Although working on- or offshore in the UK’s oil and gas industry might seem a challenging prospect on many levels, it’s also well rewarded for those with the right skills, and has the potential to lead to a productive future.
Although the popular image of oil and gas jobs is of engineers working away from home on an oil rig for many weeks at a time, according to OPITO-backed website MyEnergyFuture around 90% of roles are actually based onshore. In fact, with hundreds of thousands of UK jobs supported by oil and gas production, the sector offers a great variety of career paths.
Exploring oil and gas fields, extracting natural resources and refining them into a usable state makes oil and gas one of the biggest industry sectors in the world – as well as one of the most controversial, currently raising concerns over its environmental impact. Despite this, oil and gas remain essential to the manufacture of myriad everyday products as well as providing fuel for vehicles, to heat buildings and produce electricity.
Although the UK still has substantial, potentially recoverable, reserves of oil and gas, these come with many technical challenges, which makes the UK a high-cost province. In light of this, it is fortunate that Offshore Energies UK (OEUK, formerly Oil & Gas UK) (the trade association for the oil and gas industry) has reported record levels of investment in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) and forecast an upturn in production – positive news not only for Britain’s energy security but also for employment prospects (see below).
Work onshore encompasses a wide range of activities. The majority of onshore jobs are based in ‘hubs’ that gather together many industry employers (e.g. London and Aberdeen), and where job roles are likely to be office-based and employees work regular hours.
Other roles see scientists and technicians work to produce improved fuels and more efficient energy, while engineers and construction workers build and maintain the plant and pipelines.
Energy supply is governed by complex and sophisticated ICT systems, so technicians, programmers, designers and trouble-shooters are involved. Transporting bulk fuels by road demands specialist transport, licences and safety qualifications.
Working offshore involves two or three weeks on a rig or installation, followed by equal time at home. Offshore installations vary in size, but a typical one houses a core crew of 50 to 100. Everyone works shifts, normally of 12 hours’ duration. They work close to others in places where there is little space to spend time on their own. Working conditions are noisy and dirty; work is outdoors, and likely to involve lifting and carrying heavy weights, and working with powerful machinery. However, living quarters are compact but comfortable, food is good and plentiful, and a range of activities are provided for off-duty periods.
Some of the jobs available offshore are listed in the accompanying box.
Skill up while serving
Although there is no direct relationship between the oil and gas industry and the Armed Forces, as noted in the following section many of the skills required and valued by employers are taught and practised by a number of people in the Services. Generalist skills, such as supervisory management, project management and administration, are sought after, as are all manner of specialists like engineers, divers and cooks. There are also fuel specialists in units, and a few people highly trained in fuel technology.
Employment prospects for Service leavers
According to OEUK, there is no doubt that the sector represents one of the major providers of challenging, highly skilled and well-rewarded jobs throughout Britain. Dr Alix Thom, OEUK’s skills and employment issues manager, confirms that, ‘In the next few years alone, there are at least four major projects that will need 4,000 people – and 7,000 people a year will be required to support offshore activities. This is an exciting industry, which not only provides highly skilled and well-rewarded employment, both onshore and offshore, but also the opportunity to push the boundaries in innovation and technology. As technology advances, so too does the capability to extract more oil and gas resources, which means the industry has the potential for a long-term and productive future.
‘To meet these future commitments, the industry is growing the existing pool of talent. This means taking a collaborative approach to attracting people from other sectors. Our sector is working together with the MoD and the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) to match industry job profiles with military roles, in order to identify directly transferable positions, and highlight where training and conversion courses may be required.
‘Oil and gas firms are increasingly recognising the benefits of recruiting men and women from the Armed Forces, who tend to be results-orientated individuals with a can-do attitude, and a broad range of skills and international experience. The industry is aware that there are many highly qualified and skilled individuals in the Services with the capability to take on a challenging second career in the oil and gas industry.
‘Qualities such as team leadership, organisational skills and technical knowledge are all highly prized by the sector, and career opportunities exist in the fields of engineering, project management, health and safety, and the skilled trades. The scale of the industry is such that individuals can progress up the managerial ladder or build a career as a subject matter expert, not to mention the vast diversity of jobs in the wider aspects of the sector encompassing HR, logistics and management.’
The industry is also one of the largest employers of divers. Diving also requires life support technicians managing and controlling all aspects of a diver’s well-being in a decompression chamber between or after dives. ROV technicians man two types of ROV (remotely operated vehicle): work and inspection.
