Launching business school programs to train oil executives looks audacious given the global crude price plunge – but some energy companies remain optimistic.
Kenya’s National Oil Corporation became the latest energy major to tap into business education this year despite the sector's slashed capital spending and exploration costs, and widespread layoffs.
It last week launched a course to run at Nairobi’s Strathmore University, which seeks to expand the pool of oil and gas talent in Kenya for when the industry “takes off”, said National Oil CEO Sumayya Hassan-Athman.
The program will explore the financing of oil and gas projects, the legal and regulatory frameworks for the industry, and tax, according to Strathmore University.
It is aimed at mid and senior-level energy managers but is also being pitched as suitable for government officials, bankers and law practitioners.
Crude oil prices have fallen by nearly 50% since summer 2014, and there has been a rout in other commodity prices.
But business schools continue to launch new executive programs focused on the energy sector.
Sauder School of Business this month announced plans to launch an Executive MBA in strategic mining management in September 2015.
The Canadian-based business school developed the course with Goldcorp, the NYSE-listed gold producer based nearby in Vancouver, and an advisory council of senior mining executives.
Rohan Hazelton, vice president of strategy at Goldcorp, said that many mining executives will retire over the next five to 10 years.
“The industry needs a new wave of leadership,” he said. “Graduates of this program will be set to take on the leadership roles [that] the mining industry needs.”
The course will address everything from finance and strategic management to business ethics, sustainability and community engagement.
A distance learning program, students will take online modules but come together four times, for week-long residencies in Vancouver, London and Santiago.
Robert Helsley, dean of Sauder, said that the business school has been able to benefit from strong ties to the global mining community in Vancouver, where it is based.
UW College of Business, which is AACSB accredited, last week also said it would launch an energy concentration in its MBA that will be completed online.
The UW MBA's energy concentration is designed for students who are already working in the energy industry but who want to move up in their careers.
Course themes will range from project risk and evaluation to accounting and supply chain management.
A number of high-ranking business schools in the US also offer energy-focused MBA courses. This includes the MBA in Energy & Environment at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
Others have tracks within their masters degrees, such as the energy and clean technology MBA courses at Berkeley's Hass School of Business, and the energy specialization in Jones Graduate School of Business’s MBA program.
Much like in mining, there has been dearth of talent in oil and gas, according to the consulting business of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, and a particular need for experienced managers, said recruitment firm Hays last year.
Careers officers just four months ago, when the price of crude had fallen by about 20%, were anticipating a surge in recruitment of MBAs at both large and small energy companies.
Yet oil and gas discoveries are now at a 20-year low and there has also been a pullback in US shale oil production, in response to the fall in the price of oil.
France’s Total plans to cut jobs, and steep cuts to capital spending and jobs at both BP and BG Group, two of Europe’s biggest energy groups, have also been revealed. Cnooc, China’s third-largest producer, also recently announced cuts to spending.
But some business schools believe plunging oil prices will push managers into business schools. A similar scenario during the global financial crisis had that effect.
Joseph Doucet, dean of the University of Alberta School of Business in Canada, said last week that he expects to have greater competition for places on the school’s MBA.
“There won’t be as many jobs,” he told The Globe and Mail. “But there is always hiring and there are always new needs – even when there is downsizing, rationalizing of investment portfolios and job cuts.”
This may see inflows of managers into Europe'sspread of energy-focused MBA programs, such as the Global Energy MBA at Warwick Business School in the UK, and the MBA in Green Energy and Sustainable Businesses at Bologna Business School in Italy.
Cambridge's Judge Business School also offers an energy concentration within its MBA, while HEC Paris has a major in energy available to its executive MBA students.