UK North Sea growth requires a changing workforce

North Sea platforms10 September 2013, News Wires – The huge influx of migrant workers into the UK during the past decade has become the subject of much debate in the country ever since the economic downturn began in 2008/2009. Yet, although the UK’s oil and gas sector is booming it appears that offshore demographics have changed little since they were first measured in 2006.

Designed to help upstream oil and gas companies operating offshore UK to understand current trends within the workforce’s profile, and to plan ahead, the “2013 Offshore Demographics Report” was published in late June. This report pays particular attention to age, gender and residential location.

Amid concern in some corners of the UK offshore industry about the increasing prevalence of foreign workers in the North Sea, the report is a useful guide for people interested in how the workforce is changing.

The report shows that a total of 56,982 workers traveled offshore in 2012, which is the highest number since 2006 (when demographics data was first analyzed), and a 9-percent increase over 2011, when 52,300 personnel traveled offshore. So, it is clear that as activity in the North Sea has been increasing – partly as a result of a new UK government tax regime that has made previously uneconomic fields commercial – more workers have been required.

Despite the efforts of major upstream companies to encourage women into the offshore environment, it is still highly male-dominated. Between 2006 and 2012, the industry saw an increase of 18.7 percent in the total number of females traveling offshore, but because of a similar increase in men going offshore the number of women as a proportion of the total workforce in the offshore environment is just .15 percent greater than in 2006.

In 2012, 2138 female workers traveled offshore, representing just 3.75 percent of the total offshore workforce and an increase of .05 percent over the number for 2011. Of these women, 753 were core workers (those workers who work offshore for more than 100 nights per year) compared with 763 who traveled offshore for 10 nights or less – which is roughly the same proportion as male core to non-core workers in the offshore environment.

At 41.1 years, the average age of the
offshore workforce has remained approximately the same as it was in 2006. However, the greatest growth was seen in young and middle-aged workers as opposed to those in older age groups, which Oil & Gas UK said should dispel the perception that the UK’s offshore workforce is an aging workforce – especially since the figures for 2012 reveal that there were 2.5 times more people in the 23-to-28 bracket than aged 60 to 65.

Proportion of Britons is Shrinking
In 2012 47,192 of the workers who traveled offshore were Britons, representing over 82.8 percent of the workforce. In 2006, 43,387 Britons (around 86.7 percent) made up an offshore workforce of approximately 50,000 personnel – which means that the proportion of Britons is shrinking.

By far the most common expatriate workers offshore UK were from Norway, with Norwegian workers accounting for 15 percent of non-British personnel. This was followed by the Dutch (9.4 percent) and U.S. workers (4.7 percent).

This is hardly surprising since Norway, the Netherlands and the United States have world-leading oil and gas industries of their own.

In contrast to some Britons’ fears about eastern Europeans entering the job market in the UK, after several such countries joined the European Union from 2004 onwards, Oil & Gas UK’s demographics report shows that the proportion of Polish and Lithuanian workers declined during 2012. However, Polish workers still make up the fourth-largest contingent of expat workers – representing 4.4 percent of the non-British workforce.

Still, some representatives of UK oil and gas workers are concerned about migrant workers in the industry.

At the end of July the RMT union, which represents many UK oil and gas workers, launched an e-petition designed to force a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons on what it described as the damaging effect on UK divers and offshore workers of “cost-cutting recruitment practices” in the UK offshore sector.

“Shipping and offshore employers continue to aggressively exploit loopholes in UK employment, immigration and tax laws, undercutting UK workers to the financial benefit of directors and private shareholders. Your union continues to fight these attacks on the offshore workforce by all means at our disposal,” RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said in a statement at the time.

The RMT’s action followed a move by the UK government earlier in the year to relax migration rules on employing engineers from outside Europe that was designed to help tackles a skills shortage facing the UK offshore sector. Twenty new engineering job categories were included in “The Shortage Occupations List” – a register of jobs that are exempt from immigration rules – meaning that North Sea-based oil and gas companies would be able to hire foreign workers from outside the European Economic Area.

Meanwhile, as Rigzone has reported elsewhere, efforts are being made by many companies active in the UK oil and gas sector to motivate young people and develop their skills so that Britons can continue to play a major role within the industry in the future.

BP plc, for example, launched a $7.2-million scholarship program last November aimed at science, technology, engineering and mathematics undergraduates who study at nine selected universities across the UK. Even much smaller North Sea players, such as TAQA Bratani, have been launching graduate recruitment programs in the UK that are designed to boost their capability in the medium-to-long term.

– Rigzone

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