Offshore Skills in Crisis

20 August 2007 (Last Updated August 20th, 2007 18:30)

Demand may be up for offshore industry produce but do we have the skills and staff to be able to take advantage of this?

One issue at present unites the offshore oil and gas industry worldwide – the crying need for engineers and technicians to fill jobs. Changing from one company to another is not what we are talking about – we need new entrants to the global workforce of all ages and representing all skills levels.

FEEDING THE BOOM

The current unprecedented boom is predicted to continue for some years yet, and is one factor in the need for new people; couple this with the fact that the age profile in the industry is advanced and a great many of the existing workforce will retire in the next five to ten years and we can all see that considerable recruitment programmes are needed just to enable all the component parts of the industry to stand still, let alone 'feed the boom'.

The objectives are startlingly simple. We need to:

  • replace the experienced personnel who will soon retire
  • bring in enough new entrants at the start of their careers
  • locate 'returners' and job entrants looking for a career change
  • train these new entrants to ensure safe and efficient project delivery is always achieved

However simple these objectives are, the challenge is huge and needs all the global offshore community pulling together to publicise the attractions of working in the industry.

At the start of 2007 IMCA published figures that set the scene as far as the marine contracting industry was concerned, showing, only too clearly, that many thousands of vacancies existed. IMCA members provided practical estimates of the possible growth of their businesses, looking at orders for new build construction vessels, drilling rigs, saturation diving spreads and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

From these we extrapolated some of the marine contracting industry's recruitment needs over the next two to three years. The figures make just as compelling reading as they did at the start of the year:

  • The industry will commission at least 50 new offshore construction vessels in the next two to three years covering IMCA members' activities including lifting, pipelay, diving, survey and ROV operations – about ten will be dive support vessels (DSVs)
  • The drilling industry will commission about 40 more floating drilling rigs (semi-submersible or ship shape) in the next three years
  • Around 100 new ROVs will be built, mostly work class
  • About ten new portable or modular saturation diving systems will come onto the market
  • The new vessels and drill rigs will require some 2,000 additional watch-keepers across the bridge, deck and engine room
  • The increases in saturation diving will require some 800 additional personnel in saturation diving and related positions
  • They will require around 1,000 additional survey and inspection discipline personnel
  • The ROV spreads will require 1,200 additional personnel to operate them
"We need new entrants to the global workforce of all ages and skills levels."

These numbers do not include the large numbers of additional air diving personnel and the many other deck, catering and ancillary crew, or onshore and engineering support personnel required to operate the vessels.

And, neither do they include the crewing and support of literally hundreds of new supply vessels. Nor do they take account of the number of people retiring from the industry. Take any other sector of the industry, and they will be able to come up with similarly challenging statistics.

A GLOBAL RECRUITMENT DRIVE

Having defined the problem, we are now conducting a global campaign to attract 'returners' and newcomers to the industry. We're looking to former members of the armed forces and defence industries; to countries with a strong maritime heritage but with no oil and gas industry; workers from manufacturing industries where factories are closing – and of course young people.

We're not alone in doing this, it is going on throughout the industry; and is being undertaken by individual companies, trade associations and professional bodies alike.

Rising to the challenge of skills shortages globally is key to the ongoing success of this vital industry and we are determined to do all we can to encourage youngsters – and the not-so-young – who are looking for a career change.

The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA – IMCA-int.com) represents some 390 offshore, marine and underwater engineering companies in 47 countries.