodia. But now, having done all that, with absolutely no regrets, at heart I am a family man all the way!”

So, jobs like Eric’s are dizzying for all their upside/downside dimensions, but if you think you can enjoy this kind of always wild, never dull, sometimes lonely ride — and stick with it almost no matter what:

Go for it! You, too, CAN be a highly-paid drilling consultant (no college degree required).

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