Wave of optimism

Scotland is faring relatively well compared with many areas of the UK despite the global economic downturn, with some areas even suffering from that increasingly rare syndrome — the labour shortage.

The Aberdeen City and Shire region in Scotland’s north-east has identified a number of skills shortages resulting in unfilled positions in some industries.

It has brought in recruitment and events specialist Cushydoos to help attract and develop new talent and skilled people within the area. Although the company has a history of working in the energy sector, it is now running a more general recruitment drive promoting a range of opportunities within Aberdeen and the surrounding area.

‘Aberdeen City and Shire is one of the most dynamic and prosperous regional economies in the UK, consistently outperforming national indicators of growth and making it a vibrant and forward thinking place to live and work,’ said Rita Stephen, development manager at Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF).

As well as career opportunities she claimed the area has good schools and universities, a lively city centre with good entertainment, nearby beaches and countryside offering a range of outdoor activities.

Cushydoos is to hold an event on 18 February at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, displaying the range of positions available to skilled professionals who may wish to relocate to the Aberdeen area, allowing them to meet representatives of companies such as Total, Oceaneering and Aker Solutions.

‘It is vital to attract new talent and skills to the area in order to satisfy the growing economic need,’ said Karen Reid, business development director. ‘This talent should then be developed and challenged in order to retain the skills pool that will sustain the area’s continued growth.’

Although the price of oil may have recently suffered a sharp drop, companies operating out of Scotland that are directly involved with exploration and production are still looking for new staff.

Schlumberger, for example, is recruiting for the North Sea region. ‘We are looking for good-quality engineers who can move quickly through the company,’ said Dylan Thomas, recruitment and university relations manager for the UK. ‘At the moment, fewer companies are recruiting, so it is a good time to source the best people.’

Successful candidates will be assigned to the role of field engineer and placed in one of the company’s international projects. ‘Schlumberger covers everything from drilling through to well testing and project management,’ said Thomas.

‘Once a person joins the company on our engineering development scheme as a new recruit from either outside the industry or as a graduate, they spend their first three years specialising in a single discipline before being placed in a managerial role.

‘This can consist of line management, personnel, a technical role in our technical centre where the tools for the job are manufactured, or in marketing and sales.’

The downturn has meant the company has recently laid off some workers in the US, but Thomas said the importance of continuing spending on recruitment and R&D should not be underestimated despite poorer economic conditions. ‘We will be spending nearly $1bn (£0.7bn) on R&D this year,’ he said.

‘If you spend when times are hard and your competition is not doing this, it allows you get ahead. At the moment, the price of oil is well down from its peak so we are going through a hard time. Despite this, the price is cyclical. Although this can make people and organisational planning hard, if you still hire through the downturn when there is less competition for the best people you will be best placed with the best staff when conditions improve.’

The company is seeking about 60 engineers for the North Sea region. ‘One of the best parts about the company is the training scheme,’ said Thomas.

‘It is very rigorous, with typically two international assignments. Both technical and “soft skills” are taught and there is a mentoring scheme in place. After the training is complete, assignments typically last for around 18 months each, so there is no time to be bored. We are definitely looking for people who are looking for a bit of adventure.’

The energy industry in Scotland has traditionally been based on oil and gas production. However, the country is now becoming a major centre for renewable energy production due to facilities such as Orkney’s wave power test site.

Natural Power provides technical and management services for wind, wave and tidal projects and is looking for new staff as a result of expansion.

‘We have recruited between 30 and 40 people since April 2008,’ said Iseult Smyth, human resources adviser. She said the company was in the fortunate position of having many senior staff with a great deal of expertise, despite the industry being relatively young.

‘We train a lot of our engineers in-house,’ said Smyth. ‘In the technical, development and construction side we offer a development programme for staff to become project managers over a year or two, depending on how they progress. We tend to take people with general engineering or technical skills and train them up to become experts in a particular area.’

New recruits are also being sought for Natural Power’s development department and particularly for work offshore, where the company has provided a range of offshore wind services on more than 6,000MW of projects for clients worldwide, including work on the Robin Rigg wind farm in the Solway Firth.

‘We would like to find some people with previous experience,’ said Smyth. ‘However, in each of the departments there are three or four senior experts who will mentor and train junior entrants.

‘We are also aware that there are a lot of transferable skills out there that our market can make use of. Those who have been managing projects with a value of over £500,000 are particularly welcome to apply to us.’

Much of the work is based in Scotland but there are also some opportunities at the company’s offices in Wales and France, as well as in the product development department in Malvern, with the company’s ZephIR team, working on wind measurement apparatus. Both electrical and mechanical engineers are required, along with programmers.

The company is also expanding its international presence with offices in Chile and Canada, providing recruits with the opportunity to gain international experience.

While the subject of downsizing and lay-offs may never be far from the news at present, there are still companies that are actively looking for engineers and who may see the current climate as the ideal time to be searching for recruits.

Although some regions of Scotland may be finding times hard, cities such as Aberdeen are still in need of qualified engineers to meet local demand.

Despite lower oil prices, both the traditional and new energy industries are far from closed for business for those with the right skills or the will to retrain.