Creating the all-energy workforce for a sustainable North Sea future

Opinion

18th August 2022

Our Head of Skills Policy, Christine Currie, recently featured in Energy Institute’s New Energy World to discuss how the transition to a net zero offshore energy industry will require putting people at the front and centre.

Read the article originally published by Energy Institute, here.

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Our transition to a net zero offshore energy industry is underway and accelerating and it’s very clear that future energy system will look very different to what’s gone before.

By 2030 we are expected to be producing around 200mn barrels of oil and gas annually on the UKCS. At the same time, governments are targeting 50 GW of offshore wind capacity – enough to power the UK’s 30mn homes with 20 GW of remaining capacity for business, industrial and civic use.

Over the same timeframe, carbon capture and storage capacity is expected to grow to 20-30mn tonnes and hydrogen production is set to increase to 10 GW. And we will see much more integration of technologies, with offshore wind developments supporting the electrification of oil and gas facilities.

Moving rapidly to that secure, sustainable, and safe integrated energy system needs a skilled workforce which is diverse, agile, and adaptable. Balancing net zero with energy security is a huge and exciting opportunity rather than an unachievable goal, but only if we put our people front and centre.

The UK’s offshore energy industry

The overall offshore energy workforce is set to grow significantly in the coming years with more than 211,000 jobs across the offshore energy industry, creating huge opportunities for people and communities around the country.

The good news is that the opportunity to create those new jobs and skills in the rapidly changing North Sea is significant and there is a high degree of skills transferability between the oil and gas sector and other emerging offshore energy sectors.

As many as 90% of people working in the oil and gas industry across Britain have skills that can transfer to low-carbon alternatives, and we anticipate a reinvigorated offshore energy workforce of more than 200,000 strong by the end of the decade, expanding to as many as 350,000 people by 2050. But this transition won’t happen by itself or even solely through government action alone.

The Integrated People and Skills Strategy (PSS) was launched earlier this year to support the North Sea Transition Deal, a plan between the UK government and the offshore oil and gas sector to meet emissions reductions targets. It sets out the blueprint for developing the multi-disciplined, all-energy workforce needed to deliver that just transition while maintaining the nation’s energy security.

In developing this strategy on behalf of the industry, OPITO has engaged widely across all of the offshore energy sectors, listening carefully to understand the risks and opportunities – for leaders and managers, and the workforce, both offshore and onshore.

The PSS’s purpose is clear: to identify the action necessary to enable the offshore energy workforce to thrive now, and in the future, across its four main sectors: oil and gas, offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen.

It’s a far-sighted strategy that aims to replace the current fragmented approach to skills and training standards and recognition with a simple and streamlined all-industry framework.

At its core is a single digital passport solution that will allow workers to transfer their skills and qualifications simply and easily right across the energy sector.

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Improving training and standards

Following on from the launch of the PSS at the Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) conference in May, OPITO has brought together standards bodies from across the industry to put in place an action plan to accelerate the mapping and recognition of training and standards, the identification of gaps, and the removal of duplication.

The mapping and alignment of standards will be completed by 3Q2022. The digital passport solution is in development now, with a beta version ready by the end of 2022. We expect the full solution to be ready to deploy by 3Q2023.

Implementing the five targeted action plans that accompany the strategy will deliver on all the fundamental aspects: aligning offshore energy standards; defining workforce skills; championing diversity and inclusion; meeting future skills demands and improving skills data intelligence.

Together, these five will maximise the opportunity and optimise the efficiency of our net zero carbon future. They address the major challenges for the industry during this period of disruption and dynamic change: attracting enough people to meet this demand from growing sectors; sustaining critical ongoing oil and gas activities; and ensuring that the skilled workforce is retained in the sector until there are sufficient new low-carbon energy projects to employ them.

The transition affects technicians, skilled craftspeople and administrators working across the whole supply chain – onshore, offshore, and in the subsurface environment – in areas such as project management, engineering, construction, manufacturing and business support.

The shrewd use of technologies will be key to our future success. The creation of a future talent marketplace, transcending current organisational boundaries to span the whole energy ecosystem, will be vital in changing organisational cultures.

This will enable the sharing of talent and skillsets to deliver the energy transition, for example, by using tools such as artificial intelligence to match individuals to opportunities.

The PSS has been created through an unprecedented level of participation and collaboration right across the sector. Our Energy Skills Alliance comprises industry stakeholders representing trade unions, industry bodies, regulators, developers, operators, supply chain firms, government, training providers, standards agencies, academia, and the workforce itself.

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Vital skills for the transition

There is a place for everyone who wants to be part of the solution. Collaboration, cooperation, and partnership working around our shared goals is at the heart of the strategy which aims to ensure a secure, sustainable and safe integrated energy system in the North Sea.

All our many previous energy transitions over the last 200 years – from wood, peat and charcoal to coal, oil and nuclear – have depended on humans; their creativity, imagination and expertise. But we have learned the lessons from previous energy and industrial transitions; the thoughtless handling of the shift away from coalmining, shipbuilding and steel, left a lasting negative impact on people and communities.

That won’t happen this time. On the contrary, the transition can actively help regenerate and sustain communities and local economies across the nations of the UK. For example, the development of carbon capture in the Irish and North Seas has the potential to reinvigorate key UK industries in Merseyside and South Wales, Teesside, the Humber, and Scotland.

It is people who will reshape our energy system as the just transition to a net zero UK energy industry and a climate resilient economy accelerates. We must empower and prepare the agility and adaptability of our workforce, equipping them with the best skills, training, and standards to thrive in the new post-carbon era.

In doing so, we can draw on more than half a century as leaders and pioneers in energy skills. Back in the 1970s, we developed the frontier technologies to remove oil and gas from some of the world’s most hostile environments in the North Sea.

We created unrivalled feats of engineering and a superb supply chain which gives us incredible competitive advantages today. With our world-leading expertise, technological innovation, and adaptable infrastructure, we are already a world leader in offshore wind.

We have a genuinely exciting opportunity to lead the world in net zero energy, meeting the aspirations of the levelling up agenda and achieving the green recovery from COVID-19.

A cleaner economy with new green jobs is there for the taking.

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