Geologists unearth big-time offers


By Paul Mayne
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Instant six-figure salaries. Stock options. Corporate jets. This is the lifestyle only an MBA graduate can aspire to, right? Think again.

When it comes to living large, Earth Sciences is the new rich kid on the block.
A hot hiring climate for geology undergraduates in Canada is being driven by a shortage of expertise in the field, small graduating classes and soaring commodity prices.
Rob Schincariol, Acting Chair and Associate Professor in Earth Sciences, says he's not surprised by the strong demand for graduates, adding a combination of factors means students are hitting pay dirt early in their career.
The average starting salary for an Earth Sciences graduate can be $90,000 to $100,000, up almost $30,000 from four years ago.
“I think it is a combination of a shortage of qualified professionals, increased world wide demand for raw materials, and retiring professionals," says Schincariol. In addition, university Geology/Geophysics programs are typically small across North America, with a graduating class of 20 to 30 being normal.
“The public is simply not aware of the opportunities in our profession. We try our best to do outreach to schools and advertise but we are not getting the message through to the high school students and their parents," he says.
“The real frustrating thing is that we have the faculty resources available to easily double or triple enrolment in our programs, the jobs are there, but the students are not."
One student who knows first-hand the array of opportunities is Nathan Bridge. The fourth-year Earth Sciences student hasn't even graduated yet and the offers are already pouring in, with companies very competitive in their recruiting strategies.
Ranging from $60,000 to $85,000, and including a opportunity in Australia, Bridge says his offers came earlier this term. Despite the incentive of a guarenteed job, he plans to stay at Western to complete his Masters.
“It was a hard decision to make," says Bridge, noting other classmates have jumped at the job offers. “I feel if I continue with my education and perhaps broaden my education skills it will open even more doors down the road."
While some students struggle to get jobs in their related field, Bridge likes the fact he is in control of what the future holds.
“You pretty well have the opportunity to choose what company to work for, where you want to work and, in some cases, how you want to structure your job," he says. “I've already opened doors and made the contacts, so that will be another plus for me."
As a licensed professional similar to engineering, geologists can work in the resource sector (oil, minerals, water) as well as in the environmental sector.
Work in these areas has been steady for the past 20 years, but with the developing world economies and growing demand for oil and minerals, it has increased dramatically in the last eight to 10 years. This has lead to a high demand in the oil and mineral sectors.
“The high salaries are all about supply and demand," he says. “The demand greatly exceeds the supply."
Schincariol recently spoke with Western graduates at a Vancouver event and asked if the $90,000 to $120,000 per year salary offers - recently reported in the Financial Post - were true.  
“They looked at each other and smiled and said 'sure, especially if you consider stock and other options'," he says
At the same alumni event a graduate told Schincariol how happy she was living in Calgary and flying on the corporate charter jet to Yellowknife to work for 10 days before flying back to Calgary for 10 days off.
“I think all of us can only imagine what we could do with 10 days off every other 10 days," says Schincariol.
But will the demand be there in years to come?
With forecasts of job openings for geologists rising 22 per cent over the decade ending in 2016 in the United States - and given the strong national resource industry in Canada -the U.S. estimate may be too conservative for us. Canada is the world's hub of mining deal-making.
“However, one can never be certain and that is why I always tell the students to be well rounded. If that job in the mineral or oil sector is not available then job in the water resources or environmental sector likely will."

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