Ex-military personnel target of new oil and gas strategy

The government is hoping to recruit ex-military personnel to fill thousands of projected jobs in the oil and gas industry under its new sector strategy.

The business, energy and Scottish secretaries hope the new policy directives unveiled today – aimed at growing the supply chain, tackling the skills gap and encouraging technology development – will secure billions of pounds of investment and create thousands of new jobs in the sector.

The announcement, which included the creation of £7m research and training centre for subsea and offshore engineering, coincided with the decision by a consortium of firms including BP and Shell to invest $500m (£330m) appraising a possible third phase of drilling in the giant Clair oil field, west of the Shetland Islands.

This is the latest example of the growing investment in Britain’s offshore industry, which trade body Oil & Gas UK last month said would reach £13bn in 2013, with companies planning a total of £100bn in the future.

As a result, the industry expects to require an extra 15,000 staff over the next four to five years across a range of disciplines. By contrast the MoD is expected to make around 20,000 service personnel redundant by 2017.

Oil & Gas UK, which welcomed the government’s new strategy, said that although graduate and apprenticeship schemes were oversubscribed, there would likely be a shortage of mid-career employees as many with North Sea experience were lured abroad – which is where ex-military personnel could come in.

‘This has been done in the past by individual companies and with tremendous success,’ Dr Alix Thom, Oil & Gas UK’s employment and skills issues manager, told The Engineer.

‘What we’re looking to do here and what the government has helped us to do is make the introductions to the MoD [Ministry of Defence] at a national level so that we can plan ahead and had a better idea of the resources that are becoming free.’

She added that the experience and transferable of ex-military personnel would enable them to fill a number of roles including engineers, technicians and logistics managers, and that they brought a tremendous work ethic and a familiarity with offshore operations.

The government’s new strategy lays out a number of goals for supporting the UK oil and gas industry by:

  • maintaining a tax regime that encourages investment;
  • developing the supply chain;
  • expanding exports;
  • filling the skills gap;
  • encouraging technology research and development;
  • raising the sector’s profile abroad;
  • improving access to finance.

This includes some specific measures such as the launch of the Neptune National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Newcastle University and the decommissioning tax relief announced in last week’s budget.

‘The launch of the government’s strategy for the sector is one more step in the right direction and brings deserved recognition to the capabilities of our world class supply chain,’ said Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive Malcolm Webb, in a statement.

‘It will further strengthen the oilfield services sector across the country, boost investor confidence, safeguard jobs and help to maximise recovery of Britain’s oil and gas reserves.’

But Mark Higginson, an oil and gas specialist and senior partner at PWC Aberdeen, said that while the strategy showed good general support for the industry, the jury was still out on whether it would lead to more specific effective measures.

‘I would have liked to see a bit of support for Aberdeen itself,’ he told The Engineer, referring to the need to make the Scottish oil and gas centre a more attractive place for engineers in order to help address the skills shortage.

‘One of the things Aberdeen has suffered from is that, because it’s seen as a prosperous place, there’s not been an awful lot of infrastructure investment in things like roads and housing.’