Oil platforms are extreme environments where weather and the dangers of the job require engineers who are physically fit and able to work under pressure; is it any wonder many Service-leavers follow a path into the oil and gas industry?
There are no signposts in the sea, it was once said; but you should look towards the North Sea none-the-less, for when it comes to a civilian career with potential, the portents are good. Especially if you’ll be stepping back out onto civvy street with plenty of engineering experience under your belt: the ongoing exploitation of its oil and gas reserves offer real opportunities to make the most from your skills and abilities.
Although there’s been something of a consolidation of investment in the oil industry operating within the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) during 2014 (in part thanks to a “wait and see” attitude among the big players when it comes to the Scottish Referendum in September, but equally linked to generally fluctuating oil prices), this is likely to be just a pause.
Only a year ago, Fergus Ewing MSP (the Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism) was able to point to record levels of investment, increases in activity (with at least half of the value of the North Sea’s oil and gas reserves yet to be extracted), and an industry that was investing in its workforce to avoid an impending skills gap as a generation of oil engineers approach retirement.
Indeed, according to the UK Oil and Gas Industrial Strategy published by the UK Government and the industry in 2013, there is an expectation that the sector will require an additional 15,000 staff across a range of disciplines – and that’s just in the next four-to-five years. Significantly, and building on the experiences of an already growing number of companies who work with the MoD and Career Transition Partnership, the report included proposals to establish a national programme to retrain ex-Military personnel to enable them to be redeployed in the oil and gas industry. “Ex-Military personnel often have the skills the industry looks for and have successfully transitioned into the sector.”
This certainly isn’t news to the likes of Last 3 Recruitment, which specialises in placing Service-leavers in the oil, gas and renewables sector. Service personnel with engineering experience have perhaps the most obvious route into the industry, whether you’re thinking about ‘upstream’ (exploration, extraction and initial processing of oil and gas) or ‘downstream’ (largely land-based processing and distribution). No wonder the sector is looking to match industry job profiles with Military roles, in order “to identify directly transferable positions, and highlight where training and conversion courses may be required”.
“Oil and gas firms are increasingly recognising the benefits of recruiting men and women from the Armed Forces, who tend to be results-orientated individuals with a can-do attitude, and a broad range of skills and international experience,” according to Dr Alix Thom, Oil & Gas UK’s Employment and Skills Issues Manager. “The industry is aware that there are many highly qualified and skilled individuals in the Services with the capability to take on a challenging second career in the oil and gas industry.”
Not only that, but many of the most experienced Service-leavers exactly fit into the 35-49 ‘mid-career’ demographic which research, published in 2013 by Oil and Gas UK years, showed to be the age-group showing the most significant drop among the core workforce. So, if you’re leaving with around 20 years Military experience under your belt, you’ll most likely have qualities much prized by employers, from team leadership and organisational skills to specific technical knowledge.
While Service-leavers can certainly offer a lot to the oil and gas industry, an additional attraction is that the sector is one which can also provide Service-leavers with a kind of working environment they can instinctively understand. While almost one in five (18%) of North Sea workers will actually spend fewer than 10 nights offshore (and only around 10% spend more than 100 nights away from land), working life on the platforms is a relatively isolated one where team-work and camaraderie are the natural consequence of living and working together. (Offshore installations vary in size, but on average house between 50 and 100 people; remind you of anything?) Also, despite some initiatives made by the industry in recent years, life offshore remains a decidedly male world; in 2013, for example, women made up less than 4% of the core offshore workforce.
Being transported to and from ‘base’ by helicopter will also be familiar to many; and, arguably, you’re effectively ‘on tour’ for two or three weeks at a time, followed by a similar period ‘off’ at home. (Incidentally, that’s why – despite the UKCS industry being centred around the ‘European Oil Capital’, Aberdeen – many people choose to live elsewhere in the UK, commuting to and from Aberdeen as required.) When offshore, you’ll be working for around 12 hours at a time, in locations which are noisy and dirty, and outdoors. Depending on your role, the work can be extremely physically demanding; nevertheless, although competition for offshore jobs remains strong, Service-leavers are likely to have skills and expertise lacking in their civilian peers.
Plus, coming from the Armed Forces, you’ll have had plenty of experience of living and working in some of the most inhospitable environments around the planet. The North Sea may not have the deepest waters in the world, but it can seldom be listed among the world’s most attractive holiday destinations. Freezing temperatures, strong winds, stormy weather; it’s rarely a picnic, and poor weather conditions are seldom a good enough reason not to get a job done and done well – not least, because, as the likes of the Piper Alpha Disaster prove only too well, the lives and safety of the platform crews are often dependent on proper maintenance regimes and a constant awareness of health and safety.
Energy & Utility Skills
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Oil & Gas UK
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