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Oil & Gas skills shortages: stop hiring the same people!



“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

 A terrific quote from Albert Einstein, and one which got me thinking about manpower in the Oil & Gas market. 

When I was working in the United Kingdom as a recruiter supplying brownfield contractors to the maturing North Sea industry I encountered a major problem; a massive skills shortage. During 2006-2008 I struggled through the same pools of candidates and when we found a suitable candidate looking for a move that matched the job description we would get that candidate 5-6 offers in 24 hours, easy. Companies would then enter a bidding war to secure said candidate, often resulting in driving industry rates up at the detriment of project costs and the long-term sustainability of the industry. 

During times of prosperity in Oil & Gas there can be a focus on getting staff through the doors in order to get the package of work done but with little regards to cost. In 2008 the global markets crashed and contractors and staff were laid off, with the inevitable result being a surplus of candidates on the market.

Fast-forward to 2011 and I had moved to Australia. I found that I had moved from the depressed market of North Sea Oil & Gas into an Australasian market that was booming! The same issues I had previously experienced in the UK were apparent in Australia, in that there was a huge demand for labour and not enough to go round. Just as I had seen in the UK, bidding wars over candidates were commonplace leading to increases in rates. Frustratingly, many of the companies involved in these bidding wars had offices in Aberdeen and London and seemingly hadn’t learnt the lessons of the North Sea boom years. Clearly there was little communication between their offices. Nevertheless, in 2014 the oil priced crashed and Australia has since been experiencing the worst trough in its history when it comes to energy sector employment and the sanctioning of new projects.

Faced with a tougher price environment it is worrying to see Oil & Gas companies stress that candidates should be a perfect technical fit for the role when in my opinion they should be taking a deeper look at the available candidate market. They should be looking at the cultural fit and ability to adapt and evolve in a given position. Don’t get me wrong, any client will need subject-matter experts but energy companies shouldn’t restrict their recruitment efforts to those candidates purely from an energy background. Why are they not looking at up-skilling those from transferrable industries such a mining, petrochemical, infrastructure or those from Oil & Gas but only specialised in a given project phase? These engineers already process a general understanding of their discipline and are intelligent enough to get a degree in say Mechanical Engineering, so why are they so often over looked as potential suitors to live positions in Oil & Gas?

There is a call nationally from CEOs of oil companies through to our government for innovation. Wouldn’t it be innovative to start bringing in those from outside Oil & Gas and start training them up to work in the industry? Would this not solve the skill shortage issue that will beset the maintenance and brownfield sphere from 2018 onward? The solutions engineers in the mining, petrochemical and infrastructure space have provided could surely be used in Oil & Gas. Their way of thinking could be different to those who have worked in the Oil & Gas industry for years; they would bring fresh ideas which could revolutionize the industry.

Oil & Gas companies should reconsider their current recruitment strategies and start embracing the up-skilling of local workforces from transferable industries to tackle impending skills shortages. If they do not do this they will be storing up trouble for the next time the market bounces back.

I would welcome a more innovative approach that sees long-term planning and up-skilling outside the industry to tackle this inevitability, but we need to start now or be in the same mess yet again.

What are your thoughts? Could the Oil & Gas industry do more to source staff from other industries? Let us know in the comments below or view jobs in Aberdeen
Oil & Gas skills shortages: stop hiring the same people! - Time to read 4 min
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