Psychologists know that change creates stress. And the bigger the upheaval, the greater the fear, anxiety and doubt.
The UKCS is currently experiencing such change on an unprecedented scale. A seismic shift is taking place as it seeks to adapt rapidly to the new realities of the 2014 oil price shock, the coming of the digital oilfield and the Great Energy Transition to the Net Zero Carbon future.
But the industry has now worked through the classic cycle of emotional reactions to rapid change. The workforce accepts the new normal and stands ready to embrace the strategy that will maintain Aberdeen’s position as a global energy centre.
The greatest transformation will be in the composition of this new workforce and the types of skills necessary to thrive. We are on the cusp; we’re leaving behind the old reality of heavily-demarcated, highly-specific roles. We’re entering a new era defined by a multi-skilled energy workforce that is flexible, dynamic and technology-enabled.
At OPITO we forecast that by 2025, just six short years hence, the UKCS will need to attract 25,000 new people. One in five of those will be working in completely new roles that don’t yet exist, in areas such as data science, automation and new materials.
Yes, we’ll still need geologists, helicopter pilots and engineers but future roles may include such vital posts as 3D material scientists, gamification designers, AI learning specialists and virtual reality journey builders.
Making that happen means making major changes to our learning approach and our business models. With traditional oil and gas skills giving way rapidly to broader energy skills, equipping the workforce for this dynamic environment is existentially important. The work needs to begin right away.
Our Skills Landscape 2019-2025 report set out the strategy that will ensure our industry’s evolution, survival and prosperity.
The 2025 workforce will learn using simulation models, augmented and virtual reality and online training to ensure it stays ahead of the innovation curve. There will be much greater focus on demand-led learning methods. Training will often be delivered remotely in short, sharp bursts, using smartphones or tablets. It will take place at home or in the workplace and not just in the classroom.
Crucially, learners are at the heart of the strategy and they will be in charge of their own learning. This is not something that is being done to them but something that they control and are passionate about.
Education used to be about the 3Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, but our strategy goes one better by focusing on the new 4Rs of retain, retrain, recruit and renew.
That means retaining and retraining the existing workforce, helping them to upskill and reskill in areas such as internationalisation, change management, and technology and data skills; an estimated 80% of the current workforce will still be active in the sector in 2025.
We’ll be actively recruiting that new talent totalling some 25,000 people, many in roles that don’t exist yet, and we’ll be renewing the technology and skills base of the entire sector; ensuring that it’s fit-for-purpose in the digital, clean and net zero carbon future.
But it’s one thing to create a strategy. It’s another to deliver it. We are determined to succeed, and we can’t do it alone.
Collaboration is at the heart of modern business success, which is why we will be working closely with government, industry, trade unions and agencies to make the vision a reality. This is a change that will affect teaching methods across the entire education and training spectrum; from schools, colleges and universities to the private training providers.
This week, I have written to all our potential partners, inviting them to be part of the new Skills Alliance which will get our industry ready for the exciting transition to Net Zero. We’re ready to work with our partners in nuclear, renewables, refining and with like-minded, forward-thinking colleagues in the oil and gas sector, the unions, the economic development agencies and academia. There is a place for everyone who wants to be part of the solution.
We can’t sleepwalk into this major industrial change and there is no point railing against it. We need to recognise our industry is transforming, embrace the change and make it happen.
Now, through the Energy Skills Alliance, we will be ready to deliver the strategy that makes us leading players in the vibrant 21st century energy industry.
John McDonald is Chief Executive of OPITO, the global skills body for the energy industry.