JOB ROLES OFFSHORE
Geologists locate possible sites and calculate how much oil is there
Geophysicists map the substructure
Mud loggers (geologists) analyse mud, fluid and debris from an exploratory drilling
Reservoir engineers assess oil reserves and drilling sites
Roustabouts are offshore unskilled manual labourers
Roughnecks/floormen carry out the drilling operation under supervision
Derrickmen work above the rig, handling the drill pipe sections
Pumpmen assist derrickmen
Assistant drillers coordinate the activities on the drill floor
Drillers control the drilling team
Toolpushers oversee the whole operation
Rig superintendents are responsible for the operation
Drilling engineers order the drilling programme
Operations supervisors oversee the well crew’s activities
Wireline operators maintain the well and the tools
Coiled tubing operators use a tube to pump fluids into the well
Production engineers monitor wells and check efficiency
Production operators manage the flow of oil
Control room operators (barge engineers) manage the equipment that reports on production
Offshore installation managers are responsible for offshore operations
Radio operators control movement and communications
Crane operators and their assistants load and unload cargo, and supervise teams
Caterers feed and water the crews
Stewards maintain and clean accommodation
Divers inspect and maintain subsea structures, often using remote equipment
Medics deal with minor complaints and major injuries
Storemen order and hold equipment and supplies
Mechanics and technicians perform a variety of specialist roles
This includes accounting, legal, IT and administrative roles
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR THE INDUSTRY
Minimum age of 18, but the preferred range is 21–30
Minimum height of 1.63 m (5 ft 5 in)
Normal colour vision (for some jobs)
Relevant employment experience (if possible) and good Services work record
All offshore workers must achieve the minimum industry safety training standards, which are as follows:
introduction to the hazardous offshore environment
working safely (including safety observation systems)
permit to work (also called control of work)
control of substances hazardous to health
working at height.
Completion of this programme is included on the individual’s VantagePOB accreditation record and, for this to be maintained, a refresher programme will need to be taken every four years. In exceptional circumstances, an individual who has not undertaken this training may be allowed to work offshore as a ‘green hand’ under the supervision of a mentor.
THE VANTAGE ADVANTAGE
To find out more about LOGIC’s VantagePOB system click here
BOSIET is required for cold-water areas and includes additional training in the use of survival suits and emergency breathing systems during the HUET module. The course is OPITO accredited and successful completion results in an internationally recognised certification.
Those with degrees in geology, chemistry, engineering and logistics, and experience in project management, are highly sought after. AS-levels or equivalent are required to enter as a technician, while GCSEs or equivalent will give you a start at craft level. According to Cogent Skills (the UK’s strategic body for skills in the science industries, led by sector employers), there is a significant under-supply of people qualified at S/NVQ levels 2 and 3, so you might want to think about using your ELC to secure relevant qualifications at level 3 (or above, of course). As occupations that employ people qualified at this level account for well over half of the oil and gas industry, this is a significant shortfall – and one that the industry is aiming to address. There are a large number of relevant S/NVQs to be gained, in subjects including:
bulk liquid warehousing
chemical, pharmaceutical and petro-chemical operations
measurement processes (maintenance)
measurement processes (proving, prover)
offshore deck operations
offshore drilling operations
process engineering maintenance
processing operations: hydrocarbons
refinery control room operations
refinery field operations.
Cogent Skills continues to work with the industry to develop standards, qualifications and training. Energy & Utility Skills (the UK authority on skills and workforce development in the energy and utilities industries) is also developing occupational standards and qualifications for those involved in mains laying and service laying.
OIL AND GAS APPRENTICESHIPS The Oil and Gas Technical Apprentice Programme (OGTAP) is offered in four key disciplines: electrical maintenance, mechanical maintenance, process operations, and instrumentation and control maintenance. It is managed by OPITO along with the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, ECITB (apprentices will be part of the programme under either OPITO or ECITB). Although applications have closed for 2022, details of how to apply for the 2023 intake will be posted in early 2023, so keep an eye on this page for the latest info: www.ogtap.co.uk.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.
AN ONLINE INTRODUCTION TO THE INDUSTRY
OPITO’s Introduction to the Oil and Gas Industry e-learning course is designed to support the induction of newcomers to the industry, giving those looking to work in technical and commercial roles the opportunity to explore the world of oil and gas in an interactive and stimulating environment.
The programme gives an overall picture of industry-specific functionality, together with an appreciation of the challenges involved in the production of hydrocarbons and an understanding of the different job roles involved.
The course, which takes between two and four hours to complete, is designed to offer an opportunity to explore the oil and gas industry in its entirety, from the formation of hydrocarbons to the decommissioning of installations.
Entry requires no academic qualifications, skills or experience. To find out more, click here.
Relevant skills and experience are valued, with ex-Forces people often considered highly employable. It’s a fluid job market, with new industry roles being created all the time, so if your skill-set matches up to the latest technological advancements, you may be able to help address some of the industry’s skills shortages in areas such as engineering and design.
Pay is good and experienced operators can expect to earn £30,000-plus a year.
You can search for vacancies on specialist recruitment websites like: