University of Houston (UH) engineering students took advantage of the Society of Underwater Technology-Subsea Engineering Society (SUT-SES) mock interview event held recently at the UH student center. Oil & gas recruiters from Tenaris, Ocean Installer, and Orion Group prepped students as they gear up for their job search journey into an uncertain employment market. These students are getting an early peak at the reality of an oil & gas career that can be bumpy with its cyclical cycle. As new graduates wade into this job sector, they will find that it is indeed an employers’ market. So what is a new graduate to do? Is it really that meek? According to some of the participating recruiters, it isn’t that grim but graduates will have to work harder to find a job.
Nebolisa Egbunike (pictured), founder and president of SUT- SES, said, “Right now a lot of employers want to hire people with experience.” However, he did point out that those coming out the UH Subsea Engineering program have an extra advantage as the specialized subsea sector is still looking for talent. He noted that all of the December 2014 UH subsea engineering graduates now have jobs.
Egbunike points out that companies in the subsea sector have slowed down their hiring pace, however they are still actively hiring engineers as they have won major projects that are in the execution stage. He said, “Deepwater is the next frontier, so this is a phase that most companies have to go through because once the prices go back up, it will be a BIG boom. As we know, lots of the baby boomers are looking at retirement, so it is wise to hire the bright young engineers now and train them effectively to be successful."
Even with the subsea bright spot, many oil & gas companies are in layoff mode and pulling back on capital expenditures. As a result, there is more competition in the local talent pools. Christopher Christian, Orion Group business manager, said “operators can be very selective now as they know they can get the best of the best.”
Christopher expressed that recent graduates should be flexible on their career entry points. Engineering graduates may not get the engineering job of their dreams, but may be able to find an opportunity in a development role, for example, that may provide a path to an engineering role later. He also advised picking up any certifications or software that is in demand now like Plant Design Management System (PDMS).
Many of the students who participated in the mock interview mentioned that they were concerned about hiring freezes, but still tried to keep upbeat about their overall prospects in the market. Aishwarya Gogoi who will graduate with her master’s in petroleum engineering said the biggest challenge is “getting the interview in the first place as competition for interviews is becoming more intense.” However, she still is positive about her ability to land a position and is still hearing about petroleum engineer opportunities in the conventional space.
Job Search Tips
Engineering graduates need to bring their top game to their job search in the oil & gas market. In the past, they would have had offers land in their laps, now they have to be more proactive with networking and honing their job search skills.
Erin Gray, senior recruiter at Ocean Installer, advised students to “distinguish yourselves from the competition and try stand out with employers so they will remember you.” She notes that career fairs in particular can be very competitive and it is hard for recruiters to sort through all of the candidates. They are more likely to remember the candidates that seem highly engaged and excited about their career field. Gray, whose company provides subsea services, says candidates with experience in OrcaFlex and SolidWorks software are also in higher demand.
Gray also recommends joining professional organizations to expand networking opportunities. Depending on career focus, she recommends joining the Society for Underwater Technology, Young Professionals (SUT YP), Marine Technology Society Young Professionals (MTS YP), Young Professionals in Energy (YPE), or the Hydrographic Society. These groups offer access to educational forums, mentoring programs, networking events and more.
As the next generation of engineers transition to the workforce, they will need to be more flexible and proactive with their job search. Participating in events like the SUT-SES mock interview event, professional networking events, picking up new certifications and polishing job search skills will be critical as they move into a softer employment market. However, it is isn’t all doom and gloom for those who chose to pursue an engineering career in oil & gas. The world’s need for energy continues to grow and this upstream sector should come back strong.