OE13: Skills - the Apache view

Jim House, chairman of today’s (Friday) SPE Offshore Europe keynote session Oil & Gas Skills – Your Future Today, and region VP and MD Apache North Sea, gave us his views on the industry’s skills challenge.

Q. What is the biggest skills challenge facing the industry, in your opinion, both in the North Sea and globally?

The global demand for energy is forecast to continue increasing over the next 20 years with the mix becoming more diverse generating growth in the demand and breadth of competition for skilled personnel. There is a shortage of candidates with sector-specific skills and knowledge, particularly those with 5 – 15 years’ experience and in specialist areas within the fields of petroleum engineering, geoscience and project management.

Q. Is it a problem the industry can or should solve collaboratively?

Recruitment and retention are essentially competitive activities but some actions can and should be pursued collaboratively. These include the development of fast track conversion programs; improving the attractiveness of the energy sector to graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, many of whom pursue alternative careers; increasing the flow of personnel through foundation level programs while making the industry more attractive to women.

Q. How are companies, in general, addressing their skills needs at the moment, does this differ between operators and contractors, and is it sustainable?

At the present industry are competing within a finite pool for human resources, which is not sustainable for the longer term.  In general, we’re not solving the problem in the short term, but it should however stimulate innovation and creativity across recruitment and development.  However, the larger view is collaboration across industry will be key to attract students to pursue technically centric academics.

Q. What is the biggest challenge, recruitment or retention?

As noted earlier there is a dearth of candidates with sector-specific skills and so companies need to do more to retain skilled workers possessing valuable experience and to maximize the contribution of the existing workforce by investing in professional development.  We have been successful recruiting university level graduates, attracting ex forces personnel and last year able to take advantage of the Coryton refinery shutting down by hiring talented and experienced personnel in the process.

Q. Is the industry attracting enough graduates?

Evidence suggests a decline in the number of young people choosing to study STEM subjects and, if not addressed, that may create future constraints on skills supply but at the moment there appears to be no real evidence of companies being unable to recruit graduates into entry level positions. Aside from doing more to increase awareness of the attraction and benefits of STEM subjects and working in the sector, more should be done to encourage the transfer and to fast track the development of experienced graduates from other sectors and to encourage the development of energy sector Foundation Degrees leading to an increase in vocational entry routes. 

Q. What industry-led initiatives should people be aware of/support?

I’d be inclined to flag the increasingly tangled web of sector, skills initiatives and organisations involved in their development and delivery. Although well intentioned, there is a risk of this becoming a barrier rather than an enabler to solving key skills issues. Simplification is needed to ensure a clear focus on key priorities and that the voice of employers is heard. Any initiative that raises the profile and or attractiveness of the industry should be supported but a little more joined up thinking would ensure the effort is channelled in the same direction.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add not asked above?

Encourage sector initiatives to support smaller employers in managing their training programmes and accessing suppliers.  Provide greater focus on the development of operative and technical skills to run and maintain plant and machinery in a safe and efficient way.

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