Energy transition

The Changing Role of Education in the New Era of Energy

The Great Crew Change is all but over, Gen Xers are now managing Baby Boomers, and the oil and gas industry is morphing into the energy industry. Is this the end of an era or a new start for petroleum engineering education?

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To say that the next generation of workers and leaders in our industry will be confronted by challenges unlike any we have known before is likely an understatement. For the foreseeable future, the list below provides a glimpse of what lies ahead.

  • An industry whose engineering and scientific foundation are still valid and necessary after 100 years but whose aversion to change has left it struggling to catch up in some areas, most notably in digital transformation (although significant progress has taken place in the past 18 months because of the pandemic)
  • The paradox of a world that will use fossil fuels to meet a large proportion of its energy demand for the foreseeable future while addressing the negative public and political perception of an industry tied to global climate change
  • Oil and gas companies morphing into “energy” companies, and petroleum engineers and geoscientists increasingly becoming known as “petrotechnical professionals” (PTPs)
  • The reality that petroleum engineering roles have expanded to straddle upstream, midstream, and downstream, whereas petroleum engineering programs are mostly geared to upstream and, more particularly, reservoir engineering
  • The replacement of Baby Boomers with Gen Zers who have an approach to work styles, life, and values generally different from the workforce they will need to lead

This labyrinth of challenges, which is raising anxiety and questions about the future of petroleum engineering (PE) education, generated much interest and numerous ideas in the “Future Leaders’ Challenges and Educational Road Map” technical session at the 2021 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) in September. The papers in the session focused on what academia (and industry) can do to nurture the leaders of the future. A common thread was the need to enable students to not only survive but also thrive as they transition into an evolving industry.

The authors discussed issues they believe academia can control and govern—i.e., upgrading education and restructuring academic units—and issues such as demand changes, oil prices, and world politics that are beyond academia’s control.

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