National Oil & Gas Skills Week is just a few weeks off and one is given to understand that this initiative by Opito is not receiving the kind of support that had been expected.
Skills Week will take place November 11-14 and will see events of various sizes and shapes taking place in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and the north-east of England.
All have the goal of shedding some light on the industry among people who apparently think careers in it can only mean sticking on a boiler-suit and travelling offshore; that oil and gas is a dirty business, that it is a has-been industry.
While I can understand that might be the case for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Norwich, the same cannot be said of the English north-east, Great Yarmouth and, of course, Aberdeen where locals tend to know at least a little something about the North Sea and may have friends and family working offshore.
There is a stack of events already organised . . . over 50 at the time of writing . . . with more scheduled to be added.
This covers everything from hundreds of school pupils visiting Dynamic Earth and Glasgow Science Centre, to teacher conferences, military sessions, debates, workshops, a Doors Open Day – you name it.
The intention is to showcase the diversity of the industry and that whether you are a chef, painter, accountant, lawyer, technician of some sort . . . whatever, there is an opportunity in oil and gas.
It is being supported by Oil & Gas UK, Subsea UK, NOF Energy, EEEgr and various companies in the supply chain and operators have signed up to stage events, take part in an Open Doors Day and with only one or two exceptions all the events are free to attend.
Apparently, Skills Week is the biggest and most ambitious skills initiative the industry has ever tried to stage. It is an attempt to do something about filling in the yawning jobs chasm, which persists despite a number of companies actually laying people off.
More than 60 organisations across the board are involved in different ways throughout the celebration.
However, there is a need to get more, many more companies committed to signing up. Lots have apparently said they are keen but have yet to sign on the dotted line and actually show their commitment to tackling the skills issue.
Education Day seems to have attracted the most corporate attention so far. A key feature is a speed networking event where companies are invited to offer representatives to talk to students about career opportunities.
Participating companies for this event alone include: Apache, Aker Solutions, Amec, Archer, BG Group, BIG Partnership, BP, ConocoPhillips, GE Oil & Gas, Health & Safety Executive, Ingen, Nexen, CNOOC, Opito itself, Plexus Ocean Systems, Proserv, Redwave, Shell, Statoil, Stork, Subsea 7, Tekserv PD, Total and WoodGroup Kenny.
This means that these organisations are technically taking part and supporting the week, even if just on a small scale. And some are doubtless doing much more besides.
There is still time to get involved and I’m thinking that a bit of arm-twisting here and there could generate positive results.
There is also a need to get the public engaged and signing up to attend. But that’s a tougher nut to crack as most media in the UK haven’t a clue about the North Sea or what it stands for, including as a major provider of high quality jobs the length and breadth of Britain and, of course, offshore.
Not only that, Opito operates one of the most successful apprenticeship schemes ever devised in the UK. Indeed there will be a marking of the 15th year of the Upstream Oil & Gas Technician Training Scheme.
It will see 180 of the sector’s great and good gather at an Aberdeen hotel to celebrate the success of the industry apprenticeship scheme and for the presentation of the inaugural Skills Week Awards.
Speakers are scheduled to include Malcolm Webb and LCpl John-James Chalmers, a Royal Marine Commando.
I have come face to face with some of the talent that has joined the north Sea in recent times as a judge in the Oil & Gas UK Awards. They were simply superb and come from all sorts of backgrounds.
Some are school leavers who dumped the classroom at the age of 16, but found their way forwards by signing up to an oil and gas apprenticeship; others have tried something else before making a switch. One notable Young Technician entrant a couple of years ago had completely reinvented his life thanks to a friend who worked in the industry.
My recall of entrants for the most recent cohort of young people to enter the OGUK Awards is that all were local. In prior years when judging the Young Technician category, I was aware that the overwhelming majority hailed from recognised oil and gas centres, including the English north-east.
Perhaps they are demonstration of how important it is for the UK offshore industry to really get out and about.
Opito’s Skills Week would seem to be an excellent opportunity and my presumption is that it will be repeated annually, assuming that the first one is judged a success.
I presume that it will extend its reach geographically to other towns and cities much less familiar with the North Sea success story than the usual suspects like Aberdeen, Great Yarmouth and the English north-east.
Oh I nearly forgot, on November 11, Opito will be unveiling a new UK-wide skills tool which has been developed in line with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) at Westminster’s industrial strategy paper to drive UK economic growth.
Might this be an occasion where collaboration with a government department might actually work? I hope so. But keep the politicians out of it. The last thing we should allow is for any of them to cash in on any perceived success.