“We have been actively working with universities to help place graduates in the oil industry since 1997,” says Deirdre O’Donnell, Managing Director of specialist oil industry recruitment company, Working Smart. “This has involved running career days and workshops on university campuses, helping students write CVs and letters and providing information and interview technique advice. We took this a step further with the Graduate Career Centre, at the PETEX Conference and Exhibition in London in November 2010.”
The idea was first suggested for PETEX 2008, but although many of the universities approached were enthusiastic, it proved difficult to secure the sponsorship needed from oil and service companies to go ahead with the idea in the timeframe available. “In 2008 with recession looming and the economic situation declining dramatically, graduate intake was not seen as a high priority by companies,” Deirdre concludes. “We were disappointed, but not really surprised – in 1999 when the oil price plummeted, the oil industry had reacted in the same short-sighted way - hence the major skill gap in the market today.”
Deirdre, with the backing of the Petroleum Society of Great Britain (PESGB), which organises PETEX, was determined to see a Graduate Recruitment Centre at the 2010 conference, where graduates or soonto- be graduates would be able to learn about, meet and even have interviews with potential employers in the industry.
Introducing the industry
“We approached a wide range of people involved with the conference, and feedback was very positive about encouraging students to attend,” she continues. “Exhibitors welcomed their presence, aware that for many students this could be their first proper introduction to the oil and gas industry, which often gets negative coverage in the press. Our survey in 2006 showed that, for first degree graduates studying oil related degrees such as geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering, only 24% took up jobs in our industry, with 52% taking jobs elsewhere. Attending PETEX would give graduates a chance to realise the wide range of employment opportunities available, not just to those from the geosciences, but from many other disciplines. Many mathematics students, for example, have little idea of the number and range of jobs available to them in both the technical and business side of the oil industry.”
When Working Smart approached universities and lecturers to talk about the 2010 Career Centre, they were met with enthusiasm, and eventually more than 370 undergraduates and post-graduates from twelve of the UK’s top geoscience and engineering institutions attended. As Roger Clark, Senior Geophysics Lecturer at the University of Leeds, said “Our students clearly considered it worth getting up at 5 this morning for! We overfilled the coach and some had to take the train.”
Working Smart found the attitude of potential employers, however, somewhat different. “When we approached large oil exploration companies and offered them access to this pool of talent through sponsorship of the event, they thought it was a good idea in principle but actual commitment was lacking,” Deirdre says. “Many companies said they either had no graduate programmes in place, could satisfy their requirements through advertising, did not have the budget (though the cost was very low) or due to tight work commitment were only looking for experienced staff and did not have the time to support and mentor graduates.”
Undeterred, Working Smart decided to extend their search to small-to-medium-sized oil companies and some major service companies, and were delighted by the response. With less bureaucracy, greater budget flexibility and a more long-term view, a number of companies were quick to see the advantages of the Graduate Career Centre. The eventual line-up was a mixture of large and small: oil companies ExxonMobil, GDF-Suez, Hess and Afren with the service sector represented by CGGVeritas, PGS and ffA, in addition to Working Smart and the PESGB.
“Having secured sufficient sponsors, we set to work creating online functionality for the students attending the event to register their academic background, work experience, skills, interests, competencies and expectations via our Graduate Smart website. This allowed sponsors to screen all attending students online and pre-select those they wished to talk to or interview before the event. CVs, Interview Schedules and notifications were all accessible online. CGGVeritas, for example, pre-selected 39 candidates for interviews across a variety of roles and we understand that they are seriously considering ten candidates for employment on graduation.”
The Graduate Careers Centre was busy throughout the three days of the conference – in fact, one of the few complaints made was that participants would have preferred a larger amount of space, as the Centre, which included booths for sponsors, a reception area, two interview rooms and a networking area, was often quite crowded. “Everyone who participated saw a lot of value from this event,” says Deirdre. “We undertook some research afterwards and established that all the companies involved said they would sponsor again, and two thirds expect to make job offers to students they interviewed. In fact ffA have already recruited a recent graduate they interviewed during PETEX, who started work in January.”
“It’s been fabulous,” Karen Reid, Senior Recruitment Adviser for CGGVeritas, commented in feedback to Working Smart. “Our Managers were very impressed with the calibre of the students and the event gave us access to several hundred high quality students we would not otherwise have been able to contact.” Geoffrey Bent, Geologist – Exploration North Africa said: ‘Hess found the graduate careers centre at Petex an excellent tool for raising awareness of our company among the undergraduate and graduate community, and promoting energy industry careers to students at some of the UK’s top geoscience Universities.’
David Nicholson, HR Director for PGS Reservoir said “we would definitely do it again. It was a singularly good opportunity to promote PGS, and a most worthwhile exercise”.
Working Smart also researched the students who participated, and received some excellent feedback on their perception of the event, with the majority stating that it provided a great opportunity to connect with potential employers and to learn of the industry players. In fact, 92% of the graduates said they would like to see more of these events. Their comments included: “invaluable for learning about different oil companies and for making contacts within the Industry;” “the career centre and the organised interviews were a great opportunity;” and “events like PETEX offer a good insight into the oil industry which new professionals are going to join tomorrow. It is like peeping out of a window for a brilliant future.”
The universities were equally pleased with their attendance at PETEX, with Professor Jonathan Redfern saying “The University of Manchester, one of the largest petroleum geoscience research and teaching centres in the UK, sent nearly 50 students to PETEX, as we think it’s very important for the students to get exposure to professionals from industry, and for industry to see how many quality students there are out there looking for jobs. Maybe events like this will encourage a step-jump in approach and a return to increased graduate employment as a key investment both in the students and the future prospectivity of the industry in the UK. Without quality and experienced staff, all the advanced software in the world is no more than a computer game in the wrong hands!”
Key message And that is a key message that Deirdre is very keen to get across to the industry, and in particular to the major oil companies. “On the back of the success of this venture, we want to address the industry challenges in recruitment – the “big crew change”, as it has been described. We are planning more events at national and international level and various organisations have approached us with a view to hosting similar graduate career centres.”
“But to engage successfully with the next generation of young graduates, to entice them into the industry, a lot more support is needed from those already involved. Before the PETEX event, we approached over 200 companies: only seven committed to participating. The industry also needs to be actively involved with the universities; there is no excuse for graduates not to have access to the technology in use today. And not only at MSc and Ph.D. level – companies should be concerned at undergraduate level too. A more proactive, coherent approach is needed from the industry with all players rising to the challenge.” “Hopefully, 2011 is the year this will happen,” Deirdre O’Donnell concludes. “We as an industry have talked about it long enough! Time for action!”
Read Deirdre’s article ‘Replenishing the Petroleum Workforce’ in GeoExpro Vol. 7, No. 5.