By John Kemp
LONDON, Sept 2 Encouraged by some of the highest
starting salaries available in any industry, record numbers of
students are enrolling in petroleum engineering courses at U.S.
It is part of a broader renaissance in engineering
education, which should eventually ease severe skill shortages
in the oil and gas sector.
But it will be the end of the decade before these new
graduates are the experienced professionals needed to lead teams
and make a real difference to exploration, output and refining.
In 2010, 1,295 graduate students enrolled in petroleum
engineering courses at U.S. universities, according to the U.S.
Department of Education's "Digest of Education Statistics".
Enrolment had risen 60 percent in the previous four years
and was virtually double the level at the start of the decade,
when just 627 students signed up to study engineering courses
geared to the oil and gas industry (Chart 1).
Only enrolment in biomedical engineering has grown faster
over the last decade.
Enrolments have almost certainly risen further in 2011, 2012
and 2013, but the exact numbers will only be available in future
versions of the Digest.
Soaring interest in petro-engineering, and related
disciplines such as metallurgical and materials science,
geosciences and mining engineering, is part of a broader upsurge
in interest in science, mathematics, engineering and technology
(SMET) degrees driven by a strong demand from employers.
Enrolments in graduate engineering courses rose by 43
percent between 2000 and 2010, from 104,000 to 149,000 students
Graduates with just a bachelors degree in engineering could
expect to start on a salary of over $60,000 in 2012, putting
them marginally ahead of those with a bachelors' degree in
computer science, and far ahead of graduates in communications
and journalism ($42,200) or the humanities and social sciences
($37,000), according to the National Association of Colleges and
Employers annual salary survey.
The 30,000 practising petroleum engineers in the United
States made a better average salary ($147,000) than the
country's half million lawyers ($131,000) in 2012. Petroleum
engineers working in oil and gas extraction averaged more than
Only chief executives ($177,000), dentists ($161,000 to
$216,000) and doctors specialising in anaesthesiology and
surgery ($200,000 to $230,000) earned more, according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) annual survey on Occupational
Employment and Wages.
While journalists' salaries have risen just 1.4 percent per
year for the last decade, and plumbers and lawyers have not done
much better, averaging annual increases of 1.9 percent and 2.1
respectively, petroleum engineers have seen their salaries rise
on average by more than 5.6 percent each year since 2002,
according to BLS (Chart 2).
The oil and gas industry has historically been subject to
long and deep cycles.
Strong hiring and big salary increases are gradually
reversing the severe skill shortage and ageing of the industry
workforce in the wake of mass layoffs during the period of
depressed oil prices in the 1990s.
But if new graduates need 10-15 years of experience before
they can start to assume leadership positions, the industry's
job market looks set to remain tight until the end of the