As many Western countries downsize their military forces in response to geopolitical trends and, more commonly, a reduction of military budgets, thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen are facing tough times amid high levels of unemployment. But while the military in these countries is scaling down, the oil and gas industry is seeing an opportunity to fill gaps in their own workforces.
Now, it appears that governments are looking to take a more active role in channeling former servicemen and women with a variety of skills into the oil and gas industry. In the UK, for example, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills last month announced a national program to retrain ex-military personnel for the oil and gas industry in a bid to help the sector find the additional 15,000 staff it will need over the next five years.
The initiative is still in its early days, as Rigzone found out when it contacted the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The department appeared to have little idea about how the national program will look. However, a key organization tasked with bringing about the program is trade body Oil & Gas UK, whose Employment and Skills Issues Manager Dr. Alix Thom filled in a few of the details for us.
First up, Thom pointed out that the UK oil and gas sector has for a long time recruited personnel from the ranks of the military.
"I did it myself 20 years ago when I worked at Wood Group," she said. "But that's a few big companies that can manage the process themselves and in relatively small numbers over time."
For example, one big company involved in the oil and gas sector that has formalized its approach to recruiting ex-military personnel is GE Oil & Gas, which holds career fairs aimed at the military and also has what it calls a Junior Officers Leadership Program designed to prepare young officers for life working within a corporation. Rod Christie, head of GE Oil & Gas' Subsea Systems business, explained this in more detail in an interview with Rigzone published in February.
But a comprehensive and nationwide approach to finding suitable ex-military people with the skills to work in the UK oil and gas sector would help both large and small companies fill gaps in their workforces.
A Huge Potential Resource
"We [Oil and Gas UK] are now linked to the Ministry of Defence [MoD] at the highest level with its people who are responsible throughout the UK for finding employment for ex-services personnel. And one of the things we weren't aware of, until we made this connection, was that in any normal year there are between 18,000 and 20,000 armed services leavers. And that's without any spikes when there's a cut announced," Thom said.
"So, there's a huge potential resource there, but we're absolutely realistic. We're not going to find 15,000 people who are going to fit our industry. We're not going to find a lot of geologists or drilling engineers, or whatever, but there will be quite a number of people in the military who we think have skills and qualifications that are transferable to our industry."
Thom explained that with this support at national level we are able to then develop a suite of tools that the oil and gas industry can use to best select former members of the armed services.
"For example, there's an exercise being done at the moment to map the skills of oil and gas jobs, while people on the military side are doing the same for military jobs, so that we can prepare and understand the skills that, say, someone with a specific job title in the army has," she said.
"Because if you look at the CV, quite often there is a lot of language in there that recruiters won't understand. This is a bit of work being done at national level beforehand that will facilitate recruitment in greater numbers and identify the transferable skills more easily.
This will help Oil & Gas UK and in particular OPITO, the training body that Oil & Gas UK is working with, to develop specific transition training courses.
Last July, Rigzone reported that OPITO has already made forays into the activity of retraining former military personnel for oil and gas roles. For example, for a few years now OPITO has been piloting its "Transformation Training" concept – a 12-week program that takes a competence-based approach to upskilling workers who have gained knowledge and experience in other sectors. One of these OPITO courses was carried out at Aberdeen College, specifically focusing on training ex-Royal Air Force personnel who had been made redundant after the closure of Scottish RAF bases.
Engineers are the Prize
Oil & Gas UK is also working with the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) – the UK's official provider of resettlement of demobbed personnel from the country's armed services. Thom explained that the CTP is already involved on a localized level, particularly in Scotland, with channeling ex-military people into oil and gas jobs.
"But in other parts of the country that knowledge and connection doesn't exist. So now that we're at national level, we can access the whole UK network of careers consultants at the Careers Transitions Partnership," she added.
Thom pointed out that the armed services could be a source of technicians, such as mechanics and electricians from the RAF, Navy and the engineering regiments of HM Army. Meanwhile, she said that submariners are currently in demand for certain kinds of subsea work.
"And Logistics is an area where we expect to find quite rich pickings. So, there's a whole suite of roles," she said.
"But our key, and most difficult, area to fill is engineering. So that would be our prize."
It is still in its early days, but if the UK gets it right, the partnership between UK Oil & Gas, OPITO, the MoD and the CTP could provide a template for how other countries scaling down their armed forces might go about finding roles for ex-military personnel within their own oil and gas sectors.
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