A WORRYING skills shortage in the Highlands and Islands’ energy industry has led to the creation of a special forum to help tackle the problem.
A recent survey carried out by North Scotland Industries Group (NSIG) among 130 energy-related business across the region found a predicted shortfall of almost 300 fabricators and engineers over the next 12 months, while more than 40% of businesses said they were likely to experience skills shortages over the same period.
The survey, which was designed to quantify current and future skills shortages and potential training requirements, also found more needed to be done to encourage migrant workers to find jobs they had been trained to do in their home countries, and that a streamlining of training provision was necessary.
In an effort to address these issues, NSIG spearheaded the formation of the Energy and Engineering Skills Forum, which includes Highlands and Islands Enterprise; engineering training group SEMTA; the industry ambassadors’ group, STEM; the University of the Highlands and Islands; North Highland College; skills training group EU Skills, and industry.
The various bodies joined together to highlight the region’s training and skills requirements in a unified way.
The group’s aims include:
Improved communication and flow of skills information between funders, employers and training providers.
Identification of the engineering industry’s top skills issues in the Highlands up to 2011.
Improved links with schools, colleges, parents and employers in the engineering sector to raise awareness of jobs available and qualifications required.
Increased size and range of the engineering skills pool in the Highlands and Islands.
Initiating action to fully utilise and retain the skills and services of appropriate migrant workers.
With almost 100 members from across the north of Scotland, NSIG seeks to attract new investment by exploiting opportunities, raising the profile of local companies, enhancing business prospects and addressing issues that may be of concern for local businesses.
NSIG chief executive Ian Couper said: “We noticed there was a wide range of skills organisations in the area, some working with the schools, some with contractors, but many of them were trying to tackle the problem on their own.
“We wanted to pull these organisations together so we could identify exactly what the issues were and see if we could resolve them in a unified way.
“Some months back, we organised a meeting with the colleges and university, training organisations and contractors to get a feel for what they felt the issues were.
“It was clear there needed to be much greater communication between the training providers and the contractors to make sure that our young people were being taught the skills that our industries required.
“We needed to have colleges and universities talking more to contractors; we needed to have training organisations publicising their courses in a better and more collective way; we needed a more focused effort in attracting people into the energy and engineering sector, and we wanted to make better use of our migrant workforce.”
Mr Couper added: “Our overall aim with the forum is to ensure that employers operating in the engineering sector in the Highlands and Islands have the capacity to compete for contracts locally and worldwide, primarily utilising the area’s locally based, highly skilled workforce.
“However, to do that effectively, we have to tackle the issues surrounding skills shortages, training and employer expectations in an integrated manner.
“Our aim was to establish a fully comprehensive, industry-driven group which would have a firm grip on the overall skills and training picture, delivering a single, unified voice from industry and training organisations to politicians and other decision-makers.”
Mr Couper acknowledged that filling the region’s shortfall for fabricators and engineers would not be easy.
“The larger companies will be able to pull in workers from outside the area, which will provide a solution in the short term,” he said.
“But we want to see an increase in the local skills pool so that, in future, we don’t have to rely on bringing people in.
“While the pool of migrant workers may be diminishing, they will still have a key part to play.
“At the moment, there are several migrant workers in our area who are not being used to the best of their ability – for example, qualified skilled workers working in fast-food restaurants.
“We need to address this and make sure our contractors understand and recognise the qualifications these people have obtained elsewhere.
“We will be working with migrant-worker organisations to identify what the gaps in our workforce are and to move people from lower-paid jobs to something more suitable for their qualifications.”
In the long term, Mr Couper said he envisaged many workers in the oil and gas industry transferring their skills to the renewables industry.
“We see renewables as the future for the energy engineering sector in our region.
“We have a healthy and growing renewables sector in the Highlands and Islands. We need to make sure we can retain our local talent pool to make the most of the opportunities available.”
The North Scotland Industries Group (NSIG) is a not-for-profit trade organisation with an operational area ranging from Orkney and Shetland to Caithness, Ross-shire, Inverness, Moray, Aberdeen and the Outer Hebrides.
For further details, contact Ian Couper at email@example.com, or visit the website at www.nsig.co.uk