Twenty miles off the coast of Texas, you stand on a platform and look down to the ocean far beneath you. In a minute or two, you go inside a room to check out some computer simulations and underwater video. You need to problem-solve a new drilling tool that will pierce the ocean floor in hopes of extracting oil. You’ll oversee most of the construction of the drilling mechanism and probably most of the actual extraction. This process may take a long time, and you could be on that platform for three weeks or three months. There’s no clear way to know. People across the globe are counting on what you do—each and every move you make. The pressure is wearisome; but then again, you did your time in school to get here. Now your mind goes back to some of those teachers who helped make this possible.
Petroleum engineering consistently is listed as one of the highest paid occupations you can enter straight out of college. With a large pool of petroleum engineers retiring in the next few years and a continuous increase in demand for oil, these workers are highly sought after. So, why are these vacancies so hard to fill?
The answers vary widely, but all relate to the study of math and science. A student’s decision to go into the petroleum engineering field is often based on math and science skills developed early in life. Math and science are critical in the world of problem-solving and essential in becoming a Petroleum Engineer, who must deal with specialized mathematical and scientific applications. (See FocusOn occupation profile for more information) Drilling requires knowledge of physics, measurement and geology, to name of few. Such knowledge is developed from the very beginning of a child’s education. If any occupation speaks to the “cradle to career” need for education, Petroleum Engineering sits atop the list. And herein rests the problem — not enough students are developing their math and science skills in elementary and high school to make this a viable occupation to pursue in college. And it’s not entirely their fault.
At a time when more and more occupations, like Petroleum Engineering, require advanced technical knowledge in math and science, elementary and secondary schools are facing a critical shortage of qualified math and science teachers. Unfortunately, this shortage leads to a smaller pool of qualified candidates to fill these positions. Even today this late in spring, many districts in our backyards are searching for candidates to fill their math and science teaching positions.
Nowhere in the world could this lack of supply and high demand situation be more important than in Houston, Texas, where industries rely heavily on an educated workforce with math and science skills. While recent legislative budget cuts have led to teacher layoffs and a lot of media coverage, in reality there is a dire need for math and science teachers. If ever there was a time to get interested in teaching, and you can teach math and/or science. It’s time to get the ball rolling. Stop by one of our career offices and we will help get you started. The future of Houston may just depend on you, Petroleum Engineer or you, math / science teacher.
Michael Webster serves as an Industry Liaison to the Education Sector for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board. With over a decade of experience in teaching and staff development, Michael is passionate about ensuring all students achieve an enriching and successful life beyond high school. In his current capacity, he services school districts in developing a strong workforce and in delivering career resources to students and their families.