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Careers in the oil and gas industry

If you’ve just graduated or are embarking on the final years of your academic education, it’s likely that you’ll be sparing some thought to what you’re going to do next. If it’s engineering that you’ve studied, it’s also highly likely that you’ve thought about what it would be like to work in the oil and gas industry.


It’s an incredible place to work – with an abundance of opportunities for global travel and no end of technically complex challenges to face as we endeavour to solve some of the world’s greatest energy challenges.


Despite a growing worldwide renewable energy sector, the fact remains that the oil and gas industry will be heavily relied upon to satisfy the world’s escalating demand for energy – and, with a well-publicised ageing workforce, new entrants will need to acquire new skills and establish senior roles more quickly than ever before.


Global opportunities


Oil and gas truly is a global industry and if it’s the opportunity to work anywhere in the world you’re after, then it could be the right place for you! From Aberdeen to Angola; Brisbane to Brazil; Saudi to Singapore – you’re sure to find a climate (and a salary) to suit you as an oil and gas engineer.


While some regions are more difficult than others to secure work in – through political instability, bureaucracy or due to different employment legislation – it’s safe to say that, if your skills are in demand in a certain region, you’ll get work there if you want to. It’s worth speaking to recruitment consultants about different opportunities throughout the world, as they understand what is happening (and where) and can talk you through your options. 


Contract v permanent


At some point in their career, many oil and gas engineers will find themselves deliberating over temporary or permanent assignments. Of course, there are pros and cons with both types of work: higher earning potential for contract roles; a good pension and company car for permanent jobs; variety with contract work; job security with permanent employment.


It’s important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages according to your individual circumstances, but the general advice for new entrants is to secure a permanent role – with the best opportunities for training and development – as soon as possible after graduation, waiting until practical skills and experience have been acquired before considering contract work.


An interesting observation made by consultants at NES Global Talent throughout the recession was a preference among oil and gas companies for permanent workers. Allowing greater control over restricted budgets, as well as a reduced overall cost of labour and a more accurate estimation of required labour spend, this presented challenges for contract workers who found themselves having to consider permanent opportunities or miss out – another reason to "play it safe” with permanent work at the start of your career.


Recession resistance?


It’s no secret that, for some industries, the effects of a global economic crisis have been much more detrimental than others. Retail, construction and manufacturing have suffered considerably and the world could be forgiven for thinking that the oil and gas industry has had it easy – no mass-layoffs, restructuring or redundancies and still announcing huge profits – but this isn’t the case.


Contrary to popular belief, the recession didn’t bypass the oil and gas industry – during 2009 a multitude of cost-cutting measures was implemented throughout the industry, with a reduction in the volume of design work and therefore fewer opportunities for design engineers arising. That said, exploration work continued and the development of new fields heightened demand for petroleum engineers.


Common misconceptions


The market is certainly picking up as the final quarter of 2011 appears on the horizon, and there’s an abundance of opportunities within the oil and gas industry for suitably qualified technical and engineering personnel. New entrants shouldn’t be under any illusion that securing such opportunities will be a breeze though – experience is key, and it can often be a "catch 22” situation for jobseekers.


Vigilance has been crucial over the past year; each vacancy has been justified and justified again before being advertised. Like many other industries, there’s hope for a more positive 2012 as markets improve, but caution is often shown towards hiring less experienced professionals ahead of their more knowledgeable peers.


Similarly, while "Gen Y” applicants are admired for their determination and enthusiasm, they’re also criticised for their assumption that a degree is their golden ticket to a sky-high salary and all the perks under the sun – it isn’t!


Graduates with the greatest potential for developing a successful oil and gas career are those who understand that graduation is the start of their journey, not the end – and that showing initiative, being able to learn from others (quickly!) and working with team members towards a shared goal – will help to develop a reputation for excellence within the oil and gas community.


A bright future?


For newly qualified engineers, the oil and gas industry offers a wealth of opportunities like no other. Hard work, a desire to solve problems and determination to help meet the increasing global demand for energy are all required by those looking to establish themselves. And if you’re prepared for that, you’ll reap the rewards!


Next steps? Of course your qualifications must meet certain standards if you’re to work with the best: study hard; be inquisitive; seek the support of your peers, relatives and teachers; and develop a network of people who can help you to meet your goal. Gain relevant work experience as soon as you can – a university sandwich course is ideal – and consider post-graduate qualifications too (a Masters will always impress potential employers).


Then take advantage of recruiters, employment services and, of course, the Internet – to find out whatever you can about where you want to work, the people you need to meet and the skills that you need to refine to get a slice of the action.

Article by Matthew Halle - Recruitment Manager at NES Global Talent