Carla Riddell, a geologist and co-chairwoman of the Energy Network, discusses how students can grab opportunities to gain first-hand experience and boost employment prospects.
For any student considering their next move, the first step onto the career ladder is a big one. When I was studying geology, I was very fortunate that there was an active energy industry and experienced role models to guide where I wanted my qualifications to take me.
Today however, with a UK oil and gas industry battling against a lower oil price and a hangover from rising costs, that step into the energy sector is wider than it has been for a long time.
Today’s students need to counter that by setting themselves apart from the crowd, and adding diversity to their CV as much as possible is a great way to raise their spirits.
Equally, the recent tough times for the energy sector have also left many graduates questioning whether a move into the oil and gas business would be the right first step. With the challenges the industry is facing, however, it is more important than ever that fresh talent sees a future and wants to help solve the industry’s problems.
From both the industry and the young graduates’ perspective, there’s a lot to gain from getting to know each other better and students should jump at any opportunity to make connections and experience more of the future of working in oil and gas.
With these challenges in mind, a couple of weeks ago I led a trip to the Highlands with a group of 35 students studying Oil and Gas Enterprise at Aberdeen University. While facing the elements in the north of Scotland, the trip also gave the students something else – a rare glimpse into the geology of the oil fields around Scotland’s coastline, which can be traced from the beaches of Rossshire right out to the fields in the Moray Firth.
More importantly, it also offered firsthand experience of how engineering and the oil and gas industry has benefited the region. We viewed the enterprise and diversification that’s leading to a hive of activity in the fabrication yards at Nigg and the busy Invergordon port, next to rigs stacked in the Cromarty Firth – a reminder of the challenges the industry faces, but also a taste of the sheer scale of the sector, and the future opportunities as those rigs are refurbished or ultimately decommissioned.
And the UK’s oil and gas industry does have a long future ahead of it, needing the sort of talent that our universities are producing. At last count, there were up to 20billion barrels of oil and gas still to be recovered, and with the right talent in the sector I’m confident we can maximise the potential of the existing fields and prospects we have.
Beyond the years of production, the industry will be decommissioning the 400-plus platforms and rigs and 10,000km of pipelines in UK waters – a fresh challenge that requires the enterprising thinking the next generation offers.
But one of the most important lessons learned on our trip to Cromarty is that a career in oil and gas doesn’t narrow your options, it opens them up. Before heading home, we went behind the scenes of one of the north of Scotland’s other top industries – whisky. A trip to the Balblair distillery meant we were able to learn more about fractional distillation – exactly the same process used in oil refining – and that producing Scotland’s most famous liquids is a matter of application of skill to natural resources.