Petroleum Engineer Jobs for Freshers: Problems and Solutions

Career options in the Upstream Sector: Exploration and Production (E&P) Industry

This is a guest post by Chandan Kumar Pathak, a Petroleum Engineering Graduate from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad (now IIT Dhanbad); 1986 batch. He has spent more than 30 years in the E&P sector having worked in India and abroad.
 


Petroleum Engineer Jobs for Freshers: Problems and Solutions

by Chandan Kumar Pathak

 
Petroleum Engineering is a very niche engineering branch that caters specifically to the oil & gas exploration industry, also referred to as E&P industry (E&P stands for exploration & production). In my previous article, I had provided a sneak preview of the oil & gas industry and the job opportunities for various education streams.

This sector is quite attractive specifically to the petroleum engineering graduates due to very healthy remuneration compared to other highly paid sectors and for the opportunity to work in international locations after garnering good operational experiences in the formative years. As a result, many students are interested to pursue a career in the E&P sector and hence their goal to join a graduate petroleum engineering course.
 

The Demand-Supply Situation in India

The premier institute of petroleum engineering course in India is Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad (now IIT (ISM), Dhanbad) where the department was established in 1957. Since then the institute has shaped up countless bright petroleum engineers who went to become renowned personalities nationally as well as in the international scenario.

Till 1990 or so, the batch of students admitted every year in ISM used to be small ranging from 10-40. Immediately after graduation, there was an open market for them in ONGC and OIL who welcomed them with open arms through on-campus interviews.Also a good number of the graduates every year would move to the USA and Europe for higher studies and finally settle down there.

Another institute offering high-quality petroleum engineering course is MIT, Pune where the first batch of graduates ventured into the oil & gas industry in 1987. Over a period of time, this institute made its impact in the industry by grooming quality petroleum engineers every year and made a place for itself.

With the opening up of the E&P sector by the government of India in phases since 1995 and the ever increasing demand for crude oil, this sector witnessed a long boom. More and more companies set up their business and thus increased the demand for qualified engineers including the PEs.

As a result, scores of new petroleum engineering institutes mushroomed all over India haphazardly. Some prestigious existing ones also opened petroleum engineering departments e.g. IIT Kharagpur. Not be left behind in the race, ISM, MIT Pune, UPES Dehradun etc. went into an expansion spree admitting more and more students in every new batch.

Today one will find a large number of institutes all over the country offering a graduation course, M. Tech and other specialized courses in Petroleum Engineering. Google search gave a surprising result of 79 institutes in India offering such courses!

Though I don’t have access to any authentic database to support my claim, a good percentage of these institutes don’t possess the required accreditation. The level of teachings imparted in some of these institutes are abysmally of low standard where the lecturers are not even qualified or competent to teach petroleum engineering subjects.

It is a strong argument that education in our country has been turned into a flourishing business without due care being given to the quality of teachings and products generated. As a result of this uncontrolled and greedy scramble for a share of the lucrative pie, every year a couple of thousands of graduate petroleum engineers flood the already oversaturated market.
 

The Harsh Reality

These innocent dreamy-eyed young graduate engineers are pushed into the professional world to look for jobs all by themselves. There are very few institutes who do the PR work with the industry leaders for the placement of their graduates. Not knowing what to do, where to go, whom to approach, the graduates move from office to office mostly in a group of 3-4 with their resumes in hand and a look of despair. In most of the offices, they are turned back by the receptionists with a blunt statement, ‘There is no requirement here. Please don’t waste our time.’

Those who are fortunate to get a hearing from the HR personnel are no better in terms of the caustic comments thrown at them.

‘Your resume has nothing except your degree being mentioned.’

‘There are hundreds of applications piled up in my office from people who have 5-10 years of relevant experience. How do you expect to get a job?’

‘We are not a charity house to invest in new graduates to groom them.’

Of course, there are many courteous encounters as well but these are easily outnumbered. Many of the graduates resort to online application (mostly unsolicited ones) to the companies but the end result remains the same.

Then there are those who approach various industry individuals through LinkedIn for advice and guidance. 90% of their queries go unanswered as everyone in the professional world is busy with his own goals and struggles. And sadly, we don’t have the time to ponder about the struggle of these graduates hence fail to empathize.

I personally receive such queries through LinkedIn a lot. Initially, I made it a point to reply patiently to each of them but with time the volume increased to a level where it wasn’t possible to cope up with. I genuinely feel sad for not being able to offer any help. This is one of the main reasons which motivated me to write this article to offer some comprehensive inputs.

The current scenario is quite worrisome:

  1. The top bracket graduates from the reputed institutes are the luckiest ones who manage to get a break in the good companies.
  2. Few others join small local oilfield service companies with a meagre monthly salary as low as eight to nine thousand rupees only with the hope that the hands-on experience they gain will help them secure better jobs few years down the line.
  3. Some of them out of desperation or frustration end up accepting odd jobs like in the call centres, teaching in the high schools or starting up small businesses etc.
  4. Still, there are scores of fresh petroleum engineers who are unemployed and struggling to find a job. This is a repeat situation every year. They feel themselves to be a burden on their family as most of them belong to the middle class, lower middle class or poor.

And this is in complete contrast to what they were given to understand about the glamorous job in the oil field with a fat salary, one-month duty-one month paid off, a great demand of petroleum engineers and the chance to work abroad after few years of toil in India. Naturally, today’s PE graduates fresh out of college are heartbroken and a confused lot. They feel misguided, uncared for once they are out from their colleges/universities.

There are many aspects of this matter like (1) what is the fault in the system? (2) What is the government required to do alleviate the situation? (3) Should the oil field companies not take responsibility and ownership of these fresh graduates mandatorily? But these involve lengthy arguments, counter-arguments amongst several stakeholders of the industry and should be deliberated separately.
 

How to Approach This Challenge

Here I shall try to elaborate on what the graduates can do differently to improve their possibility of getting a good job and build a career that they had been dreaming of all along. First of all, it has to be agreed that there is no magical solution to this problem and each PE graduate will have to go through a fair amount of struggle to make a career in the oil & gas industry.

To make the matter worse, since the beginning of 2015 the oil & gas industry was in a deep recession for more than 3 years which was unprecedented. This forced each and every company to drastically cut down the cost to reduce their losses and as a result, they had almost stopped hiring and especially the fresh graduates on whom a fair amount of investment has to be made in training and development.

Luckily with the gradual recovery of oil price to the current level of USD 75-80/barrel in the recent months, the situation is much better. Many projects which were put in the backburner have been reactivated now that will result in increased demand for skilled manpower. Profitability of the companies has improved thus allowing them to afford to spend more.So, we should see increased hiring in India along with the rest of the world going forward.

  1. If you have the burning desire to become an oil explorer, then prepare yourself to get admission into the top and reputed institutes, not just any and every institute which offers a degree in petroleum engineering. IIT (ISM) Dhanbad, MIT-Pune, UPES-Dehradun, PDPU-Gandhinagar are to name a few. Campus recruitments in these institutes are good where the big oil companies participate regularly.
  2. Another aspect that requires good attention from each and every student is to get an internship in good companies. If you can make a good impression with your work during the internship, there is every chance that the company will flag your candidature for future recruitment. There are so many instances of this happening.

Do not just rely on your department to arrange such an internship but put your own efforts as well.Approach the companies well in advance, prepare and submit your college and department profiles, impressive resumes of the students. All of them may not revert with a response on their own as they have many other priority tasks to complete. So, follow up with them periodically. Don’t feel shy or guilty while doing so. And do expect rejections, not every company has the budget to spend on the internship or their commitment towards the cause.

In fact, if after graduation you do not have a job, it is always advisable to look for an internship for a short period of a few months in the oilfield companies. Some will pay you a stipend while others will not. But you will garner valuable field exposure and that should be your goal as such engagements help secure jobs subsequently.

  1. Participate in various E&P events organized by the likes of SPE & IADC. They have student chapters as well as city chapters in various parts of India. You will have the opportunity to learn new things as well as interact with the people from industry. Such networking goes a long way to make yourself visible and also help you access job opportunities which otherwise will not be known to you.
  2. Then there are annual or biennial events like Petrotech which are major E&P events in India with participation by almost every big or medium sized companies and also delegates from foreign countries. Attending such event gives the graduates and the students, a huge exposure to a wide range of companies and industry experts. One thing can lead to another and such interactions may pave the way for a job opportunity.
  3. Prepare a database of oilfield companies in India, their key officials and contact details. With such a database, help the PE department of your institute connect with more and more companies for campus interview. Do note that there are many small private players in India both as E&P operators and in the service segment. So, don’t ignore them while concentrating on the big companies.
  4. Additionally, there are other companies which play indirect but very significant roles in Indian E&P sector. They primarily represent overseas service companies who do not have offices in India and secure business for them. Such representing companies engage engineers who can market and promote technologies of their principals to the E&P Operators. SK Oilfield, Prabhu Marketing Services, Warden Group are to name few.
  5. Personally, during my long professional stint in India I have noticed quite a high level of sustained proactiveness from UPES-Dehradun and MIT-Pune in giving exposure of their student to the leading companies and experts by organizing events in their campus or event in strategic cities like New Delhi, Mumbai etc. Sadly, such initiatives are lacking from IIT (ISM) Dhanbad in spite of being the top notch and the oldest institute of Petroleum Engineering in India.
  6. The value of networking is immense and each and every PE graduate should inculcate this trait. It is as important and influential as one’s education credential in being successful in the job hunt. Get to know the people of the industry whenever the opportunity arises, shed your inhibitions and communicate. Give them due respect, demonstrate your eagerness to learn and don’t show off your theoretical knowledge if not asked. Remain in touch with them without being overbearing. In due course of time, one will realize how powerful goodwill from such people can be.
  7. Last but not the least, diversification from a specialized course like petroleum engineering always brings added value in terms of job opportunities outside as well as within the E&P sector. So, one can plan to do an MBA in Finance, Marketing or HR from reputed institutes, M.Tech in other branches etc.

I hope vide this article I am able to share some useful information and guidance with the petroleum engineering graduates in their effort to get a good job in a competitive industry. Don’t lose heart; perseverance is the need of the hour and I am sure all of you will do well in your career.

There are ups and downs and challenges like any other industry and you should take them on your stride. E&P sector is exciting to be associated with and I still get Goosebumps reminiscing the thrills, fun and challenges I have gone through in my career span of 32 years in this industry so far.

If you have any specific questions, I shall be happy to answer here or reach out to me at ck_pathak@yahoo.com. You may also like to read my other articles in my personal blog.
 


About the Author:

Chandan Pathak - Petroleum EngineerChandan Kumar Pathak was born in Guwahati, Assam and Mumbai his home. A Petroleum Engineer by profession, currently he is posted in Kuwait to manage the Completions and Well Intervention business of Baker Hughes – a GE Company. He is in-charge of Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey operations as the Geomarket Product Line Manager. Writing is his favourite pastime and has authored three books – ‘The Beckoning of Gyanganj’ (fiction), ‘Footprints’ (short stories) and ‘A Leap into The Dark – for Love’ (fiction eBook) so far. Currently, he is working on his next project – a career guidebook for professionals. Chandan is also a wanderlust and an avid photographer – makes his solo trips to the Himalayas,the dense jungles or some remote villages. Check in his blogs and photographs at these links: Blog | Photography | LinkedIn


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