Industry view: Bridging the skills gap

Chris Bird, Managing Director, MOL Energy UK Ltd

The oil and gas industry in the North Sea suffers from the same talent problems that affect other resource-rich areas of the world to a greater or lesser extent. Firstly, there are not enough graduates studying the relevant disciplines (both pure and applied) in UK universities.

So companies have a shallower talent pool from which to pick, often retaining experienced workers approaching retirement or using expatriate workers with the relevant skills.

According to a study by, over the next decade the North Sea industry will need to recruit around 120,000 new staff to fill the gap left by experienced staff retiring.

Chris Bird

Thanks to this global shortage of qualified workers, exploration and production (E&P) companies also need to offer attractive compensation packages to lure graduates to their particular company – and the specific part of the world in which the graduates are needed. So operators in the North Sea are also competing with high salaries in the Middle East and Gulf of Mexico among others.

MOL Group, an integrated, independent and international oil and gas company, headquartered in Hungary, entered into the North Sea market at the end of last year when it acquired offshore assets with 14 licenses from Wintershall.

The group has operations in over 40 countries and employs almost 29,000 people worldwide, so the challenge of engaging students and attracting them to the company is not a new one.

For the past seven years, it has been running two initiatives aimed at students and young professionals. “Freshhh” is an online competition for students consisting of three rounds. In the first round, the participants have to solve industrial tasks set by MOL Group. The best 40 teams then qualify for the strategy simulation round, in which each team has to make the right strategic decisions based on analysis of the market. The best teams then participate in the live finals. Last year, 2,600 students from 60 countries took part.

“Growww” is a programme aimed at graduates from various fields, ranging from petroleum and mechanical engineers to geologists, economists and business administration specialists. Since 2007, 1,100 participants have passed through the scheme, and 90 percent of them continue their career at MOL Group.

A third initiative kicked off at three UK universities – Aberdeen, Robert Gordon and Heriot-Watt – last month, in the form of the UPPP competition. UPPP blends elements of both the Freshhh and Growww programmes, starting with an online competition where teams of students from selected universities compete to solve tasks based on real-life cases from MOL Group’s global operations. The top teams go through to live finals in Budapest, and final year students will be offered to the chance to join MOL Group and start their international careers within the new UPPP Technical Placement Programme, as well as a share of the 20,000 prize pot.  Students who are not in the final year of their studies will be offered scholarships, training and summer internship opportunities.

The UPPP Technical Placement Programme is an 18-month development program for young professionals that focuses on the E&P sector. The programme is based on four pillars, which encompass practical experience as well as training modules, and the main objectives is to develop essential business skills and technical expertise at the same time. The programme will offer on-site experience at two or more international upstream locations, as well as at MOL Group's headquarters in Budapest.

I am delighted with the response MOL Group’s UPPP programme has seen from UK universities in its inaugural year. Sixty-four teams comprising 192 students is a fantastic achievement, and I hope that the UK will be well-represented in next month’s finals in Budapest.

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