Offshore workers face 'significant barriers' to switching jobs

By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland's environment correspondent

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Significant barriers are preventing workers transitioning from oil and gas to renewable jobs, a report has claimed.

More than 75% of offshore workers surveyed said they would be willing to make the move between sectors.

Half of them said their first choice would be a switch to wind energy.

But many have expressed concerns that there are limited opportunities for them and that retraining is prohibitively expensive.

Industry body Scottish Renewables said it was working to narrow the skills gap between the two industries.

The Scottish government said it was working with the UK government to ensure they were both doing all they could "to protect jobs and retain vital skills."

Creating a so-called green economy is a key mechanism for both governments' recovery plans from Covid.

Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace and Platform say their joint survey shows there needs to be more engagement with workers if there is to be a "just transition" away from fossil fuels which does not penalise the workforce.

The groups spoke to more than 1,300 offshore workers and found 81% were open to leaving the industry.

The survey also said that 91% of respondents had not heard of the term "just transition".

Ryan Morrison from Friends of the Earth Scotland said: "Despite the Scottish government's rhetoric, the idea of a just transition has failed to reach the overwhelming majority of the workers who will be most directly impacted.

"Workers' voices must be at the centre of that transition process. The government must ensure oil and gas workers are supported into secure and sustainable jobs."

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image captionHalf of the offshore workers surveyed said their first choice would be a switch to the wind energy sector

One self-employed oil worker - who does not wish to be identified - told BBC Scotland it would cost him thousands of pounds to repeat courses already completed for oil and gas.

He said: "Except for ship-to-ship transfer, to my knowledge, they are exactly the same courses so it's very difficult for anyone to transition.

"If that's the route that the market's going to take then it would be sensible for them just to have one standard so that people can finish a project and then be looking for another within wind or oil and gas."

Transferable skills

Scottish Renewables said the survey chimes with similar work they conducted last month.

They also found that 77% of workers were positive about retraining to join the renewable energy sector.

Nick Sharpe, the industry body's director of communications, said: "The skills which have been developed in oil and gas are in many cases readily transferable to renewables.

"We are working closely with many parties, including the Scottish government, on narrowing the skills gap between the two industries so that those workers who want to move can do so."

Scotland's Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said the oil and gas industry had a "crucial role to play in the energy transition required to move to an economy and society that generates net zero greenhouse gas emissions".

He added: "Now, more than ever, we need a just transition that supports sustainable economic growth and jobs."

RMT union general secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT welcome this important report, which captures the precarious position of offshore oil and gas workers.

"To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and governments must listen to and act on."