ThoughtStream: Subsea sets sights on skills

Neil Gordon

February 1, 2013

Neil Gordon, Subsea UK

One of the fastest-growing sectors in recent years, the subsea industry is set to continue on its upward curve in 2013. Having demonstrated high growth through the recession, the subsea sector is enjoying a positive long-term outlook with the global market predicted to increase by 100% over the next fi ve years to US$70 billion.

The subsea sector has successfully capitalized on a range of challenges by expanding into new frontiers with deeper and more complex wells, and continues to show signifi cant future growth potential. It is also one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK – capturing over a third of the global market. The challenge that the subsea sector in the UK faces is to not only retain that market share, but to steadily increase it.

While the north-east of Scotland will remain a recognized subsea center of excellence, with the highest concentration of subsea companies in the UK, other regions throughout the UK are increasing their subsea engineering and manufacturing capabilities. It is this nationally connected supply chain that is the key to the industry’s success. The North Sea has become a recognized test bed and seat of learning for subsea technology and expertise and 2013 will see unprecedented levels of subsea activity in this mature province.

Although the industry must continue to exploit overseas markets, there is still considerable scope in the North Sea. Even as we now pass the half-way point of the UKCS’ life expectancy, recent E&A and E&P activity underline that there is signifi cant life left. The sector will undoubtedly face many more challenges over the coming years.

Focus has begun to shift to other areas of the industry; integrity management has seen strong growth, particularly as we look at extending the life of already matured assets. Order books for main contractors’ vessel activity are healthy for the next two years and the export market continues to be very strong. Many companies are exporting in excess of 80% of their turnover and Subsea UK is working in partnership with UK Trade & Industry and Scottish Development International to help fi rms both export to and exploit established and emerging foreign markets.

Looking forward, it is expected that fi rms will move increasingly into deepwater territories, over 500m and, in many cases, up to 3000m. While there are considerable risks inherent in exploring and extracting at these depths, huge fi nancial returns are possible, as this is where the large fields are situated.

With the continuing growth however, comes the challenge of attracting and retaining new talent. A recent survey of Subsea UK members revealed that the industry could require a further 10,000 people over the next year.

Realistically, it will take longer to build this increase into the sector.

Government is increasingly realizing the economic benefi t the industry brings in terms of jobs and investment, such as the ‘Skills Development Scotland’ funding recently secured by Subsea UK. Members will be able to develop initiatives which will push for the recruitment and development of experienced personnel via transitional and conversion training programs.

This will ensure that the industry not only addresses the acute skills shortage in the short-term, but that we establish a sustainable pipeline of skilled workers guaranteeing the long-term health of the UK subsea industry. OE

Following 20 years’ international management experience, Neil Gordon was appointed chief executive of Subsea UK in 2011. Prior to this, he spent four years managing the National Hyperbaric Centre where he oversaw saturation diving operations and hyperbaric weld trials. Gordon trained as a commercial diver, working in Norway and the UK on construction projects, pipeline surveys, welding and inspection.