A generational opportunity for skills development

The business, enterprise and energy minister, Matthew Hancock, visited Blackpool to launch the first national UK onshore oil and gas college.

By Lee Petts, Remsol.

It will headquartered at Blackpool and the Fylde College and linked to colleges in Chester, Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth.

Speaking at the launch event, the minister told delegates that "families, villages and towns across the UK could benefit from this new industry (onshore shale gas) and its supply chain which could create 64,500 jobs."

And he said that's why the government, industry and education partners were investing in the people behind the project.

"Only by arming people with the skills they need to be shale specialists can we provide career opportunities for thousands of young people, boost the power and competitiveness of our firms and help the UK economy remain strong and competitive."

Lifelong skills

I think this is brilliant news for Britain and fantastic news for the Fylde coast. Giving young people the lifelong skills and transferable qualifications they need to build a prosperous career is essential.

It's particularly good news for Blackpool, an area that has suffered with chronically high levels of youth unemployment for a long time. Amongst young people, Blackpool is believed to have “the highest level of youth unemployment in the North West" according to an investigative report in the Blackpool Gazette in April 2013. And, in 2011, The Work Foundation described Blackpool as “one of the worst 10 areas in the UK for young people.” Notably, Aberdeen was one of the best.

Closing the wider skills gap

One of the most exciting things about this new college - although, you could be forgiven for missing this, because it wasn't in any of the flurry of press releases or media reporting that surrounded the launch - is that, although shale gas is the catalyst, the reality is that people attending college courses through this hub-and-spoke network of further and higher education establishments will acquire skills and knowledge that can be applied equally in other sectors of the energy economy, including renewables and new nuclear.

According to a study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (http://www.theiet.org/factfiles/education/skills2014-page