Susan Smart, the ECITB’s head of oil and gas, who retires after more than a decade with the government skills body this month, has taken a moment to reflect on her 30-year career in upstream oil and gas, where she leaves the industry, and its promising future in the new energy landscape.

Much has been written about the ground-breaking North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD), the ambitious plan detailing the crucial role the oil and gas industry will play in the race to decarbonise. This blueprint for a partnership between the UK’s offshore oil and gas sector and government is very welcome and will deliver the skills, innovation and infrastructure required to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, while continuing to ‘support and anchor the expert supply chain’ that has built up around the key oil and gas hubs throughout the UK.

This deal is about harnessing the power of the oil and gas sector to achieve the energy transition and, as I can say after a career working closely with oil and gas companies, there can be no better industry to rise to this challenge. An industry that has been at the forefront of technology and adapting to change since the first oil was brought ashore in the UK in 1975. An industry that thrives on managing complex situations and has a proven track record of meeting the many challenges faced for more than half a century. And at the heart of this dynamic industry is its people.

It is great to see that a key component of the deal relates to people and skills. Pledges include: supporting the work of the Energy Skills Alliance to ensure industry is prepared to meet the future demand for skills in oil and gas; creating an integrated people and skills plan, with measurable objectives, to support its transition and diversification; and working to ensure that the workforce’s skills and competencies are mutually recognised across energy sectors enabling easier job transferability.

What is ECITB’s role?

The ECITB has a vital role to play in delivering the deal. It is committed to people and skills through its many and varied training and development programmes – as well as the £25m investment in training the Board makes each year.

Following a challenging year for the supply chain, hit by both the pandemic and oil price volatility, it is crucial that the industry retains as much of its skilled workforce as possible. By working closely with employers, the ECITB has supported the retention and continued professional development of young talent in the oil and gas industry since summer 2020; for example, through the flagship Train to Retain programme, which is providing apprentices, graduates and trainees with vital skills suitable for net zero roles.

In addition, the ECITB’s new £3m Scholarship programme will provide an alternative entry route for young engineers seeking to join the industry. The Energy Transition Technician Scholarship, launching later this year, will equip young technicians with crucial knowledge and appropriate technical skills to support net zero projects. All of this ensures an important pipeline of talent is sustained to prevent further shrinkage of the skills pool and to address skills shortages.

As demand grows for digital skills and the ability to work with big data to monitor emissions and enhance efficiency, the recently launched ECITB Project Data Analytics Academy shows support for employers to develop the skills required to make better use of their project data and improve project delivery. This initiative will introduce advanced data analytics tools and techniques to enable companies to use past project data to develop a ‘crystal ball’ to improve future performance.

While there is quite rightly a focus on the energy transition, it is important to recognise and support the current workforce to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to deliver the projects and work scopes that exist now, whether it’s greenfield, brownfield or decommissioning activities.

We must also facilitate transferability of skilled workers between projects and sectors. The ECITB is driving this agenda with its Connected Competence programme, which aims to standardise base competence and provide efficiencies by removing duplication of testing that occurs as workers move from company to company in the supply chain, a key tenet of the NSTD.

I’m really pleased to say that, even following the tumultuous last year, I leave the industry at an exciting time and the ECITB at a strong point where the value it offers is clearer than ever.

During my time at the ECITB, I’ve been involved in some fantastic programmes to support the industry. These include the project management mentoring scheme, now in its sixth year, which allows qualified and experienced project practitioners to ‘mentor-forward’. By imparting wisdom and providing guidance to less experienced project professionals, the programme accelerates their performance and careers. Likewise, the Registered Project Professional, a programme which develops individuals’ capabilities as responsible leaders, provides them with the competencies required to manage complex projects and use appropriate tools, processes and techniques. I’ve also been involved in the biennial project management conference, which this year will take place on October 28. The theme is ‘leading the journey to net zero’ and they have a fantastic line up of speakers to share their knowledge and experiences.

And looking to the future…

The ECITB remains firmly focused on delivery to support the current skills needs while preparing industry for a future that looks very different. The ECITB’s Strategy, updated to take into account the effects of the pandemic, sets out how the ECITB is responding to external challenges and trends, as well as how it will help industry harness new opportunities on the horizon and prepare the workforce for net zero.

I am confident that by helping employers upskill, reskill and invest in young talent the industry will ensure everyone is ready to play their part in tackling climate change and contributing to the delivery of the North Sea Transition Deal.