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Young engineers will be required in North Sea oil and gas sector for many years to come

By Andrew Bradshaw, Fifth Ring

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The global demand for oil will continue – meaning careers in oil and gas are here to stay.
The global demand for oil will continue – meaning careers in oil and gas are here to stay.

As the academic year starts once again and many young people return to school or university the question of which career they should choose looms large.

Engineering remains an extremely attractive option. I was encouraged recently to hear of a teenager who was considering taking a course either in marine or civil engineering and was seeking a work placement with a large oil and gas supply chain company in Aberdeen. He clearly hasn’t been affected by the anti-oil hype.

Much has been made in recent years of the oil and gas industry’s struggle to recruit young people. One reason is the perception that the industry has only a short-term future in the UK – certainly not one that would be long enough to sustain a full working lifespan. Another is the focus on the environmental impact of fossil fuel use – a major global issue as countries look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement targets.

However, engineers will be required in this sector for many years to come. In fact, we may well face a significant shortage of young engineers if the industry fails to recruit in the years ahead.

In the short term, the warning signs are there already. A recent report from UK skills organisation the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board suggests the loss of engineers from the oil and gas sector as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic could impact on the country’s ability to support the energy transition to renewable energy sources.

It has already been estimated that 7500 jobs in the sector have been lost in the UK due to the pandemic, and Oil and Gas UK has predicted up to 30,000 jobs could go over the next 12 to 18 months. However, it has also been forecast that 40,000 new recruits with skills relevant to renewable energy, hydrogen fuel and carbon capture will be required over the next 10 to 15 years.

But aside from the need to support the energy transition, there will continue to be a requirement for engineers in oil and gas in their own right as the industry matures and demand for hydrocarbons remains significant. That is the case for two reasons.

Firstly, away from highlights about the advances in the renewables sector and proclamations from politicians about mass electric vehicle adoption, billions of people around the world will continue to travel in vehicles powered by internal combustion engines using improved quality fuels.

And industry will continue to rely on energy provided by fossil fuel-fired power stations – even for the electricity required to charge many electric vehicles. That’s because oil is relatively cheap at less than $50 per barrel right now. Even the most conservative forecasts estimate the global demand for oil will continue to be around 100 million barrels per day into the middle of this century. So we will need more oil.

Secondly, there is still plenty of oil to be extracted from the North Sea but, once production has come to an end, the decommissioning of rigs will present additional opportunities for budding engineers and others to work on. Research and consultancy group Wood Mackenzie has estimated that more than £16 billion will be spent on UK decommissioning by 2029 and regulator the Oil and Gas Authority recently forecasted decommissioning costs would be £48 billion overall.

So, whether it’s to support current production demands, future decommissioning projects or as a platform to transfer to other energy sectors, a career in oil and gas can still offer young people plenty of opportunities.

  • Andrew Bradshaw is head of energy insight at global corporate communications company Fifth Ring and is based at the company’s Inverness office. He is internationally recognised as one of the leading experts in energy public relations.
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