Government officials are drawing up plans to allow oil and gas workers to transfer to renewable energy jobs without having to fork out costly retraining costs - currently acting as a barrier to Scotland's renewables revolution.
The SNP-Greens government has pledged to set out plans for a ‘just transition’ for oil and gas workers into renewables – but has faced criticism for a failure to bring forward 130,000 green jobs as promised.
Last week, the Scottish Government’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, warned MSPs that the biggest threat to the nation becoming a net zero society by 2045 and kickstarting a renewables revolution is "access to labour and it’s skills".
He added that a labour shortage, brought on by Brexit, is putting “a constraint on the scale and the pace of the transition” from fossil fuels to renewable industries.
Currently, workers wishing to transfer from fossil fuel jobs into renewables are having to pay thousands of pounds to obtain qualifications no different to training they have already undertaken.
Scottish Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba has called on the Scottish Government to consider bringing forward offshore training passports that she said “would allow oil and gas workers to move freely between the offshore and onshore energy sectors” without the need for retraining.
The SNP’s Just Transition Minister, Richard Lochhead, has now confirmed that work is underway to bring forward a “skills guarantee for workers in carbon-intense sectors who are at risk of being left behind through the net zero transition”.
Union bosses have welcomed the progress but warned it will require all offshore sectors to work together and set out shared minimum standards for offshore energy workers.
In a letter to Ms Villalba, seen by the Herald, Mr Lochhead highlighted his government’s plans for a skills guarantee for offshore workers.
He added: “Work is underway to design and develop this intervention, with a view to it ultimately being delivered as part of the recently established Green Jobs Workforce Academy.”
Jake Molloy, RMT regional Organiser for the North East, pointed to proposals by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board to bring forward a “minimum competence standard” for a range of trades.
He added: “Oil and Gas UK have shown support, but only eight contracting companies have signed up in the sector while other sectors and specifically wind have not indicated any support, as yet.
“I’m pretty sure that with political will and a declaration of support it would get greater traction.”
Mr Molloy pointed to an additional part of any skills guarantee or passport around safety training.
He said: “There will inevitably be ‘gaps’ in requirements for say, travel to an offshore installation by helicopter, and travel to a wind turbine by boat.
“However, we believe again that a minimum standard can be developed and supplemented with ‘bolt-on’ short courses, funded by industry, for specific aspects.”
Mr Molloy added that a skills passport or guarantee “is achievable if all industry works together and determines an acceptable base or minimum standard for offshore energy workers”.
He said: "However, this is being left to the training standards bodies and they have an obvious commercial imperative.
“Without political and regulator support, we will see the continuation of workers being forced to spend thousands and self-sponsor themselves through differing standards with no guarantee of employment.
“For thousands of redundant oil and gas workers that means risking their redundancy pay and savings.”
Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, added: “At the moment, the oil and gas and offshore wind sectors unilaterally set qualification standards. This leads to situations where deep sea divers transitioning from oil and gas to offshore wind have to pay £1,700 for a first aid training qualification that’s pretty much identical to what they’ve already got.
“This is despite the health and safety record of the offshore wind sector being much worse than the oil and gas sector.”
She added: “Standards bodies are making money off workers trying to transition.
“Alongside sectoral collective bargaining agreements and greater public control of our energy system, offshore training passports could play an important role in enabling workers to transition to new,unionised jobs on equivalent terms and conditions.”
The oil and gas sector has also welcomed the idea.
OGUK energy services agreement manager, Irene Bruce, said: “We would support any initiative that seeks to aid our people through the energy transition and make the reality of transferring between sectors easier for our communities.
“Although oil and gas will be needed for some time to come, we realise there is an increasing need to create an all-energy workforce of the future.
“As more oil and gas companies branch into alternative energies, it will be vital to utilise our existing skills and people to boost the energy transition underway – a key aim of the North Sea Transition Deal, signed between industry and the UK Government.”
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