The prolonged downturn in commodity price that started in the summer of 2014 has seen more than 350,000 people globally lose their jobs in the oil and gas industry to date. However, as BP’s mantra ‘lower for longer’ evolves into Shell’s phrase ‘lower forever’ and we adapt to the reality of working with an oil price around $50 per barrel, signs of recovery are beginning to occur.
The US shale sector, with its relatively low operational expenditure and rapid rig up time, has led that revival, and it is expected that deep water projects will follow in time. In the North Sea, Oil and Gas UK recently said average unit operating costs had halved to $15 per barrel since 2014.
However, the anticipated increase in activity is matched by concerns over how and where the industry will find the recruits required to fuel a resurgence, either through attracting former employees back or encouraging young people to join.
Attempts to attract new employees can be hampered by negative perceptions of oil and gas in some parts of the world. This challenge was reinforced recently by a poll from EY among 1,200 consumers and 100 industry executives in the US. Held in the first quarter of this year, the US Oil and Gas Perception poll found that only 26% of Generation Z, aged 16-19, and 45% of millennials, aged 20-35, without a set career path found jobs in the industry appealing. A surprising 39% of teenagers ranked it as ‘very unappealing’.
Two out of three believed the industry causes problems rather than solving them and just 36% thought it had a positive impact on communities. Furthermore, most of the younger generation saw oil and gas jobs as blue collar, dangerous and physically demanding and just 39% thought it provided long-term financial stability.
Such assumptions do not extend to every corner of the world, but one could argue that a perception challenge towards the benefits of working in oil and gas does exist within societies in Western Europe and North America.
As an industry, our efforts to promote the positive and exciting aspects of our job have often fallen short of convincing the wider public of the crucial role oil and gas plays in sustaining the global economy and modern life. As a result, compared to other industries, we do have to work harder to recruit for some roles. Maybe we take for granted the technical achievements that many companies make to overcome ever more complex challenges, and which often astound the outside world when it hears of them.
For example, we have to remind people that the days of the oil rig as a dirty and inhospitable place are no longer the norm. New generation rigs are equipped with increased automation, digitalisation, highly sophisticated control rooms and a safe and clean environment with a near person-less rig floor. It is important they also recognise our status as a global industry that fuels the world, offering the opportunity to work and travel in many locations, providing highly rewarding long-term career and personal development benefits.
To attract new talent we have to reach out to it at the earliest opportunity. Following its success at Offshore Europe (OE) in 2015, Expro has once again committed to OE 2017’s Inspire schools engagement programme, working with young people from 13-14 and from 15-17. This is an excellent way for them to test their perceptions, learn more about oil and gas and hear about the genuinely exciting career opportunities that exist. We were hugely impressed by the enthusiasm and willingness to engage from pupils and teachers last time round and look forward to an equally enthusiastic response from the schools this time.
Having excited and alerted potential industry recruits to the opportunities in oil and gas, it’s the responsibility of individual companies to retain that talent and to maintain continuous engagement with it. Many companies, including our own, have established comprehensive and structured development programmes which give motivated individuals the opportunity to multi-skill and realise their ambitions. As an example, our employee development programme supports the growth of everyone, from graduates and technicians to management, and these are tailored to each individual’s aspirations. This culture of looking after our people is core to our values of people, partnership and performance.
In return, the industry looks to attract people that can enhance a culture of self motivation, drive and determination, with openness to adaptability and a desire for personal development.
One such person is subsea engineer Chris Stewart, 26, who joined us for a week’s work experience at 14, subsequently undertook summer placements during his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and is now a member of our group engineering division – recently becoming a chartered engineer. He is also a member of the Aberdeen Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Young Professionals board and is actively involved in giving back his time to the industry through a range of educational initiatives.
Another good example is Donald Horsfall, 32, who joined us as a trainee well test technician in 2007, worked his way to operations manager before moving across product lines to become regional product line manager for our Wireless Well Solutions business in Europe. His passion to learn and succeed has driven a strong career path in several disciplines, across multiple technologies – something our industry has demanded more in recent years.
Importantly, those in the EY poll concerned about the impact of oil and gas on communities should consider the vast strides the industry has taken over the years to improve its QHSE record, and the active part the sector is playing in the transition to low and no carbon energy adoption. They should be encouraged to think of energy in its entirety, and of how they can help the oil and gas industry continue to improve its environmental record from within, rather than watching (or judging) it from the side lines. After all, some of the technology developments in offshore wind have come from solutions deployed within oil and gas, specifically steel jacket structures as opposed to concrete monopiles.
From a technical perspective in the UK, initiatives from organisations such as the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, the Oil and Gas Authority, ITF, Oil and Gas Innovation Centre and the SPE (to name a few) are focused on identifying new solutions. Far from being a dying industry, oil and gas will continue to reinvent itself, overcome ever greater technical challenges and carry on doing amazing things, whether that is in new areas such as frontier exploration and abandonment or in simply getting better at the things we have always done.
In his opening address at OE 2015, Professor Brian Cox, who came from the nuclear power sector, said he had never come across an industry that apologised for itself as much as oil and gas, and that we should be proud of our achievements. He was right. It’s time that we made our next generation more aware of our success, if they are to be part of our future.
Alistair Geddes is executive vice president of Expro.