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It’s widely known that the oil and gas industry is facing a critical skills shortage and needs to find around 120,000 new staff in the next ten years. On the other end of the scale, the UK armed forces is facing mass redundancies, with the army alone being slimmed down from 100,000 to 82,000 by 2020 as part of the government’s defence cuts.

Many military skills, such as engineering and project management, are widely transferable to the oil and gas industry. Despite many hoping redundancies in the armed forces will help plug the oil and gas industries skills shortage, many ex-servicemen still struggle to find a place in the industry.

"Many military skills, such as engineering and project management, are widely transferable to the oil and gas industry."

Magnus Jeffrey, an ex-army officer and current project engineer for Senergy Development Solutions (SDS), is proof there is a valuable place for ex-military personnel in the oil and gas industry. Having successfully made the transition himself, Jeffrey set up The Network Aberdeen, an independent Network that helps ex-military take the first tentative steps into the oil and gas industry, which can often be a daunting prospect to those not in the know.

Despite lacking some technical experience, Jeffrey snapped up his role in SDS after attending the Offshore Europe conference in 2011. After a lengthy chat with SDS staff on their stand, it became clear Jeffrey had the skills the company were looking for and two weeks later he joined the company.

Aware that his is a ‘right-time-at-the-right’ place story of luck, through The Network Aberdeen, Jeffrey aims to help ex-servicemen break into the energy industry by holding networking meetings in Aberdeen.

At the meetings ex-servicemen and women meet and chat with others who have already made the transition to gather tips and information about how to best enter the industry. So far the Network has been involved in around 14 job matches.

Heidi Vella: Did you leave the armed forces with the intention of entering the energy industry?

Magnus Jeffrey: No, and I think that is the difficulty many people face. When they leave the services it’s not obvious where they should be looking for work.

That is a very important first step, deciding what industry you want to work in. Otherwise you can’t really have a focus. I was lucky, I had a friend who worked up in Aberdeen, so I was able to speak to him and he told me a bit about the industry and said it would be worth a try.

I did a geosciences degree at university so I had a basic knowledge about things like geology and had a basic knowledge of the oil industry. So it made sense to look in this direction. It was a happy fit, I guess.

HV: Did you have to retrain?

MJ: No, I was recruited on the basis that I could work in and manage teams. But obviously I am still learning. It is a whole different industry and there is a lot of different information to try and understand, but that can happen on the job.

That is a problem a lot of service leavers have, they think they have to do all sorts of courses as they are leaving the military to get a job up here [Aberdeen], but actually the skill sets they already have should be enough to get them in the building initially and then they can then develop within the industry.

A lot of time is wasted by individuals by doing short survival or some university course, which actually turns out to be not very relevant. My advice is always try and get the job first on your existing skills and then once you know what you are doing, you can be a lot more focused on any further training that you do.

HV: Why did you start up The Network Aberdeen?

MJ: I was very lucky when I was looking for work out here, that people would take time out to speak to me and give me a bit of advice, even if it wasn’t in terms of pushing me towards a job, it just helped me understand a bit about the industry and tweaking your CV and things.

Really, that opportunity to chat over coffee with guys who have served in the military and then had got jobs within the energy industry was invaluable, and that is what the Network offers. It also offers an obvious focal point for Service leavers who do not have any contacts in the area or industry.

HV: What are the initial obstacles for military personnel entering the energy industry?

MJ: What a lot of people find is they can’t get past the initial hurdle of the computer system or the HR individual who doesn’t really understand the military background and skills set.

"At the meetings ex-servicemen and women meet and chat with others who have already made the transition to gather tips."

The best way to get round that is to come in the back door through your contacts and networks.

There are two things that need to be done to address that: the guys coming from the military need to better understand the industry they are coming into and by going along to the Network, they can chat to people who are working in the industry.

Equally, I think the industry needs to have its people resources or HR more tuned into what the military can offer.

At the moment, I think you need some one in the company who understands military CVs, which will invariably be an ex-military person. They can translate these things for the HR department and say whether these things are suitable.

HV: Is the energy industry quite closed off to outsiders in general, do you think?

"A lot of time is wasted by individuals by doing short survival or some university course, which actually turns out to be not very relevant."

