One of the great drivers in the oil and gas industry today is the continuing skills shortage and the need to address the resulting challenges in order to maximise remaining natural reserves.
The picture painted by Sir Ian Wood’s report on the future of North Sea oil and gas is one of an industry that’s past its peak in terms of production.
It’s the classic $64,000 question: how do we ensure the industry reaches its full potential at a time when we are faced with huge challenges ranging from harder-to-reach reserves and decommissioning to the adoption of new technologies and innovations.
For me, the problem is two-fold: in addition to not attracting sufficient engineering talent there needs to be a concerted effort in terms of retaining skilled personnel.
For some time now, there has been a demand for greater investment in training and developing fresh talent. It is estimated that around 87,000 new engineers across all UK industry sectors will be needed every year over the next decade to meet demand for skilled workers.
It is clear that more needs to be done to encourage young people to consider engineering as a career choice across the UK.
This is where initiatives such as AFBE-UK’s Transition Programme – where university students are offered practical career advice, including workshops and mock interviews, to help prepare them to enter the world of work – come into effect.
By going into schools, colleges and universities and engaging with young people, particularly those who come from under-represented groups in society, we can help inspire the next generation of engineering talent.
In my experience, people who are interested in a career in engineering are often not aware of the different routes available to them, outside of university, in terms of getting a foot on the ladder.
There are a great number of apprenticeship schemes geared towards providing the right skills and training which will benefit businesses.
Practical experience in the workplace should also be given greater precedence. Even if only for a short-term period, the hands-on lessons that young people can learn in these situations can have a lasting impact on their development.
Equally, I have seen a number of instances of talented people moving to another industry without first fulfilling their potential in engineering.
While this can be explained by a number of factors, there can be a tendency for professional development opportunities to be put on hold to focus on day-to-day business operations.
I believe there is a real demand for more robust mentoring which could aid the retention of talent. Formal mentoring initiatives, whereby senior colleagues are encouraged to provide guidance to new recruits, are something that could be more widely adopted across the industry.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of every company and organisation to help bridge the skills gap; not only by inspiring talent but to retain them in order to aid the long-term success of the industry.
Dr Ollie Folayan is the Aberdeen-based chairman of AFBE-UK Scotland. AFBE-UK (Association for BME Engineers) is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes engineering as a career choice among young people from under-represented groups, particularly those of black and minority ethnic (BME) origin.