Google is chic and Apple is cool. And who wouldn’t want to work for the mouse at Walt Disney Co.?
But an increasing number of college students are turning away from tech and Tinker Bell and returning to the oil patch. Energy companies are becoming more popular among college students, the latest in an annual survey shows.
Chalk it up to higher-than-average starting salaries and a plethora of job opportunities, coupled with work-life balance and promotion opportunities. Those are making energy companies a hot ticket on college campuses, according to a survey by Universum, the Stockholm-based firm that polls about 60,000 college students each year, including 2,400 in Texas.
Companies use information from the weighted online surveys to determine how to position themselves as employers of choice.
“It’s way up this year,” said Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of client talent strategy and employer branding for Universum at the firm’s U.S. headquarters in New York.
Engineers, for example, ranked oil and gas firms 10 points higher on the desirability scale. With a rating of 1 being the most desirable, engineers ranked energy firms an average of 48.1 this year compared to 58.6 last year, according to Universum.
Exxon Mobil top choice
That’s not much of a surprise to Jamie Belinne, assistant dean for career services at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. While energy companies have always been popular with UH students, Belinne said, other universities are becoming more eager to lure energy companies to their campuses.
She said she is getting calls from her peers elsewhere – some of whom clearly don’t know there is a difference between upstream and downstream energy. Or that the big oil and gas companies are also some of the leaders in alternative energy.
“We know energy and we know energy jobs, but we’re finding out it’s a bit of a mystery to other schools,” she said.
UH hosts a forum in August so energy companies and universities – including several from the Ivy League – can talk about recruiting trends.
Students interested in energy work want to go big, listing Exxon Mobil Corp. as the No. 1 choice, followed by Royal Dutch Shell and BP, according to the Universum survey.
Lynn was surprised there isn’t a shadow hanging over BP because of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but she said the company meets the matter head-on when visiting college campuses. BP’s approach to the students, she said, is, “Come help us. We need you more than ever.”
The campaign is working, said Lynn, pointing to BP’s No. 3 ranking among students seeking energy careers.
The strategy demonstrates the importance of the environment and social responsibility among young people, said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, a nonprofit advocacy group in Austin.
It also speaks to the desire of students to work for companies that live up to their ideals, said Metzger. That can make it hard for some to admit to their friends that they work for BP.
But if a new employee can say to friends, “I’m trying to fix things,” that might reassure the new engineers, chemists and geoscientists that they’re working for a company that is trying to do things better, he said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean credits part of its recruiting success to its Challenge Program, which focuses on career development of new undergraduate and post-graduate employees.
Program participants rotate through several BP business units and receive extensive coaching throughout their two to three years in the program, he said. The employees gain practical experience through formal, on-site learning to build a strong foundation in wells, engineering, finance, health and safety, procurement and supply-chain management.
Lynn said the top issue among college students polled by Universum this year is work-life balance. Prospects appreciate the compressed work weeks schedules that energy companies offer – including 9/80s in which employees work 80 hours in nine work days.
Texas getting 2nd look
Students also want career security, as they’ve seen their parents go through the trauma of restructuring and layoffs. They want to work for companies that promote from within and help with career development.
And students want to work for companies that are invested in the greater good, whether it’s a focus on local communities or the environment, she said.
College students are also taking a second look at the Lone Star State.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see the economy is booming in Texas,” said Lynn, referring to students who come for interviews and see the vibrant economy. And the cost of living is low, meaning entry-level workers can get more for less.
It doesn’t hurt that some of the graduates – especially petroleum engineers – can walk into six-figure jobs between the base wage and bonus, she said. “It’s very exciting.”