Talking at the training and skills session on the first morning of the East of England Energy Group’s (EEEGR) Southern North Sea Conference 2014, Patrick Phelan, Managing Director for Aquaterra Energy, said: “The imbalance between supply and demand of graduates in the oil and gas industry is stark.  Government and industry have adopted a combined approach to the challenges and the nationwide roll-out of the Tomorrows Engineers employer engagement programme is a good example of one of the ways in which the issue can be tackled collaboratively.

“But, in order to close the gap, we also need to be innovative and creative in our approach to graduate recruitment.  For example, employers shouldn’t put engineers in non-technical roles; they should consider non-engineers for commercial roles and mathematicians for analytical roles; and they need to offer roles to non EU students within four months of their graduation, before they have to leave the country.

“It is an on-going issue that the large oil and gas companies and contractors hoover up the majority of good graduates, leaving few for the SMEs to choose from, yet it’s the SMEs that provide the bulk of engineering support to the industry – those very same large oil and gas companies and contractors.  So, these large companies need to recognise the issue and support SMEs through it, with collaborative approaches to graduate recruitment and retention.

“It is also important for SMEs to focus attention on retention of their graduates.   This partly comes down to implementing a robust recruitment strategy which considers, at its core, the best match between the graduate and the employers’ opportunities and needs, and doesn’t look just for best qualifications on a CV.

“In addition, recognising that not all engineering graduates follow the path into an engineering career, there is a lot more that could and should be done to share with students the great opportunities that exist in engineering.   As a case in point, the UK has the worst record in Europe for girls qualifying in engineering degrees.  Only 10% of degrees in engineering and technical subjects are awarded to females.

“Engineering isn’t a school subject, so it’s not widely understood in the school environment, and it’s our role to ensure that teachers and careers advisers have the knowledge to advise students appropriately.   We must correct school teacher and parent perceptions about engineering, and particularly the importance of the energy mix to future generations.  Improving our image is part of this, and initiatives such as Oil & Gas UK’s website, Proud to be in Oil, are good examples of how this might be achieved.

Phelan concluded with a call for industry to “promote the fact that engineering is cool” and to call on young people to “join Engineering Team GB!”