Thousands of people have lost their jobs in the UK oil industry in the last few months.
Energy Voice has been reporting on the related consultations day-in, day-out.
After a while, the numbers quoted just become empty statistics.
It is easy to forget that each of those numbers is a person with aspirations, loyalties and mouths to feed.
What are all of the thousands of people who have been cast aside going to do now? It’s a troubling question.
The success of other sectors in the north-east is inextricably linked to how the oil and gas industry is faring.
There is no obvious, alternative sector that is ready to give a new home to such great numbers of skilled workers.
Covid-19 will make finding new jobs even more difficult than would have been the case during an “ordinary” oil sector downturn.
It means a mental health crisis could well be looming, if it is not already here.
In such difficult times, many will have to take whatever they can get and should feel no embarrassment about making an honest living.
Former oil worker Mike Scotland is living by that ethos.
Not long ago, Mr Scotland was doing his “dream job” as an HSE adviser and safety coach at oil major Shell. Prior to that, he worked on various drilling rigs in the North Sea over the course of more than six years.
He did well to get the position at Shell, only to see it all go up in smoke in a matter of months.
Mr Scotland, a 28-year-old father, reflected: “It was the best job I’d ever done. I was doing what I loved, then I was released.
“I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself, that doesn’t get you anywhere.
“I’ve no hard feelings toward Shell and I can’t get angry at Covid. There would be no point. It’s a virus, not something with a conscience.”
Mr Scotland quickly picked himself up and is holding down a job at a fast food franchise.
He knows he is not the only one going through this upheaval. Others will be taking up positions at supermarkets or even considering going “back to school” to qualify for different careers.
He said: “I’m taking a big step out of my comfort zone. I have to practise what I preach. It’s OK to make the change and not feel embarrassed.
“My advice to other people would be to just go for it. Do what’s best for your family.
“If that means taking a pay cut, then that’s what you need to do. The pressure people feel is often self-inflicted.”
Mr Scotland is well placed to provide an insight into the struggles people are going through, whether they’ve lost their jobs or are still employed, but fear redundancy.
He is best-known in Aberdeen for founding a fast-growing online support group that encourages people to talk about their mental health.
Through manUP speakUP, he has been trying to help remove the mental health stigma from an oil and gas industry characterised by a macho, stiff-upper-lip culture.
Mr Scotland and his team members are doing something right. More than 800 people in 49 countries have joined the Facebook group.
He does not masquerade as a mental health professional, though manUP speakUP did recently manage to get two counsellors on standby in anticipation of a spike in people whose psychological wellbeing had taken a knock.
ManUP speakUP uses Facebook to share content and activities, for example, DIY, to keep idle thumbs busy and get people through the day.
These activities are a source of solace for people who may be feeling angry, frustrated and overwhelmed, but are not comfortable chatting through their problems with a stranger.
The content was also a source of support to riggers who, at the height of the North Sea Covid spread, were returning from offshore then going straight into lockdown at home – “from one type of isolation to another”, Mr Scotland said.
As for the calls the team does field, a lot of the conversations are about reminding people that they are important and drawing out what they would like to do if they are not going to be employed in the oil industry
Mr Scotland observed that many people in Aberdeen feel “consumed” by the oil and gas industry and cannot “see past it”.
“We’re trying to get people to understand that there’s more to them than going offshore,” he said. “It’s about adding more strings to people’s bows because if you’re only focused on one thing, it’s hard to do anything else.”
“At the same time, just because a person has been discarded by the oil sector, it does not mean the door is closed forever. People are having to understand that there’s life outside the industry,” he added. “A driller might need to go to a supermarket, but when things get better, they can go back to the oil and gas industry.”
Mr Scotland also spoke out against what he perceives to be a failure
by companies to properly face up to the importance of helping maintain employees’ psychological wellbeing beyond Mental Health Week.
He said: “There was a week when lots of companies were doing lots of things for mental health, but that’s just one week and they’ll do the same next year. What about every other day or week?
“At manUP speakUP we try to tackle this every day because we know it’s a consistent problem. A lot of companies will donate to mental health charities, which is great, but that doesn’t mean you support mental health.
“Supporting mental health is about actively contributing to address the problem every single day. It should be incorporated into every sort of training, because mental health is being able to engage with people. A lot of companies still fail to understand communication.”
Mr Scotland knows there are companies who do a lot more good work than they get credit for, because they don’t court the limelight.
Equally, he feels others are exploiting social media, using it to publicise activities that reflect well on them, but which they don’t normally bother with. In short, a
“I know it sounds harsh and will annoy people, but it’s the truth,” he added.