Hand-in-hand with the industry, an SPE talent council initiative is working on dedicated learning programs and curriculum for petroleum industry workers. The talent council is examining the situation from several aspects--who's in the industry doing what right now, who needs what skills and knowledge tomorrow, and how will the education groups and industry take all of this forward for 2012 and beyond?

According to Ford Brett of PetroSkills, "The biggest challenge is getting people the experience and the education to do the job properly."

While most of the employees in the industry are male, Eve Sprunt of Chevron studied 'dual-career couples' where husband and wife are employed in the industry, often by the same company. During her survey she found that many "women's issues" are really dual-career issues because of children and housing. She also found that women preferred to work for integrated oil companies and that they are less likely than men to work for service companies or to begin a self-employed career. Usually, integrated oil companies are willing to keep the talent of dual-career couples together by moving them together to an office in a different location.

Professor Tom Blasingame of Texas A&M University has been working on a knowledge matrix for new petroleum engineering graduates. "We're developing a set of specific skills and technological knowledge that engineers should have." Blasingame is in charge of developing a graduate technical knowledge matrix as a reference tool for industry, academia and students.

To develop the matrix, companies were asked to rank each knowledge set--required (indispensable knowledge that companies see as a foundation technology knowledge set for newly hired petroleum engineering graduates), valued (desired, but not necessary technical knowledge that is not required of new hires and not required (not necessary/applicable).

"Some of the most basic tasks required for petroleum engineering undergraduates are rock fluid systems, drilling, reservoir engineering, production engineering and geosciences and economics." Surprisingly, the industry survey also indicated that technical writing and presentation skills are of high value.

Mohan Kelkar of Tulsa University studied how to attract, retain and develop petroleum engineering faculty and knowledge for universities to educate incoming students. "Attracting faculty was the most difficult due to salary competition with private industry. At the college research level, funding also has to compete with private industry."

Education outside the U.S. also has its challenges. Orlando Kosi of Chevron Angola cites the need for educated students in his country. "There are six major oil companies in our country and four universities with limited petroleum engineering studies. We are experiencing a lack of qualified teachers, we have to deal with two languages--Portuguese and English--and sadly, the salary for teachers is quite low compared to private industry." According to Kosi, industry could further support Angolan educational goals with more funding, offering engineering students summer work and hiring faculty to help solve problems in Angola.

Contact the author, Larry Prado, at lprado@hartenergy.com.