A YOUNG man wearing a yellow hard cap grins as he stands proudly in front of an offshore drilling platform. Emblazoned on the front are the words ‘Master’s in Business Administration - Concentration: Oil, Gas and Energy Management’.
And then your car zooms past the billboard ad for a course available at the University of Nicosia, which is aiming to cater for the interest in such courses sparked by the discovery of substantial natural gas reserves south of Cyprus in the beginning of the year.
In addition to the University of Nicosia’s MBA, there are new oil and gas related degrees on offer elsewhere.
Frederick University is now offering a new MSc in oil and gas and offshore engineering whose self-proclaimed aim is to anticipate the brave new world of oil and gas that Cyprus will soon be part of. Or as the programme coordinators put it: the aim is to “integrate and adapt the internationally existing expert knowledge to the needs of the petroleum industry to be developed soon in Cyprus”.
And the University of Cyprus (Ucy) is due next week to approve a Master’s course in petroleum engineering starting September 2013, said Ucy professor and member of a group of experts appointed to advise the government, Panos Papanastasiou.
There was a delay in getting the course approved. “But our aim is to take careful steps,” he said.
And interest in practical lower level gas and oil related qualifications is also on the rise said the director of administration at Intercollege, Andreas Chrysanthou.
He said interest was “beyond expectations” for two non-advertised diploma courses starting in January to train mechanical installations technicians and electrical technicians. He added that for 2013 they were looking to introduce oil and gas diplomas too.
Chrysanthou said there is a gap in the market for technicians, adding that he has observed a move away from the more traditional office-based careers.
Papanastasiou said that though there was a “large interest” in energy-related qualifications, job prospects are limited at present.
On one projected timeline, Cyprus may start exporting natural gas to Europe and Asia by 2019, according to the commerce ministry’s energy chief, Solon Kassinis.
But getting an MBA in oil and gas management, for example, is only one - albeit useful - step on a long road.
“If I looked at the CV of a 27-year-old with an engineering degree and an MBA in oil and gas management but with no experience, on the face of it I would probably not be able to give that guy a job in an engineering role on a working project,” industry expert Pete Wallace said.
“And I cannot assess the value or worth of a petroleum engineering degree unless I know the scope of its syllabus.”
It is all about experience and locals looking to enter the oil and gas industry should bear in mind that it is a hugely diverse field with many areas of expertise.
Mechanical engineers for example deal with piping, vessel design, materials, equipment design and pipelines among others, while petroleum engineers work out reservoir exploitation plans, drilling programmes, etc.
Wallace is a mechanical and piping engineer by discipline and has worked in the oil, gas and energy industry for 35 years.
He is now a senior project manager who has worked on multi-billion dollar oil and gas projects around the world.
“There is no fast track;” he said. He believes it will take at least a decade if not more before Cyprus has the infrastructure to train and employ people locally, so those interested will need to go overseas to get work and build experience.
And he said it is usually down to the individual to chase companies up.
Energy companies are amenable to taking on people with a relevant first degree and, if lucky, some individuals may be taken on as a junior graduate engineer depending on their chosen discipline, Wallace said.
Graduates may then go on to study another related subject at Master’s level.
But to get the necessary experience people need to be willing to move around, wherever there is a project and employers, so that they build up years of experience, Wallace said.
For example, Kassinis, the energy chief, studied chemical engineering in the UK and then went on to work on the North Sea gas fields from Aberdeen, dubbed the Oil Capital of Europe.
“I needed to work hard and specialise,” he said.
Kassinis advises people to look for work abroad, explaining how his own son will go to Houston, Texas when he finishes his chemical engineering degree.
Nearly all work is based around on-going projects that have several stages and it may take a decade to go from the original concept and feasibility study to the construction phase, Wallace said. This means major oil and gas companies tend not to keep big teams around but instead employ large engineering houses to carry out their engineering work for a fee.
And because work is project-related, even these engineering houses don’t necessarily keep a big permanent workforce. When they are busy as little as 35 per cent of their workforce might consist of permanent staff; the rest will be highly paid contract workers.
Contract engineers and designers in Europe may earn between €500 and €1,200 a day, the difference demonstrating the fluctuating nature of the work, Wallace said.
The going rate for a project manager is between €107 and €113 an hour, and between €85 and €94 for a civil field engineer, based on quotes Wallace got from a UK employment agency earlier this week. Usually, contractors work based on hourly rate or day rate on a standard five day week with most projects normally lasting somewhere between 12 to 36 months, Wallace said.
It all means a career in oil and gas is certainly rewarding, but such returns are still a long way off for young Cypriots starting out on their studies.