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Subsea Expo

The voice of the UK subsea industry

Stemming the Skills Shortage: Creating Sustainable Growth in the Subsea Industry

29 May 2013

In October 2012, Subsea UK secured part of a £2million fund to attract vital new entrants into the energy industry and helping people to diversify their skills in order to meet the acute shortage currently facing the sector.

The Energy Skills Challenge Fund, managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), aims to complement firms’ own skills initiatives in developing a sustainable supply of talent, thereby guaranteeing the UK’s position as the global leader in energy. The fund builds on the Scottish Government's on-going commitment to support 500 Modern Apprenticeships starts in the energy and low carbon sectors every year until 2014.

The training is aimed at helping people gain the skills necessary for working in oil and gas, as well as renewables and micro-renewables, by delivering practical solutions. The fund will focus specifically on transition training, which enables people with associated experience and generalised qualifications to become employed in the industry at an accelerated rate.

We need to ensure that the UK subsea industry is able to capture increasing global growth in the face of strong competition from the US and Middle East as well as emerging markets in South America and Australasia. With the global subsea market set to double over the next five years, from $35 billion to $70billion, the only way we can grow our business and respond to new opportunities is to invest in additional resources - including people.

The skills shortage has been well reported. It extends across a number of key areas and our own survey indicated that a further 10,000 people are needed within the next year alone in order to cope with demand in the immediate future. Consequently, the funds are a much needed enabler, providing a boost to our efforts to meet demand for new talent and skills, which in turn will enable us to maintain our leading technological edge.

Our chief aim is to accelerate the acquisition and deployment of people with relevant skills or potential by designing and co-ordinating sector wide tools and interventions. Our approach has three clear strands; short, medium and long-term. We will look to provide information about and access to the industry to as wide a range of potential employees as possible.

This will be a very much demand-led approach with employers’ requirements firmly at the forefront of our programme. We will provide firms with the tools they need to create their own development routes for new and existing staff, thereby creating strong teams. We will provide information and guidance to help remove barriers to entry into the industry. This has long term benefits for individuals, companies and the wider industry; by being solely reliant on existing workers, firms have little choice but to poach talent from within the industry, leading to escalating recruitment costs, costly work delays and a dearth of skilled employees.

Our immediate concern is addressing the shortfall in skilled workers and this will be done by reaching out to "Cross-Over Professionals”; people who can convert from other engineering sectors and already possess the relevant qualifications and experience. Whilst this will undoubtedly include engineers looking for a new challenge, we see the military as a key target in achieving this. We have previously engaged successfully with Lossiemouth and Kinloss bases and the funding will enable us to continue to work with the military in promoting skills transition courses. This would include learning sessions for employers on how to employ military personnel and how military skills can be applied to the oil and gas industry.

We will work to augment existing programmes, such as Subsea 7’s long-established engineering conversion scheme. Subsea UK facilitated the sharing of this format and cascaded it to members, resulting in Bibby Offshore adopting and launching a conversion programme in September 2012. We want to extend this even further and develop an industry recognised conversion course which includes training, resources and materials. We will look at enabling shared learning between companies, be it on-site visits or expert-led classroom sessions.

In the medium-term, we will look to engage with universities and colleges to develop sector specific courses and an apprenticeship framework primarily focused on ensuring SMEs get access to apprentices. In conjunction with Robert Gordon University, we will be able to update and enhance our highly successful suite of on-line subsea learning modules. These have already been accessed by companies globally, but the Energy Skills Challenge Fund will help us to achieve academic accreditation and provide further practical information for those looking to move into the subsea sector.

Our long-term approach is to work with primary school pupils to build interest in, and awareness of, the industry from the outset. Strengthening an interest in STEM subjects amongst children remains a key concern in both industry and government. Subsea UK will launch a careers tool in schools in collaboration with Inside Industry to highlight the range of opportunities a career in the sector affords.

Whilst we must address the critical skills shortage we face, it is vital that we look to generate talent from the start to develop a more sustainable pipeline of people coming into the industry. The UK remains the global centre of excellence within the subsea sector, but in the face of strong global competition, we can only justify that title – and indeed maintain it – if we are committed to nurturing and developing talent and ensuring the routes into the industry are recognised, accessible and attractive.

This article was originally featured in the February 2013 issue of Subsea UK News.