After my last job as a staff groundwater modeler, I have received 6 unsolicited job offers. Of course many modelers with more years and more conections than I, have received much more offers, however, I feel happy with my humble record. The point of this comparison is that senior groundwater modelers with experience in mining hydrogeology are really scarce. Mining and consultant companies are looking for talented groundwater modelers, and somehow there are not much modelers coming out from the universities.
Why are groundwater modelers scarce?
The profile of a groundwater modeler is quite unique. Usually, a groundwater modeler is a person related to water resources, with geological background and very good in computers. In other words, a hydro-geek.
A groundwater modeler is a person that deals with data and data interpretation from the field investigation. They are in charge of building a physical based numerical representation of the groundwater flow regime, and then run predictive simulations on them.
Since models are calibrated with piezometric levels and baseflows, complexities on numerical modeling are huge ranging from insufficient field data, to non-convergences on the model runs.
A groundwater modeler has to deal with algorithms as well as understand what the field data is saying… sounds complex… therefore, many people are interested, but just a few achieve a relevant experience on modeling.
Numerical models are on fashion, 3D representations are cool, however, chances to have a proper training in numerical modeling are limited, unless you do postgraduate studies or go through the manual…. I mean… the whole manual.
As a rough estimate, from 10 motivated hydrogeologists, maybe 6 take a course of groundwater modeling, from them 3 try to run some models on their companies and just one delivers a proper model.
“Smart” manager: Why don’t we just hire a PhD in modeling?
A just graduated PhD with modeling background can give a lot for a consultant company. PhD thesis deal with very specific topics. PhD graduates have to adapt their capabilities to the job that a consulting company does… working on a consulting company is mainly not on the edge of knowledge, but on the edge of profit. Comparing consultancy work and university research, the former offers less time to analyses, higher pressure, multitasking, multidisciplinarity, inductions and organizational issues, and shorter coffee breaks.
Where to get good numerical modelers?
If a company wants to build a strong-dynamic-versatile modeling team (a group of 3 groundwater modelers) there are three options:
1. Hire a senior modeler: Usually, someone that is working for the competition. This kind of hires rule on monetary terms, and usually mean lots of money. Very good alternative upon circumstances, not very reliable if the competetition wants to pay even more to have him back. Not everything is related to money: senior modelers usually have families and they have less mobility to work at other cities and even in other countries.
2. Hire a PhD or a Master with numerical background: Good option of hiring someone young and motivated for experience on projects rather than money on their pockets. A company needs to have good contacts with universities and give regularly speeches to the alumni about the company and the work it does.
3. Build capacities on a company staff. If a company has geologists, environmental engineers, water resources engineers or related, the company can make of them numerical modelers. This is a long-term alternative where a company has to choose very carefully the groundwater modeler candidates. If the company is successful to train a groundwater modeling team within its staff, there are additional benefits and higher goals can be defined.
How much do companies have to invest?
Companies that want to build a numerical modeling group have to invest:
1. Real money. Potential groundwater modelers are not fully chargeable on projects, therefore, a budget for trainning has to be available. Save some extra money for good modeling computers.
2. Time. A growing modeling team has to develop their own working environment. Experience decreases time for model construction, calibration and simulation, but till a company has enough project experience, company’s time expenses won’t be optimized.
How long does it take to have a project groundwater modeler?
Based on my experience as trainer on modeling, with an appropriate mentorship, a junior modeler can achieve these milestones.
In three months: Get to know a modeling software and GIS tools. It is expected that a junior modeler has already built some simple models and run minor simulations on complex models. At this stage the junior modeler is important when working with a more experienced modeler, since the junior can compile the required data for model construction.
In six months: A junior modeler can build numerical models of medium complexity, and calibrate them with help of a senior modeler. At this stage the team work in between a modeling group is intense and modeling times can be optimized on the simulation and reporting.
In three years: The junior modeler becomes project groundwater modeler. He or she is capable of building a whole model, calibrate it and run simulations. Supervision by a senior modeler is minimal and can be scheduled along key stages of the numerical work.
After building a modeling team, be sure they have all the working conditions to work confortably. Otherwise, they will be very attracted to the compettition… and a company doesn’t want to lose its investment.