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Gas and oil industry not easy to slide into

The Life: More than a third of professionals in the Middle East are considering a move into the oil and gas sector. But how easy is it to get a job in the sector?

Deborah Williams, the director of petroleum engineering studies and a fellow at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Deborah Williams, the director of petroleum engineering studies and a fellow at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

More than a third of professionals in the Middle East and Africa are thinking of shifting into the oil and gas industry, according to a survey released in December by the jobs website Bayt.com. But it might not be as easy as people think to find a position in the industry. Here, Deborah Williams, who is the director of petroleum engineering studies and a fellow at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai, explains the difficulties.

What challenges do employers in the oil and gas industry face?

The ageing workforce is a problem because the reality is ... this industry promises healthy salaries and opportunities to travel all around the world. But I think it has still been quite difficult to persuade the younger generation to get into that career. The talent pool has been quite shallow. Companies have found it hard to recruit the right person with the right skills.

But these companies must all have graduate programmes that offer good prospects?

Everybody says they want to recruit new graduates, but the problem [students] have is that when they go to apply to all of these companies they say, you know what, we need someone with one year or two years' experience. That's always what happens. Obviously there are a couple here and a couple there but it's sill quite difficult.

What is the benefit of younger workers in the industry, aside from the ability to replace people who retire?

It is always good to have younger people. The older people are stuck in their own ways. They think that's how they've been told and some of them ... don't want to try new things. They're happy and content with how things are. [Young people bring] drive and enthusiasm.

What is happening in the industry just now?

There's a steady rise with budgets beginning to increase again. I think they are turning to recruitment again. But I think that companies now are investing a lot more in the staff that they have [by] increasing their training and development. They want to retain them. They don't want them to go to other companies. And that's how the oil industry works. Some people do three years with one company and they get what they need and then they move to the other oil company because it pays a bit more money.

Is this is a good strategy in your opinion - to invest more in the staff a company has?

They have got to keep the workforce stimulated and challenged. That for me is a very vital factor - staff retention. And I think that's one of the main things to help with that.

Most students going into the industry would probably think it would be easy to get a job in oil and gas, especially in this country.

The sad thing is with this course [I teach at Heriot-Watt University] it can be super expensive and a lot of parents save for years [for their children] to come here because they think the potential career they can have is very attractive. We have got some brilliant students who deserve to get a great role but they just can't get into the industry.

* Gillian Duncan