Skills Solutions for the Decommissioning sector

Within the HR community the looming “Skills Gap” is a generalised concern, which covers a huge range of mitigating factors. When applied to the decommissioning sector, while these factors remain the same the timescales for dealing with the deficit become shorter. Perhaps one of the largest concerns is managing the transition between the generations, taking into account the difference in generation population figures and the forecast that 50% of the current workforce is looking to retire in the next 24 years.  Within specific engineering sectors (such as offshore & nuclear), this means that the majority of “hands on” skills could be lost unless steps are taken to include next generation direct skills transfer programmes. This again is hampered by the wider shortage of engineers in the UK, with 64% of engineering employer’s reporting a shortage of engineers in the UK as a threat to their business. There also seems to be a slow down in terms of recruiting entrants into STEM training and opportunities.


Back in 2015, the “Sustaining Our Nuclear Skills” report was released by the UK Government. The report notes that both decommissioning and construction of new plants will see growth in the coming years, which will create more competition in terms of training and retaining skills. Within the defence sector the Financial Times article “Royal Navy offers bounty to retain nuclear skills” (July 2015), discusses the issues faced by the Royal Navy in terms of meeting the staffing requirements for their long term projects.  It has been noted in recent press, the decommissioning sector is estimated to become worth billions (gbp) in potential revenue over the next couple of decades (Nuclear estimated as c. £117bn & Oil and Gas estimated as £50bn). There is a real threat that unless the decommissioning companies in the UK offer competitive tenders, theses opportunities could be granted to parties from other countries. A large part of keeping the UK competitive within the market is retaining the vital skills and levels of experience that have been built over the previous decades.

The Future

Fortunately, both in terms of Decommissioning and the wider UK engineering community, this challenge appears to have been taken up with gusto. The Nuclear Decommissioning Association (NDA) has published their “Nuclear Decommissioning Attracting and retaining skills” report in 2016, in which David Vineall, NDA Director of Human Resources states:

“It’s vital, based on the foresight we have, that we create an environment now that encourages people, no matter at what stage of their career, to develop the right skills for our mission.”

This is echoed across the sectors through innovations in the following areas (amongst others):

•    Education
2016 saw the introduction of the first Oil & Gas decommissioning focused degree by the University of Aberdeen.  The University states that:

“The climate is right for us to launch this innovative Masters degree in decommissioning to educate the current and future work force in this important area of the oil and gas lifecycle”

•    Apprenticeships & Mentoring
The country as a whole has moved back towards an apprenticeships mindset, with school leavers moving to higher education or into an apprenticeship as a standard. The field of Engineering is an early adopter in terms of continuing to appreciate this path into the sector, with the majority of companies having in-house training programmes. Atkins is a great example of an innovative company who have created their own skills academy, to attract and develop the right talent to meet their needs for the future.  Allan Cook CBE, Chairman at Atkins states:

“We created our own talent pipeline through initiatives such as the ‘Skills Academy’… [Taking] initiative instead of waiting for change to come from government”

During his Keynote Presentation at TotalDECOM 2016, Mr Cook discussed “diversity in engineering skills” and the Atkins approach to skills development.
As many of the big players move to a more insular method on training the next generation of talent, smaller companies can benefit from heading the lessons applied for skills preservation. With the growth of the decommissioning market, a higher degree of mobility within the sector is to be expected. This means that the talent developed by the internal programmes, should move back into the general skills pool as the market develops.

•    Address Gender Balance
In 2015, only 9% of the engineering workforce was female. This is a trend that is hampering the efforts to build a sustainable and skilled workforce in the future, as female applicants feel that the industry is not for them. This notion is being challenged across sectors and the #9percentisnotenough campaign has been openly supported by a number of quality engineering companies and educational institutions.  A known advocate of supporting women within the engineering sector, Donna Conner (Sellafield Ltd) is scheduled to speak on the visitor day of our conference this year, within the skills section of the programme.


•    Collaborations
November 2016, saw the introduction of Integrated Decom which is a collaboration of companies (Costain, DNVGL, BMT Cordah and Axis) designed to provide a holistic, end to end approach to meeting the needs of decommissioning projects in the offshore oil and gas industry. Frazer Mackay, of Costain who are leading the consortium, says:

“The companies within Integrated DECOM bring complementary, critical technical skills which are required to plan and deliver compliant and cost effective decommissioning. This unique combined knowledge ensures that every solution will be considered in a comparative assessment process, delivering a lower risk and cost decommissioning outcome for owners and stakeholders.”

While this is good news in terms of retaining projects within the UK, it also offers an interesting dynamic in terms of career development and skills transference across the group and places a heavy emphasis on the importance and cost savings that can be achieved through collaboration – one of the areas at the heart of TotalDECOM.  As such, we are pleased to announce that Frazer Mackay of Costain will be speaking at our Decommissioning Conference in March 2017 on the topic of “Commercial Challenges”.


The origins of TotalDecom begin from the observation that collaboration will be key in relation to successful decommissioning projects. This is due to the complex nature of such programmes and this complexity applies to process plants, offshore platforms, nuclear plants, wind farms and indeed any industry faced with a decommissioning challenge. This is why the event is uniquely positioned to cover all the sectors. The skills question is one that faces the entire engineering community and similarly may best be solved by cross-sectoral approaches to knowledge & skills transfer. This is partly why the open visitor day of our conference focuses on skills solutions, knowledge retention, recruiting & retraining & employer-educator interface solutions. To find out how your company can take advantage of a cross-sectoral approach, why not sign up for our event in March 2017?

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