Oil prices and graduate recruitment

Thanks to Deborah Fowlis (Careers Consultant for Chemical Engineering and the School of Chemistry) for this post giving an update on graduate recruitment in the oil and gas sector.  With falling oil prices there’s been a lot of focus on this sector recently and Deborah’s post gives you the facts about graduate recruitment as well as a six point plan, so this post is essential reading if you’re thinking of a career in this sector – Rebecca

You will be well aware of the Doom and Gloom headlines from the oil industry at the minute – almost weekly, another oil & gas-related company drops more bad news on us. Recenty MacKellar Sub-Sea Ltd went into administration, while drilling contractors KCA Deutag and Talisman Sinopec each announced 200-300 job losses, following on from similar announcements from BP, Shell, Chevron, Wood Group and Conoco Phillips.

Much of the oil left in the North Sea is so difficult and expensive to recover that it may not be worth the investment needed if oil companies can only sell it for $45 a barrel. This doesn’t sound great for anyone considering a career in the oil industry and many companies in the sector have already cut their graduate recruitment by around 10%. Some companies are going much further, for example BP is planning to hire just 80 graduates in 2015, down from 250 in 2012. However all firms do say that they remain committed to developing science & engineering talent and most are recruiting, albeit at a reduced level.

So…… there are SOME jobs in the oil industry, but they are even MORE competitive than they used to be. What can you do to increase your chance of success? Here is a six point plan for those of you affected by the issues:

1. Be the best of the best – you’re already well on the way to this with a degree from the University of Edinburgh, but now you really need to spell it out. So your applications have to be perfect and your performance at interview has to be outstanding. Have a look at the Careers Service advice on applications and interviews plus some specific interview tips from BP (contains good advice for applying to any company).

2. Get noticed – don’t just apply for advertised vacancies. Make contact with companies to find out what their future plans are – use any contacts you have, whether from your work experience, industrial project if you had one or academic members of staff. Send speculative applications to the companies you are really interested in. Use LinkedIn – write a good profile for yourself, follow companies, join groups, make connections and build up your network, ask questions, get discussions going. The Student/Alumni group for Edinburgh University is especially useful for those of you with a profile – you can whittle it down by putting in your degree subject in the “Search this set” box.

3. Some oil roles are more in demand than others, so concentrate on those. While the oil price remains low, available jobs are more likely to be in existing operations and maintenance, bringing already green-lit projects onstream and running existing platforms as efficiently as possible. Andrew Speers of oil recruitment company Petroplan states: “Projects that have been well funded, are well underway and at a production stage are continuing to hire, develop and do business as usual”. The biggest negative impact is likely to be on new projects and exploration so anyone looking for jobs in reservoir engineering, well appraisal and construction will now find things harder – just 2-4 per cent of firms are hiring in these areas, according to a recent report from Oil & Gas UK. See Oil Roles in Demand.

4. Be aware of the skills/knowledge needed for the future. Since the remaining North Sea oil deposits are trickier to extract, companies are using enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies and will need employees who understand them. Also, skills in software and electronics are becoming more important as oil firms develop “digital oil field” technology that ranges from remote-controlled and autonomous underwater vehicles to detailed data analysis. Thirdly, the gradual decline of the North Sea means the area of decommissioning is set to increase, with a third of companies expecting it to create new jobs. Lastly, if onshore shale oil & gas fracking is allowed to proceed in the UK (beyond the current test drilling in England), it could mean a plethora of new opportunities – reservoir, drilling and well engineers and geoscientists would all benefit. The fracked oil and gas currently imported from the USA already provides opportunities for chemical engineers. Environmental issues aside, since the current low North Sea oil prices/decreased recruitment is partly due to the vast amounts of oil & gas imported from the USA fracking industry, it seems right that you might reap some reward from it. Fracking is actually costlier than conventional extraction, so companies will need to carry on pumping to recoup revenue to pay off their start up costs. Therefore, it should be around (in the USA at least) for the next few years.

5. Be geographically mobile – there are many countries where falling prices have not impacted the progress of projects as much as in the UK. Nigeria, Brazil, the Middle East and even Azerbaijan need good engineers. ‘You cannot look at the UK oil and gas industry as just being the North Sea: it has a huge influence around the world servicing and delivering global oil and gas projects,’ said Andrew Speers (Petroplan). “Being mobile, being able to be flexible is really important and accepting the fact that things are tough and you may have to take a job you didn’t quite plan to get to the next step. It’s not always easy to work into the ideal job.”

6.Wait it out – apply to other industries, such as pharmaceutical, food and drink, chemicals, paints, agrochemicals. Gain experience and re-apply to oil when things improve. That might be next year, it might be longer, but these lean times will be unlikely to last forever – we need oil! There will be a large exodus of staff as people retire, so the industry will need 12,000 new entrants over next five years – that’s 2,400 a year (maybe just not this year!). To help with widening your search:
(a) Refresh your knowledge of where other scientists and engineers from your course have gone – see Edinburgh Destinations.
(b) To generate a database of potential leads – Search for your degree on MyCareerHub > More Search Options> Include Expired Opportunities – you will see companies who have advertised in the last couple of years for Edinburgh scientists and engineers.

You can read more about the effect of oil price on graduate recruitment from The Engineer.

One comment

  1. Really useful post Deborah- in response to your “Wait it Out” suggestion, thinking of offering an “Alternatives to oil and gas” panel session as part of this year’s “Careers in Engineering” – with reps from the sectors you suggest i.e. pharma, food and drink etc. Good to give students some live case studies (ideally alumn) Can discuss detail on Thursday? Alison


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