Adapting the workforce for energy transition
2nd August 2022
by Amanda McCulloch
The industry that has been the economic backbone of the northeast of Scotland for the past five decades is changing.
The beginnings of the transition from a fossil-reliant energy sector into a sector with its eyes firmly focused on a future in renewables, didn't happen overnight – it just seems like it. Since emerging from the pandemic and events of the past years and, taking into account the recent crisis in Ukraine and the impact that has had on energy supply and security, energy transition and the move towards net zero has taken centre stage.
Over the next decade that will lead to a significant shift in the balance of the offshore energy workforce. According to Making the Switch, the recently published report by Robert Gordon University on the future shape of the offshore energy workforce, around 90% of the regional offshore energy workforce worked in oil and gas in 2021, with the remaining 10% supporting regional offshore wind, hydrogen, and carbon transportation and storage activities. By 2030, the scales will have tipped with a projected 60% supporting renewables.
Many members of the workforce already have easily transferrable skills which can take them from one sector to another, indeed staff in many companies are already working across both sectors as businesses begin to switch the focus of their core activities to place a foot firmly in each camp.
There is a groundswell of interest from people who want to make that transition. Many of the candidates we speak with, who have worked in the oil and gas sector over many years, are keen to hear more about energy transition, recognising the importance of being part of the region's evolution and ambition to become the net zero capital of Europe.
The scale of opportunity available as we move through the transition, with the exponential growth of offshore wind for example, is immense. Supporting that opportunity and ambition requires a skilled and talented workforce.
The main challenge for many people is understanding how they can ensure that they can be part of this transition and it's vital that the requisite training and development are in place to support them, and to develop that workforce.
But while getting that workforce is one thing; retaining it is another.
The importance of strong leadership throughout the transition cannot be overestimated, and this links directly to retention. Companies can't assume that people will stick with them for the job, there are few jobs for life now, and they must be proactive in ensuring that they are creating conditions that favour them over competitors and deliver for their employees – and that isn't always about the money.
Recent statistics from people analytics company Visier indicate that more than 53% of UK job seekers are looking to move because of poor or ineffective management, with employees citing being shouted at or not listened to being the biggest bugbears that drive their decision to reconsider their position.
This emphasises the criticality of company culture, an increased focus for many job seekers. If that culture doesn't match their expectations, don't expect them to stay.
Effective onboarding to mitigate the chances of that happening is critical. It's also vital to have the right processes in place to ensure the right people for the job are being recruited the first time round. Psychometric testing, for example, now widely recognised as a recruitment tool, can help gauge a candidate's suitability not just for a particular role but for that particular company.
It's also important that we recognise that in certain roles, upskilling or reskilling could be much more urgent, so the ability to access suitable training, understanding how existing skills can be transitioned and how we do that is important.
This period of industry transition is a time when training and leadership development will be crucial.
How many times do we see technically proficient individuals being promoted into roles they have neither the skills or desire for; swopped out from what they're good at into a position of leading a team or a business that they're ill-equipped for and don't enjoy.
How we support people in this situation must be a priority, offering leadership coaching to provide them with new skills for a new role or helping them upskill to meet the new roles and challenges.
This period of industry transition is a time when training and leadership development will be crucial so that employees understand how they can continue to advance their career into more senior positions and also how they can make those lateral moves or cross-sector shifts.
The balance between continuing to attract and nurture a workforce for our long-established, and still vital, oil and gas sector against the needs of a fast-developing renewables sector could be a bit of a juggling act.
But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the oil and gas industry will be with us for many years to come. It is essential that we continue to maintain that workplace, supporting and developing individuals with the skills, existing and new, that will be needed to sustain it as it moves towards transition.
It's a sector that has had its challenges in recent years. The Great Resignation which saw many of the industry's older, experienced workforce decide to bow out early in light of the double hex of industry downturn followed by a global pandemic affected many businesses. That loss of experience hasn't been helped by the oil and gas sector losing its glow as a career choice; the wealth of opportunities it continues to present for a long-term, rewarding career with excellent advancement prospects tarnished by the less than favourable perception held by the next generation workforce.
There is little doubt that selling a career in oil and gas as opposed to renewables will not be an easy sell. It's seen as dirty, old-fashioned, and very unfashionable. But with production continuing to rise and the substantial increase in decommissioning and plugging and abandonment campaigns over the coming years, it is still very much an industry with a career future.
Anita Martin, HR manager at decommissioning specialists Well-Safe Solutions, said that decommissioning is increasingly seen as an integral part of the energy transition.
"The scale and longevity of work scopes in decommissioning are substantial both within the UK and internationally, opening up fantastic career opportunities for all with many skills of traditional oil and gas employees being wholly transferrable.
"Promoting the opportunities within decommissioning to existing oil and gas employees as well as young people about to start their work careers is key to being able to deliver the work scopes of the future, changing the narrative and perception of oil and gas and focusing much more on the energy sector and all it has to offer".
"Because of the scale and longevity of the work ahead within decommissioning, we have worked hard to recruit good people and we want them to stay. We have introduced career mapping for all our employees, both on and offshore, closely managing employees' aspirations, managing their readiness for progression, and using this as a key tool to promote from within whenever possible. As a growing organisation this has served us well and reinforces our commitment to our people.
"We recognise the importance of onboarding and invest a lot of time and effort into building a feeling of inclusiveness long before a new employee even starts with the organisation.
"Companies must not underestimate the significance of being prepared and welcoming for new employees, especially in a thriving employment market where opportunities are plenty and heads can be more easily turned," said Anita.
To address potential shortages across both oil and gas and renewables, the industry must place much greater emphasis on policies that support and encourage diversity and inclusion. The importance and benefits of having a diverse workforce are well documented. While I am seeing this feature higher on the agendas of many businesses, it is important that policies translate into meaningful actions and targets in order to unlock a wider talent pool.
As our energy sector begins to undergo metamorphosis, the importance of transferrable skills is high on everyone's radar, and rightly so.
But that doesn't negate the need for upskilling, and this applies to all of us, irrespective of the sector we work in or the type of work we do. Upskilling not only shines a spotlight on individual skillsets, but it also highlights the importance of understanding trends in your sector and how you are responding to them.
Industry must place much greater emphasis on policies that support and encourage diversity and inclusion.
One of the lessons to be learned during the pandemic was how we can turn our enforced incarceration in our own homes to our advantage, and that translates into the realisation of how much can be done remotely, sitting in front of a computer screen. It's an approach largely accepted by both employees and employers, and this ability to learn remotely has opened the doors to greater opportunities to upskill.
Transferable skills are important, but the best way we can all future-proof our careers in order to ensure that they are relevant in this fast-paced and ever-changing marketplace is to look at how we can all upskill, irrespective of where we work.