Long-term strategies for skills shortages

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Last month, industry body Subsea UK revealed that the sector, which is currently worth almost £9 billion, could grow to more than £11bn by 2016.

Almost half of the respondents to a survey conducted by the organisation said they anticipated growth in excess of 20% in the next three years while the subsea sector has created 16,000 jobs since 2010.

Around the same time as the results of the Subsea UK survey were announced, a senior HR figure at a leading energy company with a strong focus on the North Sea was reported as saying that skills shortages in the North Sea were at "tipping point" and that organisations were genuinely worried about how they were going to grow in the future.

This good news/bad news dichotomy for the subsea sector really highlights the main challenge affecting the industry as a whole. Activity across the board is on the increase in all parts of the world, yet for every positive story about contract wins there seems to be one focusing on skills shortages.

The traditional response to an upswing in business, and we are seeing much of this today, has been for companies to frantically scramble around, offering top dollar wages for experienced and skilled people who can hit the ground running, then letting them go when times are not so good, meaning that their knowledge and skills invariably disappear.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who are eager to join the sector but can’t get a foothold because they don’t have the necessary skills.


The Global Oil & Gas Workforce Survey: Expectations for hires and pay rates in the oil and gas industry (H1) 2013, a recent joint report from leading oil and gas job board OilCareers.com and energy consultant Air Energi, revealed that ensuring the right personnel are on the ground in the right place will present a continuing challenge with 32% of respondents highlighting the on-going skills shortage as the biggest threat to the sector.

How, then, can the industry race towards maximising the opportunities that currently exist if its legs are fettered by a lack of appropriately skilled personnel? And, if the skills gap is such a big problem, what is being done to solve it?

Oil and Gas training body Opito has come up with one solution: it is to invest more than £1 million a year in creating the UK’s first industry-wide offshore skills strategy. That will start with the creation of a survey to find out exactly what the sector needs in terms of training. The results of this survey will then form the basis of a national plan to replace the current disjointed approach to solving the issue.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government has created more than 500 modern apprenticeships for the energy sector with 2,360 energy starts in 2012-2013, 35% higher than three years ago.

A number of companies have developed long range training and development schemes, with planned and defined targets set against timescales, performance measurement and structured courses so that the goals of the individual and the business unit can hopefully be streamlined.

These are all commendable measures to combat the long-term skills shortage and to get the industry away from what Larraine Boorman of Opito referred to recently as "the cycle which it has been struggling to overcome for decades" ie the hire and fire knee jerk reaction to inevitable peaks and troughs in activity.

But for an industry which has traditionally put much of its energy into tackling the challenges immediately facing it, will we ever get away completely from reacting to changing situations in the labour market rather than planning ahead to mitigate them?

And although the industry is complaining much about the shortage of skilled personnel - we have heard much about the great crew change recently – can we really blame anyone else for the recruitment challenges that the oil and gas sector currently faces?



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