The UK has a world class oil and gas sector, supporting as many as 450,000 jobs across the country, delivering 67% of the oil demand and 53% of gas demand but it is also among the world's most mature offshore basins, which brings its own challenges. From a high of £14billion in 2013, investment is expected to half before 2020 and exploration is at an all-time low. Like any challenge, the corollary is a number of opportunities, from a limited number of large-scale license holders, the sector has seen a shift towards operators of a significantly smaller and more diverse scale, and the cost pressures that make the UKCS one of the more expensive development basins may now encourage development of new technology and new skills.

In 2014, the Wood Review – UKCS Maximising Recovery – stated "… that urgent and full implementation of the recommendations… will have the potential to deliver, at the low end, an additional 3-4 billion boe over the next 20 years". In any economic estimation, that's a prize worth focusing on but, as we face a prolonged period of low oil prices and significant decommissioning for the first time in the history of the UKCS, the business community is asking what does this mean for the future of our workforce? More importantly, can we grasp opportunities and build a workforce that will enable us to deliver?

The North East of Scotland has, historically, outperformed the Scottish economy across a range of metrics but is not immune to disproportionately higher levels of unemployment - as much as double the prevailing rate - among young people (16-24). In a globally competitive world, this was considered significant enough that, in 2013 the Scottish Government established The Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce (the Commission). Chaired by Sir Ian Wood and independent of Government, the Commission was tasked with bringing forward a range of recommendations designed to improve young people's transition into employment.

Reflecting Scotland's diverse economy and the resulting diversity in the labour market, the Wood Commission recommended:

"The Scottish Government should support the creation of regional industry-led Invest in Youth groups across Scotland to provide leadership and a single point of contact and support to facilitate engagement between employers and education."

The Wood Commission stressed a need for better collaboration between employers and education stakeholders (both schools and local authorities) so, in late 2014, the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce moved to secure funding for the Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Group in North East Scotland. Focused particularly on school-leavers, the aim of this Group is to create stronger links between education and industry, to create a workforce that is fit for the future and to prepare young people for the world of work.

DYW, NE Scotland is the result, an independent, business-led initiative, tasked with developing a framework connecting the shared interests of business and education. We have an opportunity, over the next 3-5 years, to shape the young workforce available to the industry, through the engagement and direct involvement of employers. While there is a multitude of good practice in links between employers and schools, there is significant duplication of effort and lack of clarity and consistency in the work being undertaken.

Preparing our young people today means equipping them with transferable skills and with realistic expectations of what career opportunities the UKCS can offer. The approach we are taking is a new one; never before has industry itself led on increasing the employability of young people. In that respect there is a responsibility and opportunity for us all as employers and employees to engage in this initiative and to provide answers to some fundamental questions:

  • How do we enable the industry work collaboratively to plan our future workforce needs?

  • How can we support the industry to better forecast skills data?

  • Is it the right time to challenge or change the received recruitment models?

  • What level of certainty or long-term future can the industry provide for its employees?

  • Is there a more compelling narrative to attract and retain skills in the industry?

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