Science and TechnologyWritten evidence submitted by OPITO—Skills Body for the Oil and Gas Industry


OPITO is the industry owned skills body which develops a sustainable, safe and competent workforce for the oil and gas industry. Over half a million offshore oil and gas workers in 40 countries are trained to OPITO safety and competency standards and there are 127 OPITO-approved training centres around the world delivering OPITO’s 103 industry standards.

In the UK, OPITO is the industry’s focal point for skills and workforce development working across five key areas:

(1)Standards development.


(3)Careers and attraction.

(4)Workforce development.

(5)Informing and influencing.

Competition for skills and talent are a major priority and concern for the UK’s oil and gas sector. Over half the industry responses to a recent OPITO survey identified talent attraction and retention as their primary challenge, with professional engineers and engineers at the top of the list.

Does the current engineering skills base meet the needs of employers? Do employers in the engineering sector prefer an academic or vocational route?

Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) research, conducted by OPITO last year, suggests that the oil and gas industry will require an additional 10,000 staff over the next 4–5 years in order to deliver new oil and gas project plans that the industry has identified.

The OPITO report also suggests that 66% of contractors and 62% of operators are experiencing problems in recruiting suitable employees in particular occupations. Engineers: senior, project, design, control, mechanical, subsea; geologists, geosciences, reservoir; skilled craft and technicians (machinists, tool dressers, electrical, instrumentation and hydraulics technicians, fitters, offshore technicians and welder fabricators, liquid and gas flow metering staff. 1

The oil and gas industry covers a broad spectrum from large multi-national operators down to small companies who form part of the extensive supply chain, including the hugely successful subsea sector which is regarded as the best in the world. In 2010 international sales in the supply chain were estimated at £6 billion. Employers in the oil and gas industry employ both graduates and engineers with a vocational profile with the preference varying between individual companies. In such a large and diverse industry engineers from both academic and vocational routes are required.

OPITO has run a successful modern apprenticeship scheme on behalf of the industry for over 12 years—with industry investing over £120 million to date. Selecting around 100 candidates each year, on behalf of a range of major companies OPITO oversees the three and a half year apprenticeship which involves 21 months at college and a further two years assigned to a specific company to develop their skills and gain workplace experience both on and offshore. The four disciplines in which the OPITO apprentices are trained include (1) Process Engineering Maintenance (2) Electrical Maintenance (3) Mechanical Maintenance and (4) Instrument and Control Maintenance.

The scheme has one of the best retention rates in the UK, with an average 94% of apprentices completing the course and securing employment.

However, the offshore oil and gas industry faces a unique problem when trying to increase the number of apprentices it trains as it is limited by the number of available bed space on offshore installations. It has been suggested that there may be a possibility of increasing the number of OPITO apprentices recruited each year by using onshore sites for training with simulators (thus reducing the practical experience on an offshore installation) but this would require a large financial investment to place the correct equipment in the appropriate on-shore sites.

With security of energy supply becoming ever more important to the UK, the diversity of energy producers including the growing renewables sector and the likely replacement of old nuclear plant means that competition for engineers will be a big challenge for everyone involved in the energy sector in future.

What impact will recent changes relating to engineering qualifications in England have on the uptake of technical subjects and the skills base needed by the engineering sector?

It is difficult to say at present how the changes will affect the skills base but, without exception, the companies recruiting engineers into the oil and gas sector require candidates to have extremely good skills in the core subjects of mathematics, chemistry and physics. Nearly all the large companies provide additional and on-going training for their engineers throughout their careers but the importance of good strong core skills and understanding of mathematics cannot be over emphasised. Although the OPITO apprenticeship entry criteria asks for a C grade in GCSE mathematics, English and science, students who have a higher qualification than a C in maths will find the course much easier as a strong understanding of mathematics is key to their learning.

OPITO is keen to do all it can to promote the key STEM subjects in schools as possible and already works with organisations such as STEM NET. In addition, the PETROCHALLENGE competition we run with various schools encourages pupils to use their maths, chemistry, IT, business studies and geography skills and to work together in teams in a two day oil industry simulation challenge to learn about the industry and see how they can apply their academic learning in an industry context. The feedback from teachers, whose pupils participate in the PETROCHALLENGE, describe it as “the curriculum in a box” and this successful programme could be widened out to more schools if more funding was available.

The industry believes that the government should work with industry to encourage the importance of STEM subjects in schools from as early an age as possible. We believe this includes primary schools where only a small percentage of teachers have a mathematics or science background.

As part of its work with primary schools OPITO has provided 65 Hydrocarbons in Action” kits to primary schools across Scotland and will be almost doubling the number available this year. The kits allow primary pupils to try a range of hands-on experiments designed to help them understand oil and gas exploration and production and help to encourage primary schools to introduce more science into their curriculum.

The kit, which was produced by OPITO and Young Engineers and Science Clubs with support from BP and the Scottish Oil Club, provide ready to use science experiments ranging from seismic exploration, core sampling and rock and mineral analysis through to crude oil testing and the building of a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

At the moment this scheme is only running in Scotland but could be expanded with additional support and funding.

In a future economy where technical and engineering skills are going to be in great demand, including the energy sector, we believe it is vital for government to ensure that all schools have good quality teachers in mathematics and science. It is often teachers in the early years of education who inspire pupils to go onto develop a love or aptitude for a particular subject and the importance of such role models should be recognised and encouraged.

How do the approaches taken by the Devolved Administrations to produce a technically skilled workforce differ to the current approach in England? What are the strengths/weakness of the different approaches?

The Scottish government recognises the importance of the industry to the economy and has shown a keen interest in ensuring there are enough skilled people to meet the needs of the oil and gas industry. As a result OPITO was invited to be a member of the Scottish Government’s Energy Skills Council. The Council aims to drive forward industry led skills initiatives and secure support from the Energy Advisory Board and funding from the Energy Skills Investment Plan as needed.

OPITO continues to work closely with the Scottish government and organisations across Scotland and has received support for a number of positive initiatives including:

Scottish government co-sponsored the “Lab in a Lorry” through the Institute of Physics to inspire an interest in science which included oil and gas related experiments.

Wide support by Ministers, Education Scotland and local government education departments for industry education and careers branded products.

SQA are reviewing the National Qualifications in line with the Curriculum for Excellence and have asked OPITO to support the context of the STEM subjects by providing oil and gas content. This will enable pupils to understand how school subjects are relevant to the workplace and how they can become effective contributors to society. This work is only relevant in Scotland and will be much harder to do in England because of the large number of examination bodies to deal with.

Work is underway with Universities Scotland to embed employability skills into HE graduates during their academic studies based on key industry sector needs.

Two transformation training programmes have been funded by Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council. This initiative takes a competency based approach to re-skilling workers from other industries eg. the armed forces and resulted in the candidates gaining employment in the oil and gas sector.

OPITO would welcome a seat on relevant skills bodies in England to help raise the profile of the industry.

Could the Government and others do more to raise the status of technical subjects?

It is predicted that oil and gas will still provide 70% of the UK’s primary energy needs in 2020 and OPITO believes that industry and government should work together to help raise the aspirations of young people to join the oil and gas industry.

In countries like Norway, the people and politicians take great pride in their oil and gas industry (Statoil is the state oil company) and understand and appreciate the importance to the economy and the benefits it brings from taxation revenue. The UK, in comparison, has little knowledge or understanding of the industry or of the amazing engineering feats that are undertaken to ensure the UK has a reliable and secure supply of both oil and gas extracted from one of the most hostile and difficult offshore environments.

Many of the companies in the oil and gas industry already understand the importance of linking with local schools, colleges and universities and many have developed great networks. OPITO also co-ordinates an Ambassador Scheme called “It’s Your Future” which encourages and trains young industry professionals to visit schools, talk about their careers and help motivate young people to consider a career in the oil and gas industry. This initiative focuses on the variety of careers that are available in the industry.

At the beginning of the year OPITO launched a new careers website The site features case studies and job profiles of engineers and other skilled professionals in the industry and provides information on the types of qualifications needed to enter into the profession as well as typical daily tasks and starting salaries.

It would be good to hear more UK politicians speak positively about the UK’s oil and gas industry, the benefits it delivers to the UK economy and the job opportunities in the sector.

The recently launched all age Careers service in the UK may provide an opportunity to encourage more people to think about working in the energy sector and OPITO is already starting to receive approaches from various careers websites to collaborate..

What more could be done to attract and retain a more diverse technically skilled workforce?

The oil and gas industry is very keen to encourage more women into the industry. In the past only around three% of applicants for the popular OPITO modern apprenticeship scheme have been female and work is being done to try and improve this percentage.

In general the industry is less concerned about ethnic mix. Many of the companies in the industry work in areas all over the world and there is already a big mix of nationalities employed in the sector eg Schlumberger currently employs 140 different nationalities.

Any activity that the government could undertake or support to encourage more women to consider a career in engineering would be welcomed by the industry but we believe that collaborative efforts with government and industry would be most effective.

June 2012

1 The full report can be found at:

Prepared 7th February 2013