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Skills shortages in the North Sea oil and gas industry are at a 'tipping point', says Subsea 7 HR director

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A lack of young specialised engineers is a "genuine" worry in the North Sea oil and gas industry, according to Steve Harvey, HR director at North Sea and Canada engineering and construction company, Subsea 7.

Speaking to HR magazine Harvey said one way to tackle this "huge shortage" is to get children of primary age, interested in engineering. "If you want to change the make-up of this sector then you have to start young," Harvey said.

"We have to get away from the view this is a dirty industry, which will also help attract female talent.

"Skills shortages is a problem in the oil and gas sector we have known has been coming for a while," Harvey said. "But it has got to a tipping point, where organisations are genuinely worried about how they are going to grow in the future."

Last week a report from oilandgaspeople.com found an extra 125,000 North Sea oil and gas workers are needed in the next 10 years as nearly half of the sector is hitting retirement age.

Another report last year by PwC backed this claim up as it stated an extra 120,000 workers are going to be needed in Aberdeen over the next five years if it's going to realise its potential.

Harvey understands the frustrations of many workers and young graduates who read these figures but are still out of work. He said even though there has been "great investment" in oil and gas recently, because of the "boom and bust nature" of the industry there will always be a constraint around people.

"The industry is on a high at the moment, extraction methods are becoming safer and this has led to a new lease of life but it's cyclical and if the oil price crashes you then have to let a lot of your people go."

Harvey said one of the problems employers in the North Sea had, is they are "constantly looking" for that "gold-plated" C.V.

Another problem mentioned in the report by oilandgaspeople.com was nearly half of the industry is heading for retirement. "This is especially worrying in our offshore operations as the average age of our workers is mid-forties and in some areas fifties," Harvey said.

"We do recognise the problem - the Americans are calling it 'the great crew change', and so we have increased our graduate programmes but because of simple logistical reasons, there is only so many we can take on at one time."

Harvey believes one way to tackle this shortfall, is for more conversion programmes, but he said there is still a "mental block" in some places because the same skills civil engineers have and the knowledge and also experience is transferable to the industry.

Harvey believes apart from it being underground many skills are the same, "Essentially what we do is engineering on the moon".

"People who are coming out of the armed forces have excellent transferable skills.

"We're also looking for workers with great supply chain experience, commercial experience within the supply chain, also quality assurance and quality control experience."

He added: "I do think the penny has finally dropped and we are starting to address this issue."

Kevin Forbes, CEO of oilandgaspeople.com, said: "North Sea investment is at record levels and production will help boost the economy but there is one dark cloud on the horizon and it is a fast reducing qualified work force.

"It's one thing having record levels of investment but if you don't have enough people to do the jobs, then the growth will grind to a halt."