More than half of offshore workers could be involved in low carbon energy activities by the end of the decade, according to new research.
Academics at Robert Gordon University (RGU) have today published a report setting out the “material prize” for the UK of successfully delivering on its energy transition goals.
Researchers found that, depending on levels of ambition, the UK offshore energy sector could support around 200,000 jobs, either directly or indirectly, by 2030, up from 160,000 today.
They will be required to underpin the development of offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, as well as ongoing oil and gas production.
Of those 200,000, 65% are predicted to work in offshore renewables, compared to just 20% currently.
Offshore wind is expected to be the biggest employer, accounting for 45% of the workforce, closely followed by oil and gas with 35%.
Other offshore related energy projects and clusters will make up the final 20%.
It is forecasted that over £170 billion will be invested on capital and operating activities in the UK offshore energy sector up to 2030.
Paul de Leeuw, director of the Energy Transition Institute at RGU and the report’s lead author, said the research highlights the “real opportunity” for the offshore sector to play a “leading role” in the energy transition.
He said: “We need to maintain existing activities in order to develop the new low carbon future. We can’t go too fast in some areas and not others – that in itself requires a real level of coordination between industry and government.
“If we want a fair and just transition and to retain high skilled jobs, a really careful balancing act is going to be needed.”
Mr de Leeuw stressed the need to find the “goldilocks zone”, whereby public and private sector pull all the correct levers in order to get the transition “just right”.
Upskilling and Training
The UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability Review found that the vast majority of the UK’s oil and gas workforce are well positioned to work in adjacent energy sector.
More than 90% of workers are deemed to have medium to high skills transferability, the report said.
Moreover, by 2030, more than three quarters of offshore workers are expected to be employed in one of nine key areas, including business development, supply chain management, and operations.
In order to ensure that people currently employed in oil and gas are able to make the leap into low carbon jobs, Mr de Leeuw said upskilling and training would be crucial.
He said: “For a lot of jobs, the transferability is really high. If you work in human resources, finance or procurement you can move relatively easily between these different sectors.
“Where it becomes a little more complex is with very specific roles in the oil and gas industry which don’t immediately transfer. But, a modest degree of upskilling and training can be very effective.”
He added that a combination of measures from both industry and government would be needed in order to create a “more flexible workforce”.
The Price of Failure
As well as showcasing the material benefits that a successful energy transition could bring, the review also highlights the consequences of the sector not delivering on its goals.
Reduced ambition, combined with lower activity level and an accelerated decline in the oil and gas industry, could reduce the offshore energy workforce requirements to fewer than 140,000 jobs by 2030.
It would also lead to less deployment of offshore wind and hydrogen.
Fears of further job losses in oil and gas are rife after a devastating last few months for the sector, in which thousands of workers were laid off.
Alternatively, the report predicts that if industry and governments increase and make good on their ambitions, the projected workforce could grow to 220,000 by 2030.
Mr de Leeuw set out three requirements that will be fundamental to ensuring the success of the energy transition.
He said: “The first one is for industry to be very clear and give good visibility of activity that is coming up, what it means for jobs and what skills will be needed.
“We also need to make sure that we tell people what is required of them, what they need to do in terms of their capabilities and where they will need to move to.
“Lastly, there needs to be a transparency at all times. This is about the energy future of the country, long term careers and high quality jobs. We need to be clear about the choices that need to be made and the prize of getting them right.”
The UK and Scottish Governments were among the first to lay out their goals for mitigating climate change, setting legally binding targets to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and 2045 respectively.
Earlier this year, Westminster published its long awaited North Sea Transition Deal, designed to help the oil and gas industry move away hydrocarbon production, while also protecting thousands of jobs.
Meanwhile, trade unions and campaigners have called for a “just transition” to ensure workers are supported to meet the demands of the planned low carbon energy mix.
In its 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, Westminster set a target of producing 40 gigawatts (GW) of green energy from offshore wind by the end of the decade.
In order to hit that target, 2,500 new offshore wind turbines will need to be installed by the end of the decade – the equivalent of a turbine every weekday for nine years – the review said.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK energy minister, said: “We have a world leading offshore energy sector in Scotland and across the UK with a proven mix of critical skills, which are essential to the success of the energy industry.
“Through our leading North Sea Transition Deal, we set out how we will make certain we have an energy skills base in the UK that is fit for the future, while our Green Jobs Taskforce will advise on how we can create the broader skilled workforce to deliver net zero by 2050.
“The review rightly recognises the need to support the skills transition. The UK Government is committed to working with all relevant agencies in a way that develops the full potential of the energy industry.”
“Our changing industry will continue to support jobs”
Alix Thom, workforce and skills manager at trade body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK), welcomed the news that the “overwhelming majority” of roles in the industry are “well positioned” to move across to low carbon equivalents.
She added: “Many companies in our industry are already active in renewable energy, and this report confirms that our changing industry will continue to support jobs in communities across the UK for many years to come.
“With the signing of the groundbreaking North Sea Transition Deal in March this year, our industry has an ambitious plan with government to ensure our workforce and supply chain will not be left behind as we transit to a lower carbon energy mix. We echo RGU’s calls for a continued focus and collaborative working between all relevant stakeholders, to ensure our industry can play its vital role in the future of energy.”
Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, said: “We welcome the findings of this report which further demonstrate the wealth of opportunity for the underwater industry within the stream of live opportunities in offshore wind and those in emerging floating offshore wind, wave and tidal, hydrogen and CCUS.
“The UK’s underwater industry is world-renowned for its experience and expertise, largely honed in North Sea oil and gas but now gaining traction in offshore wind, floating wind and marine renewables. It is therefore well positioned to play an important role in the energy transition. Subsea UK is already supporting members on this journey by providing the insight, knowledge and support required to enable companies to establish themselves in renewables and ensure they have the capability to capitalise on the net-zero opportunity.”
“Jobs are paramount for a fair transition”
Stephen Flynn, Aberdeen South MP and the SNP’s BEIS spokesman in Westminster, said the report highlights the position of the North Sea in the wider energy transition.
He added: “Jobs are paramount for a fair transition to net-zero and it is clear that the north east of Scotland has much of the skills and infrastructure to do something truly transformative.
“It is now essential that the necessary action is taken to ensure we retain these skills and capabilities and create a net-zero energy workforce able to deliver a just transition.”