Oil and gas engineers must be utilised for their skillset not industry background, says Mark Wilkie
Despite the 40% drop in oil prices over the past year and continued uncertainty in the industry, there remains a ready market for oil and gas engineers. These people provide a rich source of talent that employers in other engineering industries can and should consider. For the engineer, this means diverse career opportunities are available to them, if they’re willing to look beyond oil and gas.
Across the UK, engineering is showing strong growth and the issue facing most employers is how to find the talented staff they need, with a significant skills gap currently existing as employers compete to recruit experienced engineers. The UK’s aerospace and maritime industries are seeing strong recovery and the significant infrastructure investment in rail, energy and water is also fuelling demand for engineers.
However, if businesses that are reliant on the support of engineers can successfully collaborate and open up a more flexible engineering workforce that is able to transfer skills across different areas of the industry, then it will succeed in making UK engineers an even greater economic asset.
Oil and gas employers may react with concern to the notion of their specialist engineers transferring to other sectors, but they shouldn’t. Ultimately, the key to building on the UK’s global leadership in engineering is to create a workforce that has the flexibility to transfer across industry sectors and meet shifting demand, and ensure that the scarce supply of talent is fully utilised. Furthermore, if oil and gas engineers choose to transfer into another sector, this should not be a barrier to them moving back again once capital expenditure has increased.
There is certainly an appetite among oil and gas engineers to switch to another industry. In our latest Confidence Index over half (51%) of those polled (n.350) said they would consider transferring to other areas of engineering, which is great news for employers in industries like maritime and water and waste, where the skills of oil and gas engineers are well suited. For these industries in particular, oil and gas engineers can offer a rich source of talent which is much needed to help address the skills gap now.
We are recording a shift in recruitment trends where applicable engineers are being encouraged to follow projects within their discipline but not be restricted by the area of industry in which they work. However, more needs to be done to facilitate the transfer of engineering talent.
As an industry, UK engineering needs to see the bigger picture and understand that skilled engineers who have worked in oil and gas can equally succeed in other engineering sectors. Mechanical, structural, electrical engineers and designers, project planners, health and safety advisers and quality inspectors are high on the target list for engineering employers and oil and gas specialists can bring their knowledge and abilities to these vacancies. The maritime, infrastructure and aerospace sectors are interested in many skillsets that engineers from oil and gas possess.
Indeed, for the skills of oil and gas engineers to be fully utilised and transferred, the onus is on employers to be open to accepting engineers from the oil and gas sector and to train them to successfully transition, so they are equipped with the specific skills they need to succeed in a different area. This open-minded and supportive approach is crucial if employers are to successfully fill vacancies and ease the impact of the skills shortage on business growth; gone are the days when an employer can precisely match a job spec with a CV and choose from a handful of eager candidates, they must be flexible to secure the talent they need.
Employers in the oil and gas industry can also play a role in promoting alternative career paths to staff members who face losing their jobs as a result of the downturn in this sector. It should be in the interests of the whole industry to help engineers find placements where they can maintain and improve their skillset as the UK economy simply cannot afford to lose talent that will be needed when the oil and gas industry picks up again.
If employers adopt an open-minded, collaborative and supportive approach to the transfer of skills of UK engineers, the career opportunities for all engineers in the UK will open up dramatically. Furthermore, talent can be directed where it is needed most, thus mitigating the skills gap and the talent fallout from industry downturns, such as with oil and gas.
Mark Wilkie, Operations Director, Energy, Matchtech, Fareham, Hampshire, UK.