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5 minutes with Graham Birch
Refinery Technical Manager, Petroineos

What support does Petroineos give to young refiners in terms of training and employee development?

We run a structured IChemE training scheme which is intended to lead them through to chartership. The first 5 or 6 years of a chemical engineers graduate life we will be giving them tasks and managed activities to do which suit the criterion required for chartership. Once they come out of the training programme there is a competency map for each role.  We identify gaps in their competency dependent on the role they are in and then seek to close those gaps. We will put them on a relevant course for their role, then we try to move people around depending on which role is most suited to them but this is also up to the individual.

Do you think there is a problem with talent retention in this industry general and have you experience this at your company?

I would say personally that retention is better since we left BP, as you recruit with a big organisation with the hope of recruiting the next senior executive. We expect to lose engineers, but also we expect to recruit people who are going to stay, we recruit local engineers who will stay in the area, then you recruit people who are going take on those more senior roles but you have to be prepared that the attrition rate is higher with these individuals because they will get impatient.

With the growth of renewables and alternative fuels becoming a reality, do you think that the uncertainty about the industry future of the oil industry is an influencing factor on the number of young people building a career in this sector?

I don’t think it will come through in the number of graduates applying but it may come through in the quality, so you may find that the higher quality graduates will look to do something different, it’s hard to say. We will probably find out over the next few years whether our ‘engineers of the future’ programme’ is working. We have actually been recruiting people aged 16, putting them through an apprenticeship and then onto university. We haven’t actually gone out to the graduate market in any serious form for about 4 years. We go to the local Scottish market, so you may see we have a more local effect.

What do you think the main benefits of ERTC: Ask the Experts will be for the engineers?

I would say is that there is a danger that if you start thinking too far ahead with your career it could be to the detriment of the role you are doing at the time. I would say first of all concentrate on doing a good job in the job that you are in, and that should lead itself naturally to progression.

I would also comment that the longer you in refining in particular the more you realise how little you know. Always stay open to finding out new things, every day is a school day, remain open to the unexpected.

Graham’s top tips:

  • Firstly, concentrate on doing a good job in the job that you are in, and that should lead itself naturally to progression; there is a danger that if you start thinking too far ahead with your career it could be to the detriment of the role you are doing at the time.
  • The longer you are in refining the more you realise how little you know. Always stay open to finding out new things, every day is a school day, remain open to the unexpected
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