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Opinion: Can the industry say hand on heart the next generation are being inspired?

John McDonald
John McDonald

Twelve months ago, the Wood Commission report ‘Education Working for All’ set out in front of parliament, the need for closer links to be forged between educational establishments and businesses to ensure a future for the country’s young people and ultimately strengthen the economy.

Led by Sir Ian Wood, among the issues the document identified was the significant change required by schools, colleges and employers to challenge the cultural misconception that vocational training is less important than a purely academic route.

The Commission prescribed the need for long term partnerships to be established between secondary schools and employers within three years. And by 2020, it recommends that the quality of both work experience programmes and career guidance should be increased significantly and made available to every pupil.

It also identified that an additional 5,000 modern apprentice places need to be created during this timeframe and that 60% of pupils leaving school without Highers do so with relevant vocational qualifications. The Commission recommended the aim should be for Scotland to be among the top five best performing European countries with regards to average youth unemployment rates.

One year on from the report, can we say hand on heart, the oil and gas industry is delivering as expected to inspire and create the country’s next generation of skilled workers in this sector?

This is a tough question to answer, especially given the recommendations were set out before the oil barrel price almost halved. Now, as the full force of the downturn hits home and many companies are consulting existing personnel over reduced working hours if not redundancy, the prospect of taking young people on is perhaps not as high on the priority list as it once was.

The industry collectively talks a good game about taking the long-term approach, continuing with apprenticeship programmes and engagement with local school pupils. We know that if we neglect to attract and develop young people, when the downturn subsides, we face the high cost consequence of losing another generation in the coming years. Therefore workforce planning and inward investment needs to be kept well above the parapet.

Encouragingly, the interest from young people is not abating. Figures obtained from the industry’s online information portal oilandgasskillsnavigator.co.uk, show an unprecedented increase in the number of school pupils researching work experience initiatives last month compared to those visiting the site in February. At that time the news was full of headlines reporting Brent Crude had dropped to just over $58 per barrel and we were being bombarded with warnings that the industry could be on the brink of collapse.

Comparing the same two months for the number of young people looking into modern apprenticeship schemes via the Oil and Gas Skills Navigator site and there too we have seen an increase, almost 30%.

This is an industry built on the strong tradition of employing young people straight out of school whether as an apprentice or providing on the job training. Much work has still to be done if we are to meet the Commission’s suggested targets however the industry has taken the first steps towards doing so.

Ongoing communication is key with business and education working together if we are to establish stronger pro-active and engaged relationships which will all benefit both young people and business by 2020.

John McDonald is managing director of OPITO

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