The UK oil and gas industry continues to enjoy strong interest from recent graduates as well as from high school leavers, according to employers and training bodies involved in the sector. But recent interviews conducted by Rigzone with key figures involved in UK oil and gas recruitment also found that challenges remain when it comes to recruiting more experienced personnel.
"Certainly there seem to be enough graduates and a lot of activity around apprenticeship schemes which are well oversubscribed," Alix Thom, skills and employment policy manager at industry body Oil & Gas UK, told Rigzone.
Thom said that Oil & Gas UK's own industry technician training scheme – which is managed by training body OPITO and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board – is very popular with school leavers. "I haven't got the figures for this year because the closing date isn't until the end of this month [April 2012], but last year I know we had 2,500 applicants for 120 positions so certainly we are able to attract a lot of people to the apprenticeship scheme," said Thom, who added that the scheme is completed by more than 90 percent of those who begin in.
So how about graduate-level entrants to the oil and gas industry?
"From our members we are not hearing that they are having problems attracting graduates. Again, their graduate schemes are oversubscribed," said Thom. "However, that doesn't mean we can afford to be complacent and the industry still agrees that it is very important to continue to encourage schoolchildren to take STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] subjects, and to help society as a whole understand the importance of the sector and all the opportunities that are available."
Energise Your Future
Indeed, the oil industry training organization OPITO is keen to ensure that future generations of workers are aware of the opportunities in the sector in the UK.
"We're running a raft of initiatives that are absolutely geared to attracting the future oil and gas workforce," OPITO UK Managing Director Larraine Boorman told Rigzone. "We've set up a new careers Web site called myoilandgascareer.com. We've also set up a schools ambassador project called 'It's Your Future'. We're running careers and lifestyles events called 'Energise Your Future' and we've got an online interactive competition called 'PetroChallenge'."
The 'Energise Your Future' campaign involves a series of one-day events in which senior school pupils from a particular region get to learn about the oil and gas industry and careers within the sector. A recent event, in Newcastle in the northeast of England, saw more than 500 pupils and 20 oil and gas companies take part.
As the UK's leading oil and gas firm, BP is playing its part in ensuring young people are aware of the opportunities available to them in the energy sector.
At the moment, BP is seeing very strong interest from university leavers for its graduate scheme, with more than 7,000 applications submitted this year for just 250 UK roles.
"Due to the high volume and standard of these applications, we were able to fill these positions with some of the brightest and best students we have ever seen," Emma Judge, BP’s head of UK Graduate Resourcing, told Rigzone.
However, part of BP's success in attracting the brightest graduates is down to it taking an active part in courting student interest during their undergraduate years.
"There are often preconceptions that STEM subjects have lost their appeal amongst university students and that, as a result, the energy industry in the UK is suffering from a shortage of graduates with the right mix of skills," said Judge. "However, there is a clear drop off over the three or four years of a university course in the number of students that actually want to work with their degree. This is down to a variety of factors, not least of which is that after three or four years of studying, students who may initially have had a passion for their subject simply begin to look for new and different challenges.
"We believe it is critical that employers play a role in maintaining students’ initial levels of interest in their subjects. To this end, BP is offering over 130 UK students paid internships with BP where we showcase the exciting and rewarding career opportunities that we can offer graduates."
Ultimate Field Trip
In the UK, a major center for the global financial services sector, the attractions of a well-paid career in banking or asset management can be a strong draw for graduates with strong numerical skills, such as engineers, who might have ended up in more practical careers in the energy sector or in industry.
"It is true that BP faces competition from other companies for the best STEM talent, and this is not just limited to other engineering or energy companies, but increasingly from banks, law firms and accountancy firms who also value the special attributes that these candidates have," added Judge.
"Not only do these students have an excellent technical understanding of their subjects, but the way their minds have been trained is also very beneficial to any business they go into – they are logical and analytical and that is a tremendous asset to any employer. If you stripped out the demand from consultants and banks there would be enough STEM talent to go round. Therefore, the challenge for the energy industry is to convince students that we offer a more compelling career choice than working for these other professions."
Among initiatives run by BP that are designed to attract the best graduate talent is the "Ultimate Field Trip" – a competition in which students are presented with a real-world business challenge and asked to come up with a practical solution.
"This year we asked students to come up with a design for a zero carbon dioxide oil refinery," said Judge. "And we will be sending the winners on six-week paid internships to the Gulf of Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, where they will experience first-hand what a career with BP can offer. The initiative has seen a strong response from students, with more than 1500 registrations over the past three years."
Last October, BP also released $2.5 million (GBP 1.6 million) in scholarship funding to UK students, on top of $9.4 million (GBP 5.8 million) that it made available in 2007. From this fund, the firm expects to support up to 450 students on STEM courses over the next few years.
So for now, it appears that the UK oil and gas industry is having no problems recruiting for entry-level positions. But when it comes to finding more experienced talent there are issues.
"We do have some significant shortages and there are skills gaps that are very much an issue for the industry and we are hearing that very strongly from our members," according to Oil & Gas UK's Thom. "There are skills gaps in engineering as there are amongst technicians, but they are at the experienced level: 10-plus years' experience."
Indeed, at the start of April Rigzone reported UK-Norwegian oil junior Bridge Energy's experience that "in pretty much any professional discipline in the oil industry, whether you are in London, Aberdeen, Oslo or Stavanger, the market… is very tight and there's a lot of competition for 10-15 years-qualified geophysicists, geologists, reservoir engineers, production engineers, pretty much any discipline you can name."
OPITO's Boorman backs this up. "A recent OPITO survey recorded that 66 percent of our contractors and 62 percent of our operators were experiencing problems recruiting suitable employees in a range of occupations," she said. "The biggest skill shortage is senior-level engineers in subject areas like project management, control, mechanical, subsea, geologists, geoscientists, reservoir analysis. So … all really senior, experienced roles."
At the technician level, there are shortages of machinists, tool dressers, electricians, instrumentation technicians, welders, and liquid and gas flow metering staff.
"Those types of occupations are seeing real skills shortages and firms are having problems recruiting for those jobs," added Boorman.
One solution has been what Boorman calls "transition training," where experienced technical staff are recruited from other sectors and re-trained for the oil and gas industry.
One example is to target former military personnel.
"The military is ideal," Boorman told Rigzone. "And, we've just done a project here in the North East – a transition training program for recently-redundant [Ministry of Defence] staff and all of them have been placed with oil companies."
Boorman continued: "That's working very well, but we've only touched the surface. We've done a small pilot project that's worked very well and we're keen to scale that."
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