The number of workers in the UK’s offshore energy sector could increase to as much as 220,000 by the end of this decade, a new report has claimed.
It also found that for the UK to meet its target of producing 40 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind by 2030, 2,500 new wind turbines would need to be installed by then – the equivalent of one new turbine each week day for the next nine years.
The figures were revealed in a new review of the offshore energy sector in the UK produced by experts at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University.
As well as forecasting a possible increase in the workforce, it suggested roles in “decarbonised energies” – such as offshore wind and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) – would increase from just a fifth of jobs currently to almost two thirds (65%) by 2030.
With around 160,000 people currently directly and indirectly employed in the UK offshore energy sector, the report predicted this could grow to 200,000 or even 220,000 in the best case scenario over the period.
The report told how an estimated £170 billion could be invested on capital and operating activities in the UK offshore energy sector between 2021 and 2030 – with this taking in spending on oil and gas, offshore wind, CCUS and hydrogen.
But it warned that “reduced ambition, combined with lower activity level and accelerated decline in the oil and gas industry” could see the workforce in the sector drop to 140,000 by 2030.
As a result, the report said: “It is key that UK and devolved governments work together with the offshore energy sector to ensure the managed transition of skills and experience in a way that protects and sustains key UK energy jobs.”
Professor Paul de Leeuw, director of the Energy Transition Institute at Robert Gordon University and lead author, said: “This review highlights the material prize for the UK. Successful delivery of the UK and the devolved governments’ energy transition ambitions has the opportunity to secure around 200,000 jobs in 2030 for the offshore energy workforce.
“With the overall number of jobs in the UK oil and gas industry projected to decline over time, the degree of transferability of jobs to adjacent energy sectors such as offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen or other industrial sectors will be key to ensuring the UK retains its world class skills and capabilities.”
According to the report, more than 90% of those working in the oil and gas sector have “medium to high skills transferability”, making them “well positioned” to work in other parts of the offshore energy sector.
Prof de Leeuw added: “With many of the skills and competencies required for the offshore energy sector to be highly interchangeable, the energy transition offers a unique opportunity to create a new world class net zero energy workforce.
“The workforce transferability model developed as part of the review enables new insights on the workforce implications for a wide range of scenarios on how to ensure a just and fair transition.”
He also said the higher education sector would have a key role, in ensuring that “the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce is delivered to meet the demands of the changing energy landscape”.
The Scottish Government’s new employment minister Richard Lochhead said ministers were “wholly committed to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change and doing so in a way that is fair for all, ensuring a green recovery and a just transition that supports good green jobs, skills and expertise and leaves no-one behind”.
He added: “Ensuring a just transition is critical for the energy sector and I welcome the findings of this review, which recognises that the knowledge and skills of the offshore oil and gas workforce are required for a successful and sustainable energy transition.
“The re-deployment and, where necessary, re-training of oil and gas workers will be key to ensuring a just transition over the next decade, and to meeting the labour and skills needs of a growing renewables sector.
“Our Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan puts knowledge and skills at the heart of a systematic approach to retaining skills and expertise as we transition to becoming a net-zero economy.”
Meanwhile Alix Thom, workforce and skills manager with the trade body Oil and Gas UK, welcomed that the report showed “the overwhelming majority of roles within our industry are well positioned to transfer into adjacent lower carbon roles if necessary action is taken”.
She added: “Many companies in our industry are already active in renewable energy, and this report confirms that our changing industry will continue to support jobs in communities across the UK for many years to come.”
Celia Anderson of RenewableUK, said that green energy was “creating new opportunities for people across the UK, including workers leaving fossil fuel industries who have relevant transferable skills”.
Ms Anderson said: “We’re going to see a huge expansion in offshore wind over the course of this decade, quadrupling our current capacity by 2030. That means we’ll need a massive influx of highly-skilled UK workers to build vital new energy infrastructure, as this report shows. Former oil and gas workers offer a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field.
“The offshore wind industry is working closely with the Government to ensure the right training and support is in place to harness all the talent and expertise we’ll need in the transition to clean energy.”
UK Government Scotland minister David Duguid said: “The north east of Scotland has long been a centre of excellence in the oil and gas industry – and there’s no reason why it can’t now be a global centre of excellence for energy transition as we future-proof our industry.
“Just this week, the UK Government announced £166 million of funding to support its ambitious climate commitments, and earlier this year £31 million of investment was announced for important offshore and onshore engineering studies to connect industrial sites across east Scotland with access to world-class, safe carbon storage resources in the North Sea.
“It’s steps such as these which show our commitment to sustaining our industry, protecting and adding to our skilled workforce while maximising the opportunities to build back greener.”