Thursday 29th September 2016 was the launch of the world’s first Masters degree in ‘Decommissioning offshore installations’. The University of Aberdeen is already well-placed geographically to help develop the next generation of offshore engineers, but the educational body has made further steps to be seen as the UK’s leading oil and gas talent developer with the unveiling of their new degree.
Despite the reduction in staff levels in the industry over the past three years, new opportunities exist for our young engineers, and one glance at the to-do list in the UK alone proves just how much we need them, as much as they need us.
Statistics by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Scotland anticipate that 285 platforms and over 4,000 oil and gas wells will need to be removed from UK seas over “the coming decades”. The organisation’s Director Lang Banks said, "Protecting our marine environment by cleaning up after the North Sea oil and gas industry will not be without its challenges.”
"However, if done right it could create thousands of new jobs and open up a new multi-billion pound decommissioning industry. Educational courses like this one will certainly help make such an outcome more likely."
Dispelling the ageing workforce myth
One criticism of the oil and gas industry has been the lack of investment in a younger workforce – instead relying on an ageing workforce to ‘make do’. However, an extensive report by EY looked at the state of the labour market in the oil and gas market, and found some fascinating stats that dispelled this myth.
As the graph above shows, the industry has, in fact, a lower proportion of over-55s compared to the UK national average, and a perceived gap at mid-career level is also less significant to that of previous beliefs. This is proof in itself that the industry has already started to move towards a younger industry, embracing initiatives and apprenticeship schemes to achieve this goal.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
One of the key areas that the UK has focussed on is teaching STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Research by the UK Government has found a lack of STEM skills in the UK workforce, with 42% of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting proficient staff.
To deal with the skills gap, the Government has also introduced an ambassadorial scheme designed for individuals in various industries. Ambassador group STEMNET explain that these individuals “use their enthusiasm and commitment to encourage young people to enjoy STEM subjects. They [ambassadors] open the doors to a world of opportunities and possibilities which come from pursuing STEM subjects and careers.”
Research by STEMNET has found that 87% of teachers report an increased awareness of STEM subjects amongst their students as a result of their programmes. Proof alone of the impact that ambassadors are having on the next generation of STEM-skilled workers.
Claxton, inspiring the next generation
It also falls to offshore operators and engineering companies to help inspire the next generation of industry workers, and this is something that Claxton’s Product Leader for Structures, Ann Vicens has embraced alongside her intensive day job.
Ann has become a STEM Ambassador, and uses her enthusiasm and commitment to encourage young people to enjoy STEM subjects. In her own words, Ann has spoken about the work she has been doing as part of the STEM Ambassador programme on behalf of Claxton.
“Lately, I have been getting involved with activities and events and interacting with students at schools and universities, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. This year, I attended an event at the John Innes Centre which was aimed at encouraging more women into engineering, as well as attending a careers fair at Reepham High School and College near our HQ in Great Yarmouth.”
“Being a STEM Ambassador gives me the opportunity to change the perception that some people might have about engineering."
"A career in engineering can be very hands on, it can be analytical, it can concentrate on the detail, or it can look into processes pragmatically. It all depends on what you like and what you are good at.”
Speaking from experience
Ann, in many ways, is the perfect STEM Ambassador. Her career in the oil and gas industry has taken her beyond the UK shores and has experienced a multitude of career highlights in the process.
“After I finished my engineering degree back in Venezuela, I started working as field engineer for Schlumberger (Oil and Gas) where I spent a considerable amount of time practically living in a barge, but also gaining some experience working on land-based jobs. I came back to the UK about ten years ago and I started working as a project engineer here at Claxton.”
“One of my career highlights was when I was Project Engineer for the ‘Volve’ 15 slot drilling template in Norway, which is soon to be decommissioned. Apart from making me feel old, it also gives me an overall sense of completion of the cycle! Successful projects like this make me thankful of my time in the industry, and it is now time for me to pass on some of my learnings.”
“I’ve had the chance to work in a variety of offshore oil rigs within the UK and other locations: Norway, Qatar, UAE, Gabon, and Vietnam to name a few. I have also had exposure to different type of projects from the design, fabrication, testing and installation of offshore equipment.”
Meeting the skills demand
Returning to the report by EY, 70% of companies that responded to the survey said they are experiencing or are set to experience a shortage of skills. While the industry is well underway to fixing this problem with the introduction of new initiatives, it’s still important for businesses to continue to invest their time in the younger generation for the sake of the industry’s long-term future.
“The pupils I am speaking to at the STEM events are the future of our industry,” Ann continued. “Collectively, it is up to us to inspire the next generation and showcase the career paths that are on offer. This can only help to fill the future skills gap in the industry, and retain the UK as a leader in the oil and gas market”.