MJ: I think bits of it are. And importantly some of those bits are the doors that people need to get through. I think increasingly there is an understanding, not just of the military, but of what other sectors can offer – experience and technical knowledge. But yeah, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

There are a lot of fairly disparate groups – OPITO, the Oil & Gas UK, the more official ones and then the smaller ones, like The Network Aberdeen.

We all need to come together and look at this as a common problem. Increasingly that is happening. For example, OPITO are looking at mapping military jobs and experience against industry jobs and experience.

So that it is much more obvious where people’s skills lie and what jobs they might be suitable at doing. Hopefully that will break down some of the barriers.

It’s not really as slick as it could be, but it does seem to be moving in the right direction as more and more military people seem to be either leaving or being forced to leave in this current climate.

HV: Besides an overlap in skills, what other factors make military personnel suitable for the energy industry?

MJ: Well, the preconceived obvious ones are things like they’re disciplined, reliable, they have leadership skills, all of this sort of stuff that has been developed in recent operations in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They are very used to working in dynamic fast paced environments, and under pressure. Which are all good assets to have in someone who is either working as part of the team or leading a team.

They’re very good at engaging stakeholders and often stakeholders from different countries and different cultures. Again that is a useful skill if you are thinking about working with overseas clients or companies. It’s a transferable skill.

HV: Is there a pay incentive for ex-military personnel to come into the energy industry?

MJ: Money is certainly not the main driver for most who work in the military. You do the work for service to the country, for the opportunities that are offered within that job. It’s an interesting and dynamic job to do. I don’t think you are really comparing apples and apples.

The oil and gas industry is an attractive industry to work in but I wouldn’t say the motive to work in it is purely financial. That would have an element in it, I think, but for me it is the type of work the industry does which is very, very interesting.

You want job satisfaction, no matter how much you are getting paid. The oil and gas industry, like the military, is a dynamic and exciting place to work, so I think that has got to be a pull. Another important factor is that the oil and gas industry has job opportunities, whereas other industries don’t, so that is another factor.

HV: Are there any misconceptions about the energy industry in the military?

MJ: I think there is a bit of a misconception in the military that oil and gas is all offshore. For those that are used to moving around a lot it is definitely similar in that respect, but equally there is so much work onshore, ex-forces don’t need to assume they will either be posted somewhere overseas and do a rotational job or they’ll be working offshore in the North Sea.

There are engineering design houses and technical companies all over the country. There is a huge oil and gas community in London. Again this is part of the education we need to be telling ex-servicemen – you don’t necessary need to come up to Aberdeen and Scotland.

HV: What is the first thing you should do if you’re thinking of making the transition from the military to the energy industry?

MJ: Get to understand the industry. Do the research, understand the environment you are looking to come into. You are going to struggle if you are pushing at the wrong companies, the wrong part of the sector, so you need to understand the environment.

The other key thing is you need to understand what you are offering. What your key skills are and where you are best suited for the industry. I think of both of those keys things the Network can really assist with, by talking to people in the industry.

HV: Do government bodies, such as Oil & Gas UK, do enough to ease the transition from armed forces to energy industry?

MJ: I think they could do more. I think they recognise the need to do more. There has always been a drip feed of ex-service guys coming into the oil and gas industry, since hydrocarbons were found in the North Sea.

But I think recently, what has brought it to the fore is redundancies and the cut backs of the military, so they are responding to that.

It is not going to happen over night but it is definitely moving in the right direction. The industry pull and the military push are both areas that need work, but they are coming together.

I think in the next six to 12 months we’ll see a more joined up offering from the industry: from Oil & Gas UK; from OPITO; and all the other elements. We’re moving in the right direction.

HV: What are the longer term goals for The Network Aberdeen?

MJ: I just want to grow it. It’s difficult because most people involved have day jobs so there is only so much time they can commit. I would like to have bigger events that draw in more people from the industry who could come and speak and maybe sponsor events and raise the profile of the Network.

I don’t want to turn it into a recruitment agency or anything. I’m very keen that it stays very independent and impartial, so that when people do come for advice they know there are not hidden drivers or company loyalties behind it, just good honest advice.

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