The skills shortage in the oil and gas industry is “genuinely worrying” for energy companies, according to the HR director of Subsea 7.

Monday 3 June 2013

The shortage of specialist skills in the energy industry is “genuinely worrying” for oil and gas companies, according to the HR director of North Sea and Canada engineering and construction firm Subsea 7.

Steve Harvey says that although the skills gap in the industry is well established, the situation has now reached a “tipping point” where companies are becoming concerned that a lack of suitable staff could affect their potential for future growth.

Speaking to HR Magazine, Mr Harvey pointed out that the energy industry’s “boom and bust” dynamic means that companies are often faced with a limited pool of candidates. If the price of oil declines and companies suffer then staff are inevitably lost, meaning that demand for staff suddenly rises again when the industry picks up.

But the situation is set to become even more severe in the next few years, as Mr Harvey added that a large proportion of the industry’s most skilled workers are approaching retirement. Within his organisation, he said that offshore projects would suffer the most, where a sizeable number of workers were in their mid-40s or 50s.

Since recent studies have shown that growing numbers of retired workers are looking towards self-employment to supplement their incomes, it is possible that some retiring staff might consider freelance work to fill the gaps they have created.

Employers in the North Sea are struggling with their quest for the “gold-plated” CV, Mr Harvey explained, as they constantly look for the perfect mix of skills and experience - a role which is often filled by contractors who have had the benefit of working on a wide range of projects.

Mr Harvey’s concerns are borne out by a recent study from Oilandgaspeople, which found that the industry will need to recruit another 120,000 staff over the next ten years to fill the void left by a host of retiring workers.

More than 44 per cent of the workforce in North Sea oilfields is already over the age of 45 and some are already at retirement age. The jobs experiencing the highest retirement levels are also those to which it is most difficult to attract new recruits, leaving some specific departments in worse positions than others.

Three-quarters of companies said that they were having trouble finding enough subsea specialists, while around two out of three were particularly short of project engineers. Nearly four out of ten firms said that they could not find enough workers with expertise in drilling, while a similar proportion were struggling to find health,safety and environment engineers. Geoscientists and well engineers were in short supply as well.

“It’s one thing having record levels of investment but if you don’t have enough people to do the jobs, then the growth will grind to a halt,” says Kevin Forbes, chief executive of Oilandgaspeople. “The oil industry shed thousands of specialists twenty years ago and now they are waking up to a big retirement headache.”

Demand is at a premium in these key industries, and it seems that contractors are perfectly poised to take advantage of a huge array of opportunities.

By Victoria McDonnell

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