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Editorial comment

The skills gap is widening, and major industries across the world are suffering the consequences. From manufacturing to construction, technology to engineering, the problem is real and it's only getting bigger.

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Demand for engineers in the UK continues to rise, but over half (53%) of employers are struggling to recruit suitably skilled staff, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) noted in its latest ‘Skills & Demand in Industry 2015 Survey'. Worryingly, nearly two thirds of employers reported that graduates are the biggest challenge, and a similar portion are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change.

In the US, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled over the next decade and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled, according to Deloitte’s ‘The skills gap in US manufacturing: 2015 and beyond’ report. Deloitte cites a number of contributing factors to the widening gap, the two major offenders being baby boomer retirements and economic expansion. However, ‘loss of embedded knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, lack of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programmes in public high schools’ are also to blame.

Furthermore, EY’s ‘How will the GCC close the skills gap’ report highlights the extent of the problem in the Gulf region. Despite the importance of education and skills being recognised, resulting in increased investment in schools, colleges and universities, ‘there remains a fundamental misalignment of needs and expectations that makes it hard to improve outcomes’.

So, how is all of this affecting the oil and gas industry, and what is it doing to tackle the situation? According to Hays' Oil and Gas Salary Guide 2015, ‘72% of employers felt they had to make improvements to their employee offering in the last year, including training and development, compensation and rewards’ to attract top talent, and this has been evident in the number of initiatives that have come to light in 2015.

Earlier this year, the Colorado Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute (API), hosted a ‘Women in Power’ event for girls, which explored the benefits of STEM through practical energy exploration exercises and examined the range of related career opportunities. Similarly, GE’s STEM programme, GE Girls, is designed to encourage interest in STEM fields and engage students in ongoing programmes and events, and US refiner CITGO's Innovation Academy at Moody High School, Texas, which includes upper level engineering, mathematics and science courses, has helped benefit approximately 650 students.

But it’s not just efforts at school and college level that are making a difference. New skills initiatives and training centres are cropping up all over the world to help improve the knowledge of those already working within the sector. In July, OPITO International secured a contract with the Ministry of Oil and Gas in Oman to improve the delivery of training that will ensure the country has a skilled and safe oil and gas workforce. Meanwhile, in Aberdeen, Petrotechnics has opened a new competency and training centre to meet the increasing demand for operational excellence training in hazardous industries, and DNV GL has announced the construction of a new conference centre and large scale fire and explosion demonstration area in Cumbria, which will greatly enhance experiential learning for the oil and gas, and chemical industries.

So, it's safe to say that oil and gas companies have been upping their ‘training and education game’ to improve knowledge throughout the current workforce and compete for the best talent and niche skills that are required for the industry to continue to thrive.