by Jon Mainwaring, Senior Editor, EMEA
Next month will see many companies and professionals involved in the oil and gas industry from Europe and beyond converge in Aberdeen for the biennial Offshore Europe exhibition and conference. Offshore Europe 2015 is the first big oil and gas industry event in Europe since the price of oil collapsed late last year, so it will be a good opportunity to gauge the mood of the European industry.
There was another large European oil and gas expo scheduled for this year. After years of increasingly large attendances, Stavanger’s ONS exhibition and conference managed to attract 91,682 visitors in 2014 – shattering the previous attendance record of 60,000 visitors in 2012. The increased interest in ONS encouraged its organizers to move to an annual event instead of a show every other year as with Offshore Europe. But it wasn’t meant to be. In April, the 2015 ONS Norway show became another casualty of the low oil price.
Still, Offshore Europe 2015 is going ahead and this will be a much-needed forum for the industry to discuss what can be done now to make the UK and Norwegian continental shelves sustainable in a low oil price environment as well as how to make other mature basins in Europe and elsewhere work.
Certainly, the agenda for this year’s Offshore Europe conference suggests that organizers and speakers are looking to adopt a more pragmatic tone than in previous years. A quick look at subject titles for presentations planned for the conference shows that they are peppered with words and phrases such as “challenge”, “maximizing recovery”, “an uncertain global environment” and “how to inspire the next generation”.
This last title – really a question – is an important one. Without the next generation of engineers, geophysicists and other oilfield workers, there won’t be an oil and gas industry in the future. So, the industry needs to keep recruiting while also sponsoring STEM students and providing summer internships to the “wannabe” oil and gas professionals among them.
Companies like BP plc are doing their bit. Only this month, I spoke to a contact at that firm who told me that it still plans to recruit 600 young people from universities this year. However, that figure is well down on the 800-to-1,000 graduates the company took on last year.
Of course, the oil and gas industry has been here before but – given the already negative image that it has among young people (influenced as many of them are by the environmentalist movement) – it cannot afford to make the mistake of failing to recruit and train the next generation of oil and gas workers just because the oil price has taken a hit.
Up until last December’s crash in the price of oil, the message that we at Rigzone were getting from the industry was that there was a significant shortage of talent when it came to experienced oil and gas workers in their late 30s and 40s, meaning that companies were forced to pay ever-greater salaries to older workers who themselves were coming up to retirement.
As a forty-something myself, this resonated with me. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the best engineering universities in the world, but when I graduated in the early 1990s (when the oil price was less than $30 per barrel) I knew of only a handful of my fellow engineering graduates who had secured jobs in the oil and gas industry. Many of my year’s 300-or-so engineering students ended up pursuing careers in electronics, software engineering, the automotive industry and fields completely unrelated to engineering such as investment banking and insurance. Had the oil and gas industry been willing to recruit at that time and bothered to turn up to the university’s graduate recruitment fair, perhaps some of these people would in recent years have been managing oil and gas developments around the world, and the industry’s wage bill wouldn’t have been so costly.
The oil and gas industry should not make that mistake again. Failing to recruit talented young people now will only store up further recruitment headaches for the future.