28 February 2013 – The past couple of years have proven that several nations such as the UK are facing an engineering deficit, one that is poised to significantly hinder the engineering sector unless changes are made. This trend will have a ripple effect, greatly impacting the oil and gas industry – 66 percent of contractors and 62 percent of operations have difficulty recruiting skilled engineers in the oil and gas industry, according to a Labor Market Intelligence survey conducted by the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (OPITO).
Matchtech, an engineering and technology recruitment specialist, noticed the problem and called on the government for help.
“There is a growing sense of unease throughout the UK engineering industry,” Matchtech Managing Director Keith Lewis recently told Rigzone. “A look at our Confidence Index [United Kingdom Consumer Confidence Index] points heavily towards a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to support the industry.”
Chancellor George Osborne took heed of this situation and addressed it at this year’s budget hearing.
His measures include a $4 billion (EUR 3 billion) new field allowance for large and deep fields to open west of Shetland – fields that were once deemed uneconomic. This strategic move is posed to encourage billions of dollars of investment in the North Sea to revitalize production that has declined since 1999.
The tax allowances will lead to an extra $67 billion allocated to the industry, resulting in the recovery of an additional 1.7 billion barrels of oil and gas, according to Oil & Gas UK. This production estimate will bring additional jobs and opportunities, however the need for highly skilled engineers poses a problem, stated Osborne.
Research suggests that the main shortage in the industry exists in recruiting experienced workers.
“It is a reality that other sectors are competing for the same skills,” Managing Director of OPITO UK Larraine Boorman told the Engineer publication. “There is big competition for skills from the nuclear and power sectors as well as decommissioning. As an industry, we need to make sure the potential talent sees us as an attractive career option.”
Skilled Engineers Needed
Overall, engineering companies in the UK are projected to have 2.74 million job openings from 2010-2020, 1.86 million of which will need engineering skills, according to a report launched by EngineeringUK. Out of this number, about 87,000 engineers per year will require people with level 4+ degrees, including foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.
There is a high demand for about 69,000 people qualified at advanced apprenticeship, or equivalent, each year, but only 27,000 UK apprentices a year qualify at the appropriate level, the report stated.
Furthermore, 100,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are needed a year just to maintain the status quo, according to a study by the Royal Academy. In the UK, about 23,000 engineers are graduating a year while India is producing eight times that number of engineers and China 20 times as many.
In order to meet this current demand, the country is recruiting experts from abroad.
“We’ve already started to see the impact of the skills shortage with certain prospects that previously could have been completed in the UK being moved to other European cities, such as Stavanger in Norway,” said Lewis. “This is obviously a huge concern and shows just how vital it is for a plan to be put in place in order to attract new graduates, as well as encouraging the transition of those in other industries which have the necessary transferrable skills, in order to boost growth.”
The “Engineering UK 2013: The State of Engineering” report also called on the government for assistance, noting that the engineering sector needs a joined-up action where government works in partnership across the engineering industry, professional bodies and third sector to achieve long-term impact at a national level.
“What the report makes clear is the need to lay the groundwork early,” stated Paul Jackson, EngineeringUK chief executive in a Rigzone interview. “The government is recognizing that engineering is central to the UK economy and is funding technologies for growth as well as training. It is crucial, however, that government, business, professional bodies, education and the wider engineering community continue to work together to ensure that the UK has the talent pipeline ready to meet demand.”
Measures to Attract the Youth
The UK is in an engineering crunch and is looking for youth to help fill the void, according to The State of Engineering report.
The main challenge for the engineering community is how to attract the youth and funnel them into an engineering career. The oil and gas industry and its attraction to recent grads are abundant. The rewards can be attractive for engineers that choose to work in the oil and gas sector.
“Oil and gas engineers are constantly inventing new technologies to extract oil from increasingly deeper levels beneath the Earth’s surface,” Boorman told the Engineer. “In order to achieve this, engineers are trained to be the best in their field and there are excellent opportunities for career progression.”
“The government needs to prioritize investing in the future of the industry by focusing on the opportunities available to the younger generation,” stated Matchtech’s Lewis. “Funding for apprenticeships has started to increase over the last year, but the government really needs to commit itself to improving opportunities for those candidates who may not want to enter university but instead gain practical experience. Not only will this mean they enter the industry sooner, but they will also enter into it with the vital skills to succeed.”
Programs geared to the youth are blossoming throughout the nation. One for instance launched in 2009, The Big Bang Fair, is touted as the largest celebration of STEM subjects for the UK’s youth.
“The government recognizes that the industry has to appeal to our youth,” stated EngineeringUK’s Jackson. “The Big Bang Fair and school programs, such as Tomorrow’s Engineers, are playing an important role in ensuring that the UK will have the future engineers needed to realize its ambition. Evidence shows that collaborative efforts of the engineering community are making a positive impact.”
“In order to begin to rectify this, the government needs to start presenting engineering as ‘an industry of choice’, particularly at a time where the UK youth unemployment rate stands at 23 percent, in addition to this change must also come from those within the industry itself,” added Lewis.
*Robin Dupre, Rigzone