Seen these icons?

If we have events, jobs or news that are relevant to the page topic, you can access them by clicking on icons next to the print button.

Energy | The Careers Service Energy – Oxford University Careers Service
Oxford logo
About this sector

How do we source energy, change the world’s consumption and increasing demands, and do this without having an adverse impact on the environment in which we live? The energy industry is faced by a “trilemma” – how to make energy supplies secure, affordable and low carbon.

In the UK at the moment fossil fuels meet around 50% of primary energy needs. Shale gas has transformed the US energy market and has the potential to do so elsewhere but is not without controversy.

Global renewable power generation capacity rose by 9% in 2016. Renewable energy accounted for more than half the total new power generation capacity. Despite this fossil fuels still dwarf renewables in terms of global energy consumption (oil 4.3 billion tonnes, compared to renewables 0.4 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (source: BP)).

We have seen growth in solar and wind generation in particular as costs fall and technologies improve. Seven traditionally oil/gas groups including Shell, Total and Statoil have together invested $15bn in renewables in the last four years (source: FT). The expansion of offshore windfarms in the North Sea developed by Shell and Statoil in particular is testament to their diversification.

The growth of renewables has introduced more volatility in electricity prices. In the UK, for the first time recent high output from wind farms briefly pushed down the wholesale price and resulted in negative power prices which meant that some conventional power plants had to pay household suppliers to take their electricity.

The planned expansion of the UK’s nuclear power capability, though subject to cost issues and delays, looks set to lead to the introduction of five new nuclear plants by 2030.

We are already seeing signs of growth in areas around energy efficiency and monitoring, in particular with the on-going develop of smart metering and innovative energy management systems on the domestic scale and larger. This is reflected in an increase in recruitment into information systems.

The pace of change and the challenges faced by the energy industry make this an exciting time to join the sector and help to secure our future global energy supply. However, do bear in mind that – at least in the short term – the most plentiful career options remain in the parts of the energy sector relating to fossil fuels, though the availability of graduate roles in exploration and production roles in particular can be heavily impacted by fluctuations in oil and gas prices.

Types of job

Organisations in the energy industry range from huge multinational corporations to small organisations consisting of a handful of people developing specialist technology. Many large organisations operate graduate training schemes, most commonly in the oil and gas industry and the power generation sector. Other parts of the industry are dominated by small to medium enterprises (SMEs), for example in renewables technology companies, smart-metering technologies and low-carbon specialists.

Roles for engineers, scientists and IT specialists are most abundant, but opportunities also exist in many commercial roles, and in areas such as policy, regulation and law.

Energy industry sectors include:

Global and regional energy companies

Many have an international presence and traditionally focus on discovering and extracting oil and gas (upstream business), refining it into commercial products and distributing it to customers (downstream business). Oilfield service companies, such as Schlumberger and Halliburton, provide specialist services to oil companies to aid the exploration and extraction of oil but do not directly extract oil and gas themselves. In the UK much of the oil/gas industry is based around Aberdeen and Great Yarmouth. Many energy companies are now also investing heavily in renewables.

Power generators, distributors and suppliers

Many of the big players in the energy sector use a range of fuel sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewables) to generate electricity for distribution to homes and industry. These companies have evolved from the energy utilities companies of the past. Most now operate nationally and even internationally. Smaller companies may focus on one locality or on one source of energy such as a network of solar farms.

Energy consultancies and market analysts

Consultancies may focus on the energy sector as one aspect of a broader management consultancy business, or as a boutique firm specialising entirely in energy. Their scope could include advising on investment support for mergers and acquisitions or optimising portfolios, developing and advising on hedging strategies in energy markets, advising government on the costs and benefits of different energy policies, providing market intelligence, modelling/optimising energy demand forecasting, pricing analysis and more. See management consultancy for more information.

Investment firms specialising in energy

Specialist financial companies dealing with investment, private equity, business and development, buying and selling assets such as wind or solar farms, management of commercial contracts etc specific to the energy industry. See banking and investment for more information

Energy Trading

The commodities markets include power, coal, CO2 certificates and oil. Trading takes place within stand-alone specialist firms and divisions of major energy companies. Activities include managing investment portfolios, market analysis and (financial) product development. See the relevant occupational profile and  banking and investment for more information on careers in trading.

Energy services, including sustainability consultancies

Organisations responsible for developing and implementing clean energy initiative and improving energy efficiencies. Such services could be delivered from an in-house team within a company looking at sustainability across a business or other organisation such as a university, or within local councils advising on fuel poverty, energy efficiency, community energy initiatives or local policy. Some consultancies also exist.

Energy policy and regulation

Opportunities to work on policy and regulation relating to energy exist in national government, local government, think tanks and with regulatory bodies such as Ofgem in the UK.

Legal

Large energy companies will often employ teams of legal experts in-house to advise on contracts and compliance with energy and emissions regulations. Law firms may also develop specialisms in energy. See solicitors for more information.

 

Entry points

There are roles in the energy sector for graduates of any degree discipline. Subject requirements are more stringent for technical roles. Earth science, engineering, physics and chemistry are particularly relevant for a career in the energy sector. For some technical roles a postgraduate qualification can enhance your chances. The oil and gas sectors in particular recruit graduates into exploration roles from Masters courses such as Exploration Geophysics, Petroleum Engineering or Petroleum Geoscience. Entry to technical roles with a DPhil/PhD is also common, particularly in Geoscience, Geophysics, Petrophysics and other research and development roles.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

The variety of technical and corporate roles for graduates in the energy sector makes it difficult to generalise about the skills required. However, most employers in the sector emphasise the need for the following:

  • Analytical skills and ability to solve problems.
  • Interpersonal skills and the ability to work in a diverse team, with those from different disciplines and cultures.
  • Determination and drive.
  • Proven academic ability – most graduate schemes require a 2:1 or above (some accept a 2:2).
  • Ability to think commercially.
  • Data handling and modelling techniques

Getting experience

Internships

  • Many large energy companies offer summer internships for students in the penultimate year of their university course. Students on postgraduate courses are also often eligible to apply for these. Internships typically last eight to thirteen weeks and are most common in the oil and gas sector and with power generation companies. Applications open early in the autumn and closing dates are usually between December and March. Examples of companies that offer summer internships include BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Schlumberger, Centrica and EDF Energy.
  • The Internship Programme, run by the Careers Service, offers internships in all sectors, worldwide, including a significant number in the energy industry. This is open to students of all years.

Other work experience

If you are not in your penultimate year, or you want to gain some experience of parts of the energy sector where formal internships are rare then there are still options open to you.

  • Several organisations advertise summer work experience on CareerConnect.
  • Many students are able to arrange work experience by approaching companies directly. Research companies of interest by using LinkedIn, relevant trade and professional bodies, or by contacting alumni working in the sector via the Oxford Careers Network. Also see our information on speculative applications.
  • Work shadowing can also be a useful way of finding out more about a particular area, as well as providing a source of contacts. Be prepared to be proactive in your search and make speculative applications. Generate a list of organisations to approach by using the industry websites and directories listed at the end of this document.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Several large employers, as well as some smaller firms, give presentations in Oxford in Michaelmas Term. Many also attend the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair. Closing dates for graduate programmes range from November to March, though some organisations recruit throughout the year, often for specific roles, and can be flexible about starting dates.

Many energy sector employers advertise their vacancies through CareerConnect. You will also find them well-represented in graduate career publications and websites such as Gradcracker, TargetJobs, Times Top 100 and Prospects.

In sectors dominated by SMEs (such as renewables and other specialist technology firms) a direct approach or using specialist recruitment agencies may be productive.

Specialist jobs websites include:

Employment rights & equality

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

  • STEM Disability Committee provides support for disabled students and workers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Use the portal section of their website for a comprehensive set of links to relevant groups and projects.
  • WISE promotes female talent in science, engineering and technology. Their extensive website showcases case studies of female role models in technical roles, has a forum (GetSET) for women in science, engineering and technology and links to opportunities for mentoring.

UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

Online resources

  • GoingGlobal, accessed via CareerConnect, provides worldwide information on jobs and internships, industry profiles and country-specific careers information.

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Green Careers, Cassio & Rush
  • Planning a scientific career in industry, Mohanty & Gosh

Journals

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • New Scientist

Take-away material

Collect the following material from our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • How the Energy Industry Works
  • TargetJobs: Engineering
  • Times Top 100 graduate employers
  • Guardian UK300
External resources

General sites

Sector vacancies

Oil and gas

Nuclear

Utilities

Renewables

This information was last updated on 16 August 2017.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about Energy
This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.