Peak Oil and the Skills Shortage: A Student’s Perspective

When people consider the petroleum industry, a lot of misconceptions arise. I find this particularly when asked why I am preparing to work in the industry. Common insinuation is that the industry will not offer professionals like me a job, let alone a career. In the past, the perception was that production had approached its peak. Whatever the truth of that (and it is certainly debated), it doesn’t seem to be the core problem the industry must tackle. That, rather, appears to be the well-advanced average age of the industry’s skilled professionals around the globe and the deficient influx of young professionals to replace them as they leave the workforce. When fear of diminishing oil and gas resources gives way to qualms about a growing skills shortage, it amounts to a paradigm shift.

We often neglect history and what it teaches us about the industry. While the 19th century saw advancement in transportation and power generation, the early 20th century witnessed the shift to fossil fuels as the principal source of industrial and transportation energy. The technological innovation achieved in the latter half of the 20th century has made it viable to extract oil from hundreds of smaller finds that would have been uneconomic in the past.

Educators in our day are reaching the ends of the careers, much the same as their counterparts in the industry. Both sectors require at least short-term rejuvenation. But instead, the situation is producing a great battle between them as engineers lured to the industry make it harder for the universities to hire the expert faculty needed to teach and prepare new engineers. No doubt the industry and academic institutions must forge closer links to face these challenges and encourage professionals seeking further opportunities by shifting from the industry to academia or vice versa to do so but quite possibly to see them return some years later with an emanating fervor.

There are numerous dimensions to this kind of strategic planning. Young professionals can work on ingenious ideas to change the perception of the industry. Research and academia would maintain their standards by collaborating with industry personnel, and this would facilitate industry influence on the research and technology development. Finally, it is equally important to establish a unified plan addressing the social and economic implication of an unfavorable downturn in the industry.

Christopher Trzeciak is a junior student in the petroleum engineering department at the University of Adelaide, Australia. He is the President of the university’s SPE Student Chapter and serves as a committee member on the SPE South Australian Section Board.