16 April 2013

Degree in Petroleum Engineering

The petroleum industry is experiencing robust and sustained growth as the international and domestic demand for petroleum products, ranging from gasoline to lubricating oil, continues to rise. Because of this, petroleum engineers are in great demand; some students have even been able to obtain well-compensated and secure employment before their graduation.

Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS ) estimates that there are over 30,000 petroleum engineers employed in the United States. The job opportunities for petroleum engineers are expanding at a robust 17 percent with over 35,000 positions expected by 2020. In addition, job openings due to retirement and other sources of attrition help ensure a wide range of opportunities for individuals seeking to enter this field. The BLS has also determined that petroleum engineers enjoy excellent salary and benefit packages, with the median annual salary for a petroleum engineer exceeding $114,000, while the upper 10 percent of engineers earn over $166,000. In many cases, these wages do not take into account very generous vacation, housing, and medical plan options. 

Get Them Before They're Gone

However, because the market for petroleum engineers is such a competitive one, and obtaining a skilled staff so vital to the effective exploitation of petroleum resources, many companies prefer to hire students before their graduation in order to avoid the risk that another business will secure the student’s services first. In addition, this competitive job market helps ensure that students and graduates alike can obtain very promising compensation and professional packages as a part of their hiring contract. 

In addition, offering a job to a student who has not yet graduated can allow a company to help the student focus on those areas of expertise that the employer finds most important. Given the wide range of specialties within the field of petroleum engineering, this can allow a company to dramatically reduce the amount of training required for a newly hired engineer. It also allows the student to prepare him or herself for the job by learning about the employer’s corporate culture and mission. 

High Demand means High Value

The growing demand for petroleum engineers is largely due to two factors. The first is the continued growth of the national and international energy development sector. The need for petroleum engineers, whether it is to work in traditional oil fields or to work in research and development for more efficient methods of oil extraction, has created an insatiable demand for highly qualified employees. Because of the specialized knowledge and skill base required to work in the petroleum industry, retraining other engineers for this field is unfeasible in most cases. 

In addition, the highly skilled faculty needed to train students in petroleum engineering has created a bottleneck in the supply of new graduates. From 1957 until the last decade, enrollment in petroleum engineering programs suffered a steady decrease in class sizes. When coupled with retirement and other sources of attrition among currently employed engineers, this educational decline contributed to the current shortage of qualified petroleum engineers. While many schools are attempting to expand their programs, the need to secure experienced instructors and facilities places a limit on how quickly these programs can expand.

Although it is likely that the supply of graduates will eventually match the current demand, for the foreseeable future, petroleum engineering students will continue to enjoy excellent job and salary prospects offered by employers who continue to face a shortage of qualified engineers. Furthermore, the continuing expansion of petroleum extraction operations into previously untapped areas, coupled with the growing energy demands of the developing world, make it certain that this career field will continue to experience robust growth. This makes becoming a petroleum engineer an excellent choice for students seeking a secure career in today’s business environment.

This piece was written by Eric Satterberg, a freelancer who concentrates on education, engineering, mathematics, science, oil and gas, energy, alternative fuel sources and other related issues; to learn more about engineering visit Audubon Engineering.


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