Russ Thorne pinpoints lucrative challenges in oil and gas

The challenges facing the oil and gas industry come in all shapes and sizes, from the search for sustainable technologies to the increased number of icebergs threatening North Sea drilling operations.

All need solutions, so those students looking to gain postgraduate qualifications in the field could find their skills in demand once they graduate.

“The industry is currently going through a period of unprecedented change with thousands of new jobs likely to be created over the coming years,” explains Sarah Beacock FEI, professional affairs director of the Energy Institute (, the professional body for the industry. “Taking on these challenges requires well-qualified scientists and engineers with a holistic approach to identifying sustainable solutions.”

Universities offering relevant courses include Coventry (MSc in oil and gas management), Aberdeen (MSc in energy futures and MSc in oil and gas enterprise management), Cranfield (MSc in offshore and ocean technology and MSc in welding engineering) and the Robert Gordon University (MSc qualifications in drilling and well engineering, petroleum production engineering and oil and gas engineering).

As with other professional industries (such as engineering or accountancy) many courses are accredited by an industry body, such as the Energy Institute, which moves students closer to chartered status when they complete their studies. “Membership of a professional body is a valuable asset,” says Beacock. “It provides immediate opportunities for networking and keeping skills up to date to support your career.”

See for a list of accredited courses in the UK.

In addition to technical roles, there will also be the need for managerial and business-focused personnel, meaning MBA qualifications could be attractive options for students. For example, Robert Gordon University (RGU) offers an MBA in oil and gas management that aims to enhance the skills of those already working in the industry. “Graduates leave with a qualification which will truly enhance their employability,” says Madeleine Marcella, from the RGU business school. “Many of our courses have been developed in direct response to industry demand.”

To be accepted onto a course, students will generally need a first degree in a related subject, such as geography, geology or engineering; for MBAs, relevant professional experience is also required. Courses can be full- or part-time over one or two years, depending on the institution, with some distance learning options. Teaching is split between theoretical and practical work (which may include both lab and field work); assessment can combine taught modules, group work and individual projects. Again, the exact make-up of courses varies between providers.

What doesn’t vary is the wide range of careers open to graduates. Technical options might include petroleum engineer, drilling engineer or asset integrity manager, while project management and operational roles might beckon on the business side. And because the future will have to be greener, new courses addressing sustainability are being launched to provide further roles for qualified postgrads.

“We have a new offshore renewables postgraduate course starting in January 2013,” says Carolyn Shelley from RGU. “Students will gain an understanding of the physical, technological, economic and environmental aspects of renewable energy sources, and of their present and potential future role in energy supply systems.”

To find one of those roles, applicants will need technical and theoretical knowledge, but the additional skills acquired on a postgrad course will also help attract employers. “Those with skills in communication, leadership and management, who are suited for project-based working, will be attractive,” says Beacock. “It’s an industry where team work and an understanding of social and environmental responsibilities are rewarded.”

“Postgraduate study gives you an edge,” adds Marcella. “Most courses still have a group-work element so students can learn from other students’ experiences and (as well as the skills learned during their studies) gain enterprise and time-management skills.”

Whether they specialise in the technical or management sphere, students will find that a postgraduate qualification in oil and gas can offer them powerful career prospects and a chance to make a difference. “People who want to do a worthwhile job, earn a good living and even have ambitions to travel the world can find opportunities in the energy industry,” concludes Beacock.

“The industry is seeing something of a revolution and there’s no better time to investigate the possibilities and shape the future for yourself and the world.”