While recent price volatility has taken some urgency out of the debate around the skills gap that affects the upstream industry, the fact remains that the industry still needs to find a new generation of engineers to fuel future growth.
We sat down with Angelina Bingley, Director of Admissions, Recruitment and Marketing for the University of East Anglia (UEA) to look at how change in the Higher Education (HE) sector is helping to close the gap.
What changes are you seeing when it comes to educating engineers in general?
To start, I think it’s really important to note that the upstream oil industry isn’t the only engineering sector that is looking at a skills gap – either due to growth or an older generation moving on. Engineers are in short supply globally and across multiple sectors.
The shortage is driving increasing engagement with industry across the HE sector. That engagement is good for students and good for industry. Industry sectors help to shape the talent they need and students get more insight and practical experience in a world where being “book smart” is no longer enough.
Are you seeing moves from the upstream industry in particular?
We’re extremely lucky at UEA to have counted on the support of the upstream oil and gas industry for many years, including EEEGR and a number of local businesses who have varying levels of interaction with us. That’s partly reflective of our location – being so close to the Southern North Sea’s engineering houses and service companies. However, I think it’s also reflective of the wider need I mentioned earlier – businesses are increasingly aware of a competitive advantage they can gain from training and accessing new talent. It is fantastic to see how our engineering school has become the glue that binds such a positive relationship.
What do you think the future holds for engineering in the HE sector?
Change is sweeping the sector as a whole – both globally and in the UK. Universities are increasingly tasked with providing a great experience but also producing fully rounded and employable graduates – and we should be clear that the vast majority of HE institutions are very good at both of those things. So in part, I think we’ll see ever-deeper links with industry but we’ll also see universities start to differentiate themselves based on those industry links and relationships. Access to industry experts can make a profound difference to a student’s ability to understand the reality of the workplace. We are already seeing that differentiation start to happen with some institutions making industry engagement and input a core part of their offer.
How do you think students benefit from changes likes the ones you describe?
As I mentioned, it’s really about a more rounded graduate and one that benefits from a real-world view of their subject. Simple things can make a profound difference too – for instance, Claxton’s engineers recently presented to some new applicants about their careers and interests within the sector. There’s no substitute for insight like that because the experience of being an offshore engineer is something a classroom can’t emulate.
It is often the case that the breadth of an industry is hidden from the outside too. The concepts of all the things that involve engineering across the life of an oil field are really hard to get across without someone who’s lived and breathed them – which is why having companies like Claxton and your peers being willing to get involved in educating a new generation is so valuable.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia