Qualified workforce shortage in the oil and gas industry

The shale gas industry, despite a few hiccups here and there, is moving forward in Europe. Of course, the situation is nowhere near what’s been achieved by the USA, but they do have years of experience, exploratory drills and long research to back their current shale gas production. However, we shouldn’t think that just because it’s not happening now, it’s not going to happen at all. It will obviously take time, planning, relevant regulations and considerations regarding execution (for example Europe is much more densely populated and this needs to be addressed when searching for shale) but the right conditions are there – the industry is growing. And not only is it growing but already suffering from shortages of qualified people.

According to last year’s research by ManpowerGroup, the fourth hardest vacancy to fill in Europe was a technician (in Poland, technicians ranked eighth but engineers, second). According to Commodity Appointments, who specialise in commodity sector talent acquisition, the lack of trained workforce means that it can take months to fill a vacancy.

Who will replace the retiring baby-boomers?

One of the big problems for the industry might be the fact that the baby-boomers are now preparing to retire and yet they outnumber the people who might be able to replace them. This could be most problematic in countries with very large oil and gas industries, so it would seem that it’s the best time to train or re-train and look for work in this field. According to Commodity Appointments: “It has long been recognised there is an entire generation of professionals missing from the oil & gas industry. Bluntly there is a lack of 40 - 50 year olds to replace the retiring baby boomers. Oil & Gas is also one of the few industries where people in their 50’s are highly sought after. You don’t entrust a 35 year old with a project costing billions of dollars. Engineering is not an especially popular degree as it is technically difficult. Moreover the cultural shift in the West to the growing environmentalist stance means the oil & gas industry does not always appeal to the younger demographic although we would argue this is changing.”

What’s a young engineer to do?

Keeping all of the above in mind, what’s the best course of action for someone with an engineering degree but not much experience? Commodity Appointments’ advice is to “Go where the action is. i.e. Middle East, onshore USA, Australia (until recently), Brazil”. And once you have your foot in the door, it’s worth remembering that “Most employers take a degree of comfort hiring someone who has begun their career in a supermajor such as Shell, Exxon, BP, Conoco, etc.”

The importance of continuous training and learning should be stressed here. The industry changes and grows, while innovations are sought constantly to improve company performance - business representatives attend seminars and conferences (like the CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE SHALE GAS SUMMIT) to build new relationships and learn about recent developments in the industry. Learning new ways of doing things might not be such a big deal but it would seem that “Exxon and Shell are usually held up as the standard bearers for the industry in terms of ongoing professional development. Statoil as well.” The right degree is just the beginning for someone willing to keep learning. But the training is the first, most important step in this growing industry.

The right degree

So what should the European school-leavers decide to study, if they wish to be a part of this growing market? What should students concentrate on? And what skills should engineers and other graduates hone and polish to land good positions? Especially since the UK is planning a new National College for oil and gas, banking on the development of the industry in the country and abroad. According to Redcar & Cleveland College, they are working with Tees Valley Unlimited to create a new £7.4m oil and gas academy on its campus.

So when it comes to the most valuable degrees, Commodity Appointments commented: “In our experience: chemical and mechanical engineering at undergraduate level. At a higher level: petroleum engineering specific MSc or PhD. At a certain level it is difficult to go any higher without gaining Chartered Engineer status (Professional Engineer in the USA).”

Looking ahead

We can see that the growing shale gas business - in the Americas and Europe – might soon be really suffering from a serious qualified workforce shortage. What’s more, according to ManpowerGroup and Commodity Appointments it’s already quite hard to fill vacancies in the energy sector, so maybe the Redcar & Cleveland College have the right idea in planning a new academy? However, how quickly can we train – and train well – the much needed workforce?

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February 2015

June 2017