James Gregg, Chief Operating Officer, Motive Offshore Group, explores how climate change and the energy security crisis will require a new offshore energy skills base.
The accelerating transition and technological transformation of offshore energy to address the climate change and energy security crisis risks exacerbating a major skills shortage across the industry. The planned expansion of offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and North Sea oil and gas production will require some 40 000 extra UK workers by 2030, including new digital and renewable skills.
This comes at a time when the energy industry already has a significant talent shortage caused by historic under-investment in entry-level training or recruitment talent from outside industries. Even efforts to transition workers from adjacent sectors, such as oil and gas to renewables, have been hindered by unnecessary silos be-tween different offshore industry qualifications, regulations, and solutions. The skills shortage has been further exacerbated by a wave of resignations during the COVID-19 crisis. This has created intensifying competition for a limited pool of experienced workers within the industry, increasing collective labour costs.
There is an urgent need to expand and diversify the offshore energy workforce by overhauling the industry’s training and recruitment model to attract a new wave of talent from universities and industries as diverse as agriculture and aviation. Crucially, the industry must remould itself in the image of an increasingly values-driven, eco-conscious, tech-savvy workforce motivated by a desire to make a personal impact.
At the heart of the UK’s energy security strategy is a major expansion of offshore energy from offshore wind to hydrogen, requiring a transformation of the workforce. Much of the demand for new workers will also be in new roles such as sustainability or digital talent often found in outside industries and among a younger generation.
Yet, the UK currently has an ageing energy workforce as the industry has often preferred experienced hires to entry-level recruits due to the risk of investing in long-term training in an historically cyclical sector. Attracting new renewable and digital skills has also proved challenging for an offshore energy industry historically perceived as carbon-intensive and technologically traditional. This means that despite the booming energy industry offering increasingly attractive salaries and career pro-spects, just 12% of the current workforce is under 30.
Even transitioning talent between offshore sectors and upskilling existing workers has proved difficult. There is little mutual recognition of qualifications and training even among similar sectors such as offshore oil and gas and offshore wind, hampering efforts to retrain and transition workers between them.
A talent transformation
Creating a new foundation of skills for the future will require the industry to at-tract a new talent influx from universities and outside industries. This will need government support to reduce the risk of hiring apprentices and entry-level recruits, such as prioritising offshore energy apprenticeships for public funding. Recent waves of public and private investment in offshore wind and the new North Sea oil and gas licensing round will help reduce uncertainty about the industry’s long-term future, incentivising more industry investment in trainees and apprentices.
Attracting fresh talent will also mean appealing to millennial and Gen Z workers that value opportunities for self-advancement and the ability to make a meaningful change in society. This means offering them many learning and development opportunities, fast-track routes to career progression and the opportunity to lead on introducing new innovations. For example, Motive has a learning and development team and upskilled all technicians to transition from oil and gas to renewables, appealing to employees who value both career progression and sustainability.
Businesses should also give promising young graduates the opportunity to drive new sustainable innovations and thus accelerate their career progression and make an individual impact. Government programmes, such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships which pair businesses with promising researchers, can enable businesses to bring in fresh skills and new innovations. For example, we gave a graduate the opportunity to lead a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Aberdeen and develop new technology to digitalise legacy back-deck equipment, driving cost and carbon efficiencies across the offshore industry.
Research also suggests the new generation of energy employees often choose companies that support values such as sustainability, innovation, and workforce wellbeing. The industry could harness cutting-edge sustainable innovations from floating wind to data-driven decarbonisation to attract these recruits. Recent digital innovations such as remote data monitoring and acquisition devices could also help support remote and flexible working, appealing to a generation that values work/life balance. Attracting this generation will also mean reconfiguring workplace benefits around supporting workforce wellbeing from mental health first aiders to family-friendly hours. It is no surprise that HR and health related roles are now among the most in-demand jobs in offshore energy over the next eight years.
The industry could also accelerate career progression by aligning industry standards, solutions and certifications across sectors such as offshore oil and gas and renewables, enabling more opportunities for internal transfers. For example, 90% of the offshore oil and gas workforce has skills overlapping with sectors such as offshore wind. The technical workforce now works across both our fossil fuel and renewable projects, equipping workers with a wider range of transferrable skills and career development opportunities. This will also help future-proof the workforce by moving away from specialist skills silos and rigid roles towards training programmes designed around creating a flexible, multi-skilled labour pool.
There are also many outside industries with surprising skills synergies that could provide a ready-made talent stream. For example, the mechanical engineering skills involved in industries from haulage to aviation could have applications in everything from hydraulic installation equipment to wind turbine maintenance. Much of the company’s technical workforce now providing installation, inspection, and maintenance across 23 offshore wind projects is drawn from industries as diverse as defence, construction, and agriculture. And the data skills increasingly needed to support the industry’s digital transformation are found in many other sectors from software to machine learning.
The offshore energy workforce of the future
The accelerating expansion and transformation of offshore energy will require a parallel transformation of the offshore skills base. The industry will need to move away from its historic reliance on experienced hires and open more doors to entry-level workers and talent from outside industries. Many of the industry changes already occurring offer an opportunity to build this new workforce.
The £170 billion of projected investment in new UK offshore energy activity in the next eight years will create the long-term stability needed to spur investment in entry-level training and attract a new generation that values job security.
The pivotal role of the offshore energy sector in global decarbonisation efforts now offers an opportunity to attract a new generation that values sustainable innovation. The growing automation and digitalisation of offshore assets will appeal to a generation that values flexible, remote working over physical deployments. Promising young talent could be given the chance to drive this decarbonisation and digitalisation across the industry, helping attract a mission-oriented workforce moved by the desire to make a personal impact. Accelerating these changes is now not only essential to energy security and climate change but also to attracting a new belief-driven workforce that values sustainable innovation, work/life balance and the ability to make a difference.
For more news and technical articles from the global renewable industry, read the latest issue of Energy Global magazine.
The Autumn 2022 issue of Energy Global hosts an array of technical arti-les focusing on wave & tidal, waste-to-energy, energy storage, solar technology, and more. This issue also features a regional report outlining how green hydrogen is playing a key role in the renewable transition across Europe.
Read the article online at: https://www.energyglobal.com/special-reports/08122022/climate-change-and-the-energy-security-crisis/
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