Subsea boom in north east Scotland could be under threat if skills shortage continues

Energy minister Michael Fallon
Energy minister Michael Fallon

The UK’s energy minister has warned that the world-leading subsea industry could leave the north-east if it continues to struggle to attract enough skilled workers.

Michael Fallon told Energy Voice companies in the flourishing sector could decide to move to other areas like Tyneside if they can not fill thousands of posts and expand in Aberdeen.

He made the comments after new figures showed the industry was now worth £9billion – having grown by 50% in three years – and with three-quarters of the revenues generated in the north-east.

But despite creating 16,000 jobs since 2010, sector body Subsea UK is calling for a national research and skills programme to help find the 10,000 extra people it needs to capitalise on demand.

Asked by the P&J about the skills shortage at a Subsea UK reception at Westminster, Mr Fallon said: “There’s an opportunity there for other areas like Tyneside.

“If they can’t recruit in Aberdeen you’re going to get companies moving along the coast. That’s not a bad thing for UK PLC.”

In a speech at the event, the Conservative minister indicated that the UK Government was ready to help address the issue.

“There is still huge employment potential in this industry, at home and abroad, and the shortage of experienced and skilled people has to be an area of concern and an area where government and industry have to work harder together to resolve,” he said.

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, pointed to government-backed skills and research initiatives in other parts of the world.

“We haven’t really had a lot of that in the past, but we are now seeing the Scottish and UK Government recognising that this industry is a valuable and they need to support it, both to supply the UK Continental Shelf and maximise production, but also the huge opportunity we have in other parts of the world.”

The reception was sponsored by Sir Robert Smith, MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, which includes Westhill, a subsea hub.

He said: “They key message on skills is that anyone at school thinking about their future should serious consider a career in the subsea sector of the oil and gas industry, because we’re the world leaders in the north-east of Scotland.”

Dame Anne Begg, Aberdeen South MP, said the sector’ success was a “good news story”, but said the industry had a key role to play in recruitment by funding apprenticeships.

Frank Doran, Aberdeen North MP, said: “Skills is a major problem, but it’s good to see the industry talking about what it can do, because in my view that is something it has failed to do in the last 40 years.”