Tapping the talent well: attracting STEM graduates to energy careers

Viewpoint

Talented and motivated STEM graduates are in increasing demand, and engineering companies are having to do more to attract them into careers within the sector, rather than in law and finance. BP is working to forge relationships through internships, scholarships and other activities, explains Emma Judge

I am often asked whether I think there is an issue or an emerging crisis in the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) talent and whether BP is able to access the talent it needs.

The good news for us is that we have seen record levels of applications from graduates this year, with over 7000 job applications for some 250 roles.  We also received 4000 applications for 135 summer internships and the calibre and motivation of those students is as high, or higher, than ever. This has enabled us to fill our graduate positions with some of the brightest and best students we have ever seen.

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STEM jobs within the oil and gas sector may offer more variety than those in law or finance

However, there is a flip side to this positive story, which is that while there is a good pool of talent, the competition for that talent is higher than ever and recent research from the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests that this is likely to increase. This competition comes not just from other engineering based companies, but increasingly from banks, law firms and accountancy firms who also value the very special attributes that these candidates have.  Not only do STEM students have an excellent technical understanding of their subjects, but the way their minds have been trained is also very beneficial to any business they go into.  STEM students are intelligent, process driven individuals who are good at understanding complex issues quickly and effectively identifying the critical points through logical thinking; a tremendously useful skill for any employer.  If you stripped out the demand from consultants and banks there would be enough talent to go round. Therefore, the challenge for the energy industry is to convince students that we offer a more compelling career than working for these other professions.

“STEM students are good at understanding complex issues quickly and effectively identifying the critical points through logical thinking

Students pursue a STEM degree because they are passionate about the subject.  Yet the recent June 2012 Target Jobs Engineering Student Survey found that 70% of engineering students would consider a career outside the engineering sector.  It is up to employers like BP to get into universities and maintain that original interest in the subject.  As an industry we need to ensure that that interest is nurtured and converted into a career.

There is no doubt that employers could do more to get involved while students are still at University.   There is a need for more engagement with students in their early years.  There should be more scholarships offered to students by the energy sector. BP already offers a range of scholarships and awards to a huge number of STEM students and this will continue.  It’s an area we are further improving because there is a need to support the UK’s brightest young minds.  The value of internships also should not be underestimated and mentoring is really valuable when employees and interns are given enough time to do it right and the right people are doing the mentoring.

BP does a lot to supplement the curriculum with real life experience and internships. Offering undergraduates more opportunities to come in and see what it is like working in energy and providing more short term work placements; so that students can see how what they are learning in the lecture theatre applies in the workplace.

One area where this could make a difference is in getting more women in to engineering jobs, which is still an issue. In part, this comes down to role models and mentors. To address this, one of the things BP is getting involved in with Oxford University is the mentoring of young women by female role models in areas such as construction and engineering. Women tend to self-select out earlier, so part of that approach is about being as transparent as possible about what a career in engineering involves. Science is not the issue, for women it is engineering that is the problem – women like the subject but do not see it as a career.

“Students will be much more demanding of universities, asking ‘what do I get for my degree’

Increasingly, industry needs to be transparent about what it needs from graduates and what it can offer. That interaction between industry and higher education will become ever more important. Most students go to university because they want a job in that subject at the end of it and, given the fees they have to pay, students will be much more demanding of universities, asking “what do I get for my degree”. So universities are going to have to say “we have these relationships with these employers, we have got these scholarships and this is where last year’s intake went”. The Higher Education market is becoming increasingly competitive with students looking to universities for more than just a degree.

It is that partnership between industry and the academic community to create awareness, excitement and opportunity from an employment standpoint that presents a real opportunity. You need to engage on multiple levels, both on campus, working with student organisations sponsoring opportunities for students, to engagement off campus, whether that is through a summer programme or full internship programme.  Give people the opportunity to apply what they have learned, showing what jobs exist, linking academic work to practical outcomes through internships and apprenticeships. By providing that bridge into the world of work, we have a critical opportunity to retain the talent the industry needs.

Emma Judge is head of BP Graduate Resourcing UK