Robert Gordon University research reveals that despite significant challenges, the UK offshore energy workforce has vast potential to grow
A new report by Robert Gordon University has found that the UK offshore energy workforce can increase by up to 50% from over 150,000 in 2023 to 225,000 by the end of the decade with new renewable jobs outnumbering oil and gas roles if a successful transition is achieved.
However, the new Powering up the Workforce report also warns that if the rate of investment and activity in renewables in the UK does not increase significantly, at a time when oil and gas activities are in rapid decline, then up to 95,000 potential offshore energy jobs will be at risk.
Retaining the offshore oil and gas supply chain, its workforce and associated skills over the next five years will be crucial. This is because there continues to be limited capacity for the UK offshore renewables sector to host and accommodate the quantity of skilled oil and gas workers impacted by the predicted decline in the hydrocarbon sector until later this decade.
Professor Paul de Leeuw, Director of the Robert Gordon University Energy Transition Institute, said: “This report presents a range of workforce outcomes that could materialise over the coming years. There is a huge prize up for grabs and we want to equip decision makers – whether in government, industry or in individual businesses – with new insight to convert those opportunities into reality.”
“With investment at risk and wind projects facing delays, the findings underline the present-day situation for the UK offshore energy industry and its stakeholders. The big prize of a significant jobs gain is still within our collective reach. Inaction or simply slow progress will mean that offshore energy job numbers overall could drop by 15% to 130,000 by 2030, making the path towards net zero even harder to negotiate.”
The results in Powering up the Workforce are based on data derived from a specially developed workforce visibility tool that draws together information from industry, organisations, governments, individual companies and research analysis to yield valuable new insights.
A managed and just transition from oil and gas to renewables will still see the oil and gas workforce decline from 120,000 today to around 87,000 by 2030 (in line with production decline and decommissioning activities). A more rapid decline in the oil and gas sector, that results from limiting new investment and reducing operational activities, could reduce the oil and gas workforce to around 60,000 by 2030. In addition to the loss of jobs, this is a significant loss of skills for the future energy sector.
The analysis shows that there is a workforce ‘goldilocks zone’ between 2024 and 2028 when the UK supply chain capacity and capability can be sustained, developed and invested in, so that the transferability of the offshore energy workforce is optimised.
Key to effective delivery of the goldilocks zone will be rapid investment in UK capabilities to deliver a fast-growing programme of green capital projects, which in turn will help to realise ambitious goals for domestic execution of these projects.
Professor de Leeuw added: “The UK possesses all the attributes and resources to realise the ambitions set out in government strategies and forward-looking industry programmes. The report clearly shows that with the right interventions at the right time, the UK can achieve its strategic energy goals in reaching its net zero objectives as well as protecting and significantly enhancing workforce numbers in the offshore energy sector.”
Powering up the Workforce, is the latest in a series of workforce reports and builds on RGU’s UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability and Making the Switch report published in 2021 and 2022.
Key findings from the report include:
• Of a projected spend of up to £200 billion – £100 billion of which is still subject to approval – in the UK offshore energy system over the remainder of this decade, it is estimated that around 90% (close to £175 billion) will be spent in the supply chain. The remainder is associated with operator and developer activities.
• A new workforce model will emerge, with future jobs concentrated around key energy clusters across the UK. There will be a more transient workforce, with an increased focus on capex and vocational work, resulting in people moving from project to project across the country.
• Depending on the level of ambition realised, the UK offshore renewables workforce is expected to exceed the oil and gas workforce from the late 2020s onwards.
• The top five job families in the industry – operations, engineering, technicians, projects and procurement & supply chain management – represent approximately 70% of all jobs in the UK offshore energy sector.
• The Scottish-based offshore energy workforce could increase by 25% from 79,000 to close to 100,000 if the energy transition and UK content ambitions are successfully attained. However, If Scotland is unsuccessful in capturing the full range of offshore energy and UK content opportunities, the offshore energy workforce could fall by around 40% to below 50,000 by 2030.
Scottish Government Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray said: “This report fully chimes with the analysis undertaken to inform our draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. There are enormous opportunities to be had from our energy transition – including a significant net jobs gain – but in order to seize them, we must work together, at pace, and with a strategic vision.
“This is precisely why the Scottish Government has set out a clear vision for a flourishing, net zero energy system, and why we are already delivering on a just transition for our energy workforce – including through our £500 million Just Transition Fund, with projects such as an energy skills passport to support the transferability of offshore workers’ skills already being developed. In this vital decade for action, we will continue to work closely with the energy sector to capitalise on the economic benefits our energy transition presents.”
Stuart Payne, Chief Executive of the North Sea Transition Authority, said: “The UK is at an energy transition crossroads – if we think big and make smart decisions, we can sustain, build on and grow our brilliant offshore workforce. Equally, though, if we take the wrong turn then we risk squandering the skills that have been built over generations.
“To get this balance right means continuing to back oil and gas projects – developed responsibly – to protect the UK’s energy security and its world-leading supply chain, and dramatically accelerating investment in renewables and emissions reduction.
“Crucially, the offshore energy industry must remove obstacles that prevent workers moving from oil and gas to clean energy jobs, enabling them to become the engine room of the drive to net zero.”
David Whitehouse CEO of Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) said: “Meeting more of our needs from energy produced in the UK means more jobs in the UK. The UK offshore energy sector embraces the challenges and opportunities of the energy transition. Not only in oil and gas but the future opportunities in wind, carbon storage, and a hydrogen economy.
“But this report shows that we must embrace the opportunity to work with all energy sectors or risk losing 95,000 highly skilled jobs in the UK by 2030. When looking at our future energy networks and supplies, there is no simple choice between oil and gas or renewables. The reality is that to keep our homes warm, the lights on, and our economy growing, we need both – this report clearly shows that cross-energy sector cooperation is the route to delivering high skilled jobs, a growing economy, and a successful energy transition.”
Sir Ian Wood, ETZ Ltd Chairman, said: “Owing to a world-class oil and gas sector, the North East of Scotland is home to the critical mass in skills and expertise that will be crucial in ensuring we successfully accelerate new and green energies, protecting and creating jobs as we do so.
“This report is a hugely valuable contribution in terms of how best to realise this ambition and serves as an important reminder that, until renewables are available at scale, we must continue to support our oil and gas sector as part of a managed and just transition.”