Looking brighter

28.06.2017
Things seemed very bleak when Marie Hilander Gjerde applied to study petroleum technology in 2015. “There wasn’t much positive feedback,” she admits. Today, she is buoyant about her job prospects.

| Alf Inge Molde and Monica Larsen (photos)

Confident. Petroleum technology student Marie Hilander Gjerde at the University of Stavanger is working hard to get the best possible marks, and has taken on the job of Petroil chair. She believes the job market will look a lot better in two-three years.

Confident.
Petroleum technology student Marie Hilander Gjerde at the University of Stavanger is working hard to get the best possible marks, and has taken on the job of Petroil chair. She believes the job market will look a lot better in two-three years.

 

Now chair of Petroil, the association for petroleum engineering students at the University of Stavanger (UiS), Gjerde got little parental encouragement when she chose this course.

Both her mother, a nurse, and her father in the oil service business worried about the impact of the petroleum industry downturn and thought nursing would be a much safer path to follow.

Two years later, it is still too early to decide how sensible her decision has been. Several classmates are privately thinking of shifting to mechanical engineering.

But Gjerde remains convinced that she picked the right option. Although the labour market in Norway’s petroleum sector is by no means off the sick list, she feels improvements can be seen.

“I’ve been in contact with a number of companies who’re taking a positive view. Statoil is also launching a number of projects in the next two-three years. And the retirement bulge facing the industry will create vacancies. We’re going to be needed.”

 

Vanished

More than 40 000 jobs have vanished in Norway’s oil sector since 2014, and hardly a week has passed without new headlines on downsizing and gloomy prospects.

That outlook has also been reflected in declining interest in university-level petroleum studies. After three years of falling enrolments, however, the decline appears to be flattening out.

Overall, applications this year are down by a further 7.5 per cent from 2016 for a three-year engineering BSc, and 16.2 per cent for maritime subjects. But figures for a five-year engineering MSc have risen by 0.4 per cent.

Three years ago, the UiS had four applicants for every place on its BSc courses in petroleum technology. Almost everyone who applies gets in today.

Øysten Lund Bø, dean of the UiS science and technology faculty, is pleased that the fall in petroleum engineering applications has slowed. They were down four per cent from 2016.

Optimist. Dean Øystein Lund Bø in the science and technology faculty at the University of Stavanger wishes the oil industry was a bit readier to make a commitment to young people – even in tough times.
<< Optimist.
Dean Øystein Lund Bø in the science and technology faculty at the University of Stavanger wishes the oil industry was a bit readier to make a commitment to young people – even in tough times.

 

Upturn

But the UiS is also seeing more applicants for the BSc in petroleum geology and the five-year MSc in petroleum technology related to industrial economics.

The biggest increase has been for the courses on offshore technology, industrial technology and operations management, where numbers applying were up no less than 68.9 per cent.

Overall, petroleum- and offshore- oriented MSc programmes experienced a rise of 7.4 per cent. The UiS is also seeing an increase in foreign applications.

Bø is hearing that changed acceptance criteria may be reflected in other types of questions being asked in lectures than before, which also exposes a slightly different starting point.

He nevertheless maintains that the quality of the petroleum courses and the students who graduate is high. The star candidates are still there.

However, he admits that new entrants collectively display a rather wider span of initial knowledge. That poses demands for the UiS in lifting the overall level during the period of study.

 

Secure

Lise Lyngsnes Randeberg, president of the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals (Tekna), believes those who have opted for petroleum technology studies can look forward to a secure career.

“Norway’s going to need petroleum expertise for a long time to come,” she emphasises. “We are a world leader in this area, which must be maintained and further developed.

“At the same time, we face a change of generations as many of those who joined the industry when it first blossomed begin to retire. We need renewal.”

And this is more than talk, she maintains. After several years of sharp growth in the number of cases related to downsizing and restructuring, the union’s lawyers are now dealing with more issues relating to contracts of employment. The change has been particularly clear since Christmas.

 

Effect

The same effect is being seen by Norway’s Labour and Welfare Service (NAV), reports Johannes Sørbø, senior adviser and labour market expert there.

For the first time in several years, the number of unemployed engineers and ICT specialists has declined over the first quarter of 2017.

Two factors appear to account for this – fewer redundancies in the oil and gas industry and more people securing a job, although the NAV cannot say exactly where.

“The signs are that they’re finding work outside the oil and gas sector,” Sørbø says. “We know this industry isn’t doing much recruitment at the moment.”

 

Sorry

Bø is confident of the job market facing students starting petroleum courses this autumn. But he feels sorry for those who fought for a place when they were hard to get, and who are now unemployed.

He wishes that the oil sector would think more counter-cyclically. “Students who’ve graduated to the dole queue in recent years meet very high quality standards.”

 

Classroom

In any event, Gjerde still has three years in the classroom before she has completed her BSc and MSc courses and will be ready to look for work.

Like her fellow students, she is working hard to gain good marks – and hoping that voluntary posts like chairing Petroil will count in her favour.

Her dream is a job with Statoil, but she knows she has to compete with many others who have a similar education and several years of experience.

“It makes me a bit nervous,” she admits. “But I hope some people will also see the favourable side of us new graduates – that we’re positive and innovative. They need young people, too.”

 

Upturn. The University of Stavanger has recorded more applicants for its BSc in petroleum geology and five-year MSc study in petroleum technology related to industrial economics.

Upturn.
The University of Stavanger has recorded more applicants for its BSc in petroleum geology and five-year MSc study in petroleum technology related to industrial economics.