Are We Heading For a Talent Calamity?


Although I'm not a history professor, I'm going to give you a little bit of history about the UKCS. As the old adage goes, "you don't know what you can become, until you know what you've been."

It was in 1965 that gas was first discovered in the Southern North Sea, but its discovery was tinged with great sadness as following that historic discovery, just a few days later 19 souls perished following the sea disaster.

Then in 1970, oil was discovered by BP in the field that was to be named Fortes. But it wasn't until the 1974 Middle East oil crisis, that investment in the North Sea really took hold.

Since 1975, we have had oil and gas being produced form the North Sea, with colossal revenues finding their way to the UK exchequer.

Now fast forward to 2004, since those heady days of 1970, the global oil and gas industry has endured two major oil price crashes, the first in 1986 and the second in 1995. So, what happens during 'industry depressions'? I'll tell you what happens, investment is slashed, the supply chain is reduced and thousands of jobs are lost. But most importantly, there is no investment in new talent.

We are now facing a talent deficit. What does the industry decide to do about it? Well it tries to attract personnel from other industries. It starts glossy recruitment drives with one of its target sectors being ex-military personnel. Unfortunately, what the industry hasn't realised is that this industry does not behave in the way other industries behave. Interestingly and somewhat bizarrely, although Oil and Gas is an industry with global reach, it is incredibly parochial. To compound matters further is the well known fact that to break into the oil industry, it's not what you know but who you know, that matters. Therefore, what is the consequence of this situation? Well, we have ourselves a monumental skill shortage within the industry.

Moving forward to the spring of 2014 and the oil prices is $100 a barrel. But what is the industry in the North Sea talking about? You've guessed it, shortage of talent! The industry is going crazy, day rates are going through the roof, but we still can't get people. Then within months the greatest downturn in a generation is upon us.

Again, we see the industry revert to type and slashing investment up to $1trillion and counting! Contractors are laid off in droves, day rates are slashed, staff jobs are lost by tens of thousands. In short, total dissemination of the industry. What is even worse is that as the downturn has endured, oil and gas workers are retraining and will probably now never return to the industry.

So as the industry begins to see the green shoots of recovery, it is my earnest opinion that we are not just facing an industry talent shortage but an industry talent calamity. I hope that I'm proved wrong but I'm seeing very little evidence to the contrary.

My advice.....We need a top down cultural shift and a move away from this closed mindset thinking and the belief that only people within the industry have the answers to the industries problems. We need to embrace the thinking from other industries such as manufacturing, particularly, the adoption of lean operating principles. In addition, we must go on an aggressive, sincere and inclusive publicity campaign in order to actively encourage new entrants to this fantastic industry which some of us have the privilege of being a part of. At the end of the day, it is only with new blood, new ideas and new ways of thinking that we will have a long term and sustainable industry.


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