Technology in all phases of petroleum and energy endeavours is advancing at rapid rate. The quality of education (students and teachers) must advance at a similar rate. External forces and internal reaction have created "problem" periods in this growth and this is affecting the number and quality of students seeking petroleum careers. In order to offset this short-term situation, industry and education must work together to put the publicity into perspective for the longer term.
The petroleum industry has been forced to modernize its technology in recent years. The demands of deeper drilling, more hostile environments such as offshore and the Arctic, the pressing need for higher recovery, higher costs and new ventures such as the Tar Sands and Oil Shales have all contributed. This, in turn, has resulted in considerable pressure on educational institutions, especially those involved in education which is specifically petroleum oriented, to stay "up to date" and relevant.
This trend has also placed more severe demands on engineering, geology and technology students in that prerequisite schooling is more critical than ever. That is to say, the background required to study this new technology is much beyond what it used to be. However, this is all happening during a period when "science" seems to be out of favour with the new generation in our high schools. The glamour of the "Space Age" seems to have evaporated; humanities and free-choice seem to be more in vogue. A decreasingly small percentage of high school graduates have prepared themselves by taking physics, for example, and are therefore not eligible for many post-secondary science and applied science programs.
The publicity concerning our industry has not been particularly favourable and such topics as government ownership, taxation, "contrived" energy shortages, excess profits and apparent lack of concern about the environment seem to have put our private sector into a very unfavourable position in the public eye. Well-intended reaction to some of these charges by some industry spokesmen has turned into over-reaction, causing the public to decline on investment and participation, even more.
With the demands on students being more severe. and the industry's conduct and future being, on the surface, somewhat suspect the numbers of students enrolling in various technologies related to the oil industry are on the decline. As well, the industry with its ever-increasing appetite for semi-skilled labour, together with the pressures exerted by thetrade unions, has been forced to make these "trades" even more attractive. The result has been a diversion of young people from post-secondary education. It is becoming extremely difficult to explain to a young person why he should embark on education and training when he can make more money working at: a drilling rig or a gas plant. Some trained people are even tempted to revert back 1:0 the "labour" market especially when employment is very high.
We have actually seen recent examples of this with our own graduates. Some have given up positions as a Petroleum Technologist and gone back to jobs on a drilling rig thereby increasing their salary by as much as 100 percent.