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Trade Skills Shortages: what's the solution?

February 5, 2024

By David Wade, Managing Director

A few months ago, someone who is operating at the very top of the UK’s finance industry spoke to me about the massive trade skills shortage within the UK.

I’m not going to name them, but believe me when I say they have the firmest of grasps on what’s going on in this country. And if this is their opinion, then what hope of investment in the UK? And whilst this situation is going to hit the biggest companies and projects first, the effect is already starting to be felt by smaller businesses.

Bear in mind, I’m speaking about the industry I know best, so everything said here is said in relation to offshore energy.

So to what do we attribute this skills shortage? There are many factors at play, but there are two which I would like to talk a bit more about here. Firstly, I’d like to focus on the role (or lack of role) apprenticeships play and then I’d like to examine the “reputation” of oil and gas amongst the next generation of workers.

Apprenticeships – Why Second Best?

For some years the UK administration has tarnished the apprenticeship “brand”. It can’t be denied that within the space of a generation or two, apprenticeships have most definitely waned and emphasis has been placed firmly upon higher education. The name itself is indicative of the perceived gap between a university degree and other forms of training.

Given how essential apprenticeships are across hundreds of industries, I found it incredibly disheartening to hear an advert on the radio earlier this year. It was aired when exam results were issued and the message was this: “Didn’t get into university? Don’t worry you can still get an apprenticeship.”


Whilst we know that university education is absolutely critical for some careers and can bring huge benefits in many respects to others, that doesn't mean that alternative forms of education should be downgraded.  As a growing SME, Enerpro is already facing the challenges associated with local skills shortages, as are our clients and competitors. A four-year apprenticeship in any trade provides an outstanding level of education, as well as a whole host of life skills, and this growing perception that it cannot compare to a university education is baffling.

Without action being taken to redress this situation, it's only a matter of time before the current skills gap widens and that will have real implications not only for the oil and gas industry, but also for the energy transition. No longer will there be an older generation ready to pass on its invaluable knowledge to the next.

A Dirty Word (or two)

When it comes to the oil and gas industry, it’s not too hard to come up with some idea as to the lack of apprentices these days. To me, it’s an obvious reflection of the reputation oil and gas has with the younger generation, which is perpetrated by many forms of media.

The fact is that oil and gas production is not going to disappear. It is becoming ever smarter and ever cleaner, and that’s exactly how it should be – and if anything, that means that its viability as a career just keeps on growing. Add that to the transferability of skills to renewable energy sectors, and the option of an apprenticeship seems like a very good deal.

However, despite the questions around energy security and the release of new licensing rounds, I believe the general perception for those not yet a part of the industry, is that it’s just not a viable career option.

But how do we change opinion? We don’t have the time to wait for it to filter through. I believe that many of the companies who have cut back on their apprenticeship schemes will find out pretty quickly that they will need to be reinstated, before the skills gap widens to the detriment of all energy sectors.


There are no instant solutions but we need to openly talk about the potential in oil and gas and its role within the energy transition. Careers advice in schools should reflect that, companies need to re-instate their previous levels of trades apprenticeship and there needs to be an acceptance that an apprenticeship is one of the most valuable, opportunity-laden options for the next generations of energy workforce.

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