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Subsea UK and OPITO Awarded Vital Industry Skills Funding

29 October 2012

Global-leading energy industry bodies Subsea UK and OPITO have each been awarded part of a £2million fund aimed at attracting vital new entrants into the industry and helping people to diversify their skills.

Scotland’s leading diver training facility, The Underwater Centre in Fort William, has also secured a share of The Energy Challenge Fund, set up to help tackle the current skills shortage in the oil and gas industry.

The Fund, managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), will support employers’ skills needs to build on the talent pool in Scotland’s burgeoning energy sector. The training is aimed at helping people to gain the qualifications necessary for working in oil and gas, including the subsea sector, as well as renewables and micro-renewables.

Subsea UK, OPITO and The Underwater Centre are among nine providers from across Scotland which have received funding to develop tailored courses designed to fast-track people into the industry.It will also help new graduates or school-leavers fill energy-related vacancies in the industry by providing courses in essential disciplines such as diving and offshore safety.

The oil and gas industry is experiencing shortages of skills across a number of key areas. A recent survey of Subsea UK members revealed that the subsea industry in the UK needs around 10,000 people in the next 12 months to cope with current and short-term future demand.

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, which represents the industry around the UK with over 250 members, said: "The funds will go towards further developing a subsea engineer conversion course which provides companies with the course framework, tools and resources to successfully train engineers from other sectors to become subsea engineers.

"One of Subsea UK’s members, Subsea7, has been running its own engineering conversion programme since 2005 and Bibby Offshore recently launched its programme. The format of the conversion programme is now to be extended to wider throughout the industry.

"Subsea UK has had success with recruitment initiatives targeted at military personnel and these will continue with thenew funding available. We will also work with Robert Gordon University to update and enhance a suite of on-line learning modules for subsea and deliver a subsea apprenticeship scheme primarily focused on ensuring SMEs get access to apprentices.”

Efforts to address the lack of up-skills training to capture transferable skills are being led by OPITO, the body responsible for ensuring the industry has a competent, safe and sustainable workforce supply both now and in the future.

Gillian Black, policy affairs director at OPITO, said: "The mid-gap of maturity and experience is where the problem lies. Widening the pool of talent available to the industry is essential if the recruitment difficulties identified by industry employers are to be addressed.

"OPITO responded to this challenge by creating a fast-track Transformation Training Programme (TTP) for up-skilling workers with an established knowledge base and experience of other industries that are potentially facing redundancy or reduced opportunities. By developing their existing skills to suit the oil and gas industry, there is great opportunity to have suitably skilled, competent workers trained in a relatively short space of time.”

The OPITO programme has the potential to provide the oil and gas industry with a quality assured, structured mechanism for replenishing the workforce long term. Following two successful pilots in 2011, OPITO will us the Energy Skills Challenge Fund to run further programmes in the future. The courses, most of which will start early next year, are just the start with the fund expected to ultimately support more than 1,000 flexible training places.

For The Underwater Centre, which is a member of Subsea UK, the funding will allow 42 prospective students the opportunity to undertake one of two courses - The Underwater Centre's New Construction Package and its Premium Industry Package – for half the normal fee, giving them the support and training needed to get started as commercial divers.

Steve Ham, general manager at The Underwater Centre, said that the funding could not have come at a better time: "At present, we are not training sufficient numbers of commercial divers to meet the UK demand. The commercial diver population is ageing and there is likely to be a dramatic skills shortage which will have to be met by commercial divers from out with the UK.

"The Underwater Centre currently trains more divers from overseas than from within the UK; for example in 2010, the Centre trained more Italian divers than British divers. The low levels of UK candidates is not based on employment prospects, but is due to there not being a mechanism to allow candidates to fund training.

"We therefore very much welcome and support the Scottish Government’s initiative to retrain Scottish people and get them into Scottish jobs, and we will continue working with diving contractors to try to help our students into great commercial diving jobs.”

The Energy Challenge Fund builds on the Scottish Government's on-going commitment to fund 500 Modern Apprenticeship starts in the energy and low carbon sectors every year until 2014.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP said: "The Scottish Government has responded directly to the needs of industry with the development of this Fund, which has been designed to deliver practical solutions to the skill challenges faced by the sector and will focus specifically on transition training, enabling entrants with associated experience and generalist qualifications to enter the energy sector.”