Skills are a huge issue in Britain today, with many businesses struggling with the challenges. The UK oil and gas industry is, however, now embarking on a collaborative approach to addressing the shortage.
Our industry is made up of talented and exceptional individuals and without them the North Sea and its broad supply chain would not have become one of Britain’s biggest, brightest and longest lasting industrial success stories of modern times.
With 650 people in attendance, last month’s glittering Oil & Gas UK Awards ceremony was a particularly fitting celebration of that talent.
With up to 24billion barrels of reserves still to be extracted, the industry should continue to make an important contribution to the growth of the UK economy and energy security for decades to come.
But if this potential is to be met, the North Sea not only needs a stable and predictable fiscal regime but a steady and rising flow of skilled people entering the sector – and staying.
So who and which skills are particularly in demand?
Several recent studies have helped us answer this.
A study carried out by Robert Gordon University on behalf of Opito in 2010 highlighted that all 144 companies surveyed identified mid-career engineering, managerial, operations and productions roles to be the most difficult to fill, while operators also found recruitment of professional scientists challenging.
Expertise in the subsea arena, geosciences and drilling are also in short supply.
This mid-career gap is also reflected in the offshore population; Oil & Gas UK’s 2012 Demographics Report highlights that, although there was a significant increase between 2006 and 2011 in the total number of offshore workers and in the group aged 18 to 34, there was a decline in the number of employees between 35 and 49 years of age.
The report also shows that the number of female workers in the industry is rising, but it is not doing so quickly enough. In 2011, females made up only 3.7% of the total offshore workforce and were represented in only half of all offshore disciplines.
In fact, if you take catering workers out of the equation, female employees offshore are lower in numbers than in 2007.
To some extent this demand for skills is a symptom of our own success, as activity levels are high on the UK Continental Shelf and we are competing globally for personnel; skills developed in the industry here are much in demand internationally.
Knowing where the tightness in the labour market lies takes us a huge step towards addressing the problem.
The data informed the themes and disciplines for discussion at Oil & Gas UK’s first Skills Summit, held in Aberdeen in September.
This event brought together senior members of the industry and representatives from Opito (Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation), the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and Pilot to address the sector’s skills needs in a more collaborative way.
While attendees agreed that competition for energy-related skills globally, under-investment in long-term skills development and training and the cyclical nature of the industry all hamper our ability to attract a sufficient number of skilled people, a lack of consistency in approach and the multiplicity of initiatives being pursued by companies stood out as something that could feasibly be tackled through collaboration.
The summit revealed a real appetite for better cooperation and to pool resources to take forward a number of projects for greater breadth and depth of impact across the UK and internationally, including:
o An industry “gateway” – a one-stop shop for information about and assistance with getting into the industry;
o Improving gender diversity by eliminating any barriers to attracting women of all ages and raising the visibility of female role models;
o Building a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Defence so the industry can approach those involved in down-manning;
o Lobbying Government on immigration issues;
o Exploring smarter and innovative methods of training, for example, by extending conversion training to the field of engineering;
o Setting industry standards through competency frameworks;
o A joined-up approach to liaising with schools and universities
o Tapping into other industries;
o Developing more robust labour market information for the industry’s onshore and offshore workforce and creating common profiles for roles where skills are in short supply.
We are just at the start of an important journey but Oil & Gas UK looks forward to collaborating with the industry and other stakeholders throughout 2013 to establish these projects and make a real difference to the sector’s ability to secure the talent it will continue to need for decades to come.
o For more information, please contact Alix Thom, Oil & Gas UK’s employment and skills issues manager, on firstname.lastname@example.org. Oil & Gas UK’s 2012 UKCS Demographics Report is available to download at http://bit.ly/VDKR2f.