Liberal Arts Majors Could Be Asset for Oil, Gas Training

By Karen Boman

The skills that English and other liberal arts majors gain in college could enhance the training in the oil and gas industry, an energy industry official told Rigzone.

The ability to analyze themes and characters could be useful in making information in training accessible and relatable, said Phil Black, who works as the environmental group manager for Wood Group Mustang and runs the non-profit group Urban Business Initiative (UBI), which helps survivors of domestic violence and refugees start businesses.

Black, who has been involved with the non-profit since 2003, uses the training in the non-profit as a way to try out new, out of the box training methods that could be included in corporate training. He has found that roleplaying – or skits in which people enact scenarios in which they’re trying to sell their businesses – to be an effective tool in training, and more fun than just a training reading off a Power Point presentation. He’s used this same type of training for environmental engineers.

Black believes that a presentation should tell a story, and while he hasn’t heard about any oil and gas companies hiring English or liberal arts majors as trainers, he thinks people with these non-traditional oil and gas backgrounds have communication skills could be effective in training employees.

Other non-traditional training approaches that Black has used at UBI include comedians teaching small business owners skills through improvisation. Black’s next project: figuring out a way for dance instructors to teach accounting and finance to non-profit participants. He’s basing the idea on the fact that money flows in accounting.

Students with fine arts degrees also could play a role in oil and gas training by enhancing technical layouts with graphic design. While major oil and gas companies have these resources, smaller companies, particularly engineering companies, could benefit from the skills that fine arts majors have, said Black.

Rising college costs, coupled with the long recovery of the U.S. economy that’s made it difficult for college graduates to find jobs, has raised questions about whether getting a liberal arts degree today is worth it. In February, the New York Times reported that liberal arts students found it difficult to find jobs compared with students who came to employees with technical skills already developed through college degrees or specialized internships.

The need for STEM graduates – or college students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – has been a topic of discussion in the oil and gas industry. In April, the American Petroleum Institute reported that the United States will need to increase the number of STEM graduates to ensure the nation has the workforce its needs to maintain its global energy leadership.

UK-based oil and gas specialist recruiter WRS reported recently that STEM graduates will be needed in the oil and gas industry in order for the industry to tap the resources needed to meet global energy consumption, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates will rise by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040.

“While many industries are now contending with shortages of experts in STEM specialties, there really are none more so than the oil and gas industry, which has historically been one of boom and bust,” said Dan Saleh, oil and gas recruitment specialist with WRS.

While the need for subsea engineers and other college graduates in oil and gas is clear, liberal arts graduates do find jobs in the oil and gas industry in areas such as sales, contracts, marketing, public relations, business operations, and risk management. This is particularly true of students who go on to obtain a graduate degree, said Laura Short, assistant director of programming and marketing for career services at San Antonio-based Trinity University, in a statement to Rigzone. Liberal arts graduates of Trinity have gone on to work in marketing and contracts and in contract administration.

In January, the Association of American Colleges and Universities responded to concerns by parents and students about whether college was worth it and if a liberal arts degree prepared students for long-term employment and career success. In their study, ACCU and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found that, at the peak earning ages of 56 to 60, workers who major in humanities or social sciences as undergraduates earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields.

The study, which analyzed public use files from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2010 and 2011, also found that many liberal arts and sciences majors who obtain graduate and professional degrees experience a significant boost in earnings. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in humanities or social sciences who hold graduate or professional degrees experience, on average, a yearly boost in earnings of almost $20,000. While the unemployment rates for recent liberal arts graduates is 5.2 percent, the unemployment rate for workers aged 41 to 50 who hold liberal arts degrees is 3.5 percent, just .04 percent higher than rates for those with a professional or pre-professional degree.

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