Doing it for the kids

Audrey Leon

October 1, 2015

The theme of this year’s SPE Offshore Europe is inspiring the next generation, and the event’s opening plenary showed how a few notable figures set foot on their STEM career paths. Audrey Leon reports.

Opening plenary on “How to Inspire the Next Generation,” featured speakers such as Professor Brian Cox; Keisuke Sadamori, IEA; Liz Rogers, Head of Environment and Social Responsibility, BP; Simon Bittleston, Vice President Research, Schlumberger; Matt Corbin, UK Managing Director, Aker Solutions.  
Photos  from Audrey Leon/OE.

While most of this year’s SPE Offshore Europe conference dealt with how to deal with the uncertainty of low oil prices and thousands of job losses, the opening plenary on day one sought to remind the audience why they entered the industry in the first place, and share that love of career choice with the next generation.

English physicist and BBC presenter Brian Cox, looking quite magical standing in front of a star-filled nighttime display, discussed how Carl Sagan’s romantic view of space led him on a path to physics research. Cox’s own path was begun with his fascination around the Orion constellation. He made the argument that studying what you love doesn’t ruin it. “The more detail you understand, the more interesting it gets,” Cox said.

Matt Corbin of Aker Solutions said his entry into the industry came via the construction industry with contest to design a pedestrian bridge with John Laing. Eventually, he ended up at a small subsea engineering firm when no other opportunities with John Laing were available.

Corbin rallied for the UK industry to continue working with schools to help expose pre-college aged children to various jobs within the industry. Of the new generations of millennials looking to enter the workforce, Corbin said: “14% of young people would take a pay cut to work for a company that lines up with their core values. I’m not sure I would have done that.”

Continuing, Corbin said: “[They] want flexibility in the work environment. They are truly intellectually agile in a way we haven’t seen before. This millennial generation – they’re the most social.”

Making the connection between space and energy exploration, Cox said the industry needed to be aware of important space-related developments. Particularly, the discovery of large deposits of methane gas on Saturn’s moon Titan, which in theory could be a future source of LPG, Cox said.

Above: Physicist and BBC presenter Brian Cox speaking at SPE Offshore Europe’s opening plenary about how he fell in love with science.

One issue noted repeatedly during the session was that the oil and gas industry does a fairly terrible job of telling its story to not just young people but the public at large.

“The idea that energy use is bad is nonsensical,” Cox said. “Your industry is the industry that makes life better.”

Matt Corbin concluded: “It’s a complex industry, thousands coming up with solutions every day. There are so many myths, but it’s our responsibly to bust some of that.”

Cox expressed a similar sentiment: “Inspiring is the easy part. We work in interesting areas, but the follow up is the key.”

Charles Woodburn introduced the panel discussion by stating, “We will only thrive if we have the very best minds on our side. We need to do a better job engaging the youth. For someone who is ambitious, looking to make a difference, you have a lot to offer (the industry).”