Oil and gas contractors benefit as offshore workforce grows

Friday 28 June 2013

Contractors working in the oil and gas sector are among the beneficiaries of growth in the offshore workforce.

According to the latest UK Continental Shelf Offshore Workforce Demographics report from Oil and Gas UK, a total of 56,982 workers travelled offshore last year, an increase of nine per cent from 2011. As the highest figure since the report began in 2006, this statistic proves that record investment in the country’s energy sector is paying dividends.

Demand for offshore workers remains strong, as indicated by the fact that jobs tend to remain stable. The core workforce, who spend 100 nights or more offshore over the course of a year, amounts to 45 per cent of the whole, showing that workers with the skills to meet a specific demand are likely to be required for sustained periods.

But short-term stays to perform specific functions were not uncommon either, since just under 18 per cent of workers were offshore for ten nights or fewer. It is possible that among these travellers were a number of contractors carrying out specific duties for a brief period of time. However, contractors and consultants are more likely to be among the remainder of non-core personnel, required offshore only occasionally as a result of the different projects they pursue.

Commodity markets are likely to have affected the demand for staff. Both this and last year’s reports found that staffing levels tended to track the price of oil at a distance of one year. But this cannot be considered a trend just yet - next year’s figures should confirm whether this is just a fluke, since it would be expected that staffing levels remained flat over 2013. With more investment flooding in and new projects taking off, the report’s authors said, it is possible that staffing levels will continue to grow.

Permanent staff working on a single long-term project are still largely the norm in the offshore industry. Nearly half of offshore personnel had only visited one location throughout the year, while two out of three had worked for a single operator during that time. But with 15 per cent having visited five or more sites and 17 per cent working for three or more operators, there appear to be plenty of opportunities for shorter-term projects on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

The west of Shetland was one of the key growth areas for contractors and permanent staff alike last year, reporting a substantial increase of 116.5 per cent in the number of men travelling there and 133 per cent more women.

Particularly interesting is the difference between age groups on the UKCS. In 2011 there was a noticeable drop in workers aged between 35 and 49, which has been reversed this year with another increase. However, numbers rose by a smaller margin that in any other age group.

Onshore roles including subsea engineering and geosciences are suffering with the same “mid-career gap”, the report says, which is partially the result of cutbacks made after sudden drops in oil prices in the past. But a considerable number of these highly skilled personnel have also been poached to work on projects around the world.

As it stands, the sector faces a challenging future. More staff at the older end of the spectrum means high numbers of retirees in the coming years - and with fewer younger staff to replace them, the skills gap is only set to become more pronounced. It follows that contractors will be in prime position to take advantage of the opportunity.

By Victoria McDonnell

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