Online resources help bridge the knowledge and skills gap

As engineers of the baby boom generation approach retirement, competition is increasing across the oil and gas and offshore energy sectors to attract experienced engineers.

As engineers of the baby boom generation approach retirement, competition is increasing across the oil and gas and offshore energy sectors to attract experienced engineers.

The problem is a significant lack of available engineers and managers in the crucial 30 to 45-year age group who are needed to take over the reins. This is the generation who should have the desirable skills, experience, and specialist knowledge to provide today's project team leaders. However, the recession of the 1990s and resulting cutbacks in training and development meant that the transfer of some key competencies and specializations did not occur. In addition, many engineers have deserted the profession.

Growth across the energy sector is highlighting the challenge. A report issued last year by OPITO and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board revealed an increasing demand for these engineers due to the North Sea development. Growth in offshore energy and nuclear power means recruiters are also fishing in the same talent pool.

In the oil and gas sector, the average age of experienced engineers is higher than most industries. According to this report, a contributing factor is the tendency across the industry to target experienced staff, rather than implement in-house training to develop new entrants with the sector skills.

There is no shortage of new engineering graduates, but their lack of employment skills and experience is deterring employers. A study by Birmingham University shows that 44% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates are either unemployed or working in a job that does not require a degree a year after graduation.

The challenge is to bridge the skills gap between the "boomers," their successors in the 30 to 45-year age group, graduate engineers, and engineers coming into the sector for the first time. New tools are needed to provide engineering teams with the resources needed to research new disciplines, share knowledge, and improve the employability skills among graduates.

The internet is the first place most people turn to search for answers. A Google search can be a dangerous area for engineers due to concerns for compliance with quality and safety procedures. No audit trail and unvalidated information sources present serious problems.

Knovel was founded more than 10 years ago to provide interactive and trusted technical references online so engineers can easily manipulate and incorporate graphs, equations, and tables into their work. The company only integrates technical information from trusted sources, professional societies and publishers, including the IChemE, Royal Society of Chemistry, and PennWell Corp.

The adoption of trusted online engineering resources has been strong in the oil and gas, engineering design, industrial equipment and process industries given their global teams and multi-disciplinary research and information requirements. Knovel customers include BP, Shell, and Exxon. With the information available around the world and around the clock, companies can be more nimble in research and development. Moreover, with the boomer generation retiring and leaving a larger gap than previous generations, online resources can also help provide an accessible repository for an organization's collective knowledge.

Universities are seeking to provide a high-quality education to their students at a time when league tables and student employability have become more important to their funding. The Deloitte report "Making the Grade 2011" calls for revolutionary thinking from universities in order to stay competitive, and recommends a more strategic use of web-based interaction for students. Knovel is used in more than 400 universities worldwide, including 25 in the UK, such as Imperial College and University College London. Since the current generation of new engineers has an affinity for using online tools and sharing their knowledge instantly and interactively, using online resources similar to those encountered in the industry can help ease the training process and transition to employment.

According to a 23-year petroleum industry veteran, bridging the engineering knowledge gap requires "an individual's effort and interest in learning but most importantly availability of engineering information on databases."

Online resources are not the sole answer to the knowledge gap problem, but they will help engineers acquire industry knowledge faster, so they can find their own solution.

Gary Kearns
Business Development Director
Knovel EMEA

This page reflects viewpoints on the political, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental issues that shape the future of the petroleum industry. Offshore Magazine invites you to share your thoughts. Email your Beyond the Horizon manuscript to David Paganie atdavidp@pennwell.com.

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