In groups of four and five, south Louisiana high school students who excel at math and science were introduced last week to the complex machinery and processes used to mine oil and gas.

Guided by mentors trying to entice a generation of smart kids to choose oil and gas as a career, the students touring LAGCOE 2015 also waded through an oil patch reality: It’s a cyclical business that is in a trough that has forced tens of thousands of layoffs in an industry that, a little over a year ago, couldn’t hire enough help.

“(The students) were worried about it,” Natalie Guillot said.

Guillot, an engineer with SYCON International, last week helped lead 150 STEM students on tours of the 2015 Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exhibition. Guillot, 30, is one of dozens who belong to Young Professionals of LAGCOE, an association of 20- and 30-year-olds based in Lafayette. YPL was formed to help develop and keep the badly needed next generation of the oilfield. And YPL, in turn, is trying to recruit the brightest of those who will graduate high school in the next few years.

“What we told them was that every industry has a cycle,” Guillot said. “… Oil will always be here. You’ve just got to hang on to the roller coaster.”

There were contrasting fortunes on display last week at LAGCOE, where for three days vendors hawked their expertise, international companies and governments lobbied for American money and know-how, and industry experts weighed in on how to get by in difficult times.

Frank’s International CEO Gary Luquette at one time ran Chevron’s North American drilling and production. He said he grew up in Abbeville, and that his young ambition was to build roads, be home each night for the family and to stay around south Louisiana.

But Luquette, a University of Southwestern Louisiana civil engineering major, noticed upon graduating in 1978 that oil and gas engineers made far more money than those who built roads. In a career that’s spanned 37 years and counting, Luquette and family have traveled the world. And he’s made a pretty good living.

“I have no regrets,” Luquette told a standing-room-only room of people in a keynote address titled “Surviving and Prospering in a Difficult Market.”

Luquette said oil and gas producers and service companies now have little choice but to cut payrolls to bring costs in line with declining revenue. Frank’s International this year announced it would layoff up to 700 of its workforce, which last year had numbered 4,500 worldwide.

“It’s like losing family,” Luquette said at the address Wednesday.

Producers and oil service providers have laid off their employees in droves, including Chevron. The Associated Press on Friday reported Chevron would eliminate the positions of up to 7,000 employees, 11 percent of its workforce.

On Thursday, Keith Richard of Lafayette had a handful of resumés for the LAGCOE Career Fair. It was the afternoon, long after the job-seeker rush had vanished at the Cajundome.

Richard said he got the news Monday that he had been laid off from his employer of 37 ½ years, Halliburton.

“Nobody’s drilling at these prices,” Richard said at the $45-a-barrel that West Texas Intermediate fetched last week.

He said the wound was fresh for him and others at Halliburton, which has laid off thousands of its workers.

“All the departments (at Halliburton) got hit,” he said, “from the top down.”

Richard, 56, hired out with Halliburton when he was 19.

“I’ve worked there all my working life,” he said.

Guillot, with the Young Professionals of LAGCOE, said her organization is committed to finding, pulling in and keeping young people with talent.

LAGCOE, in its 60th year and one of the world’s largest oil expos, also was affected in a cruel way this year, Guillot said. Running on a staff of five, LAGCOE puts on its biennial show with the help of many volunteers.

Guillot said some of the volunteers also lost their jobs, or have been affected by the downturn in other ways.

“But they put a smile on their face and they still have a love for this industry, and they know that this is their home,” Guillot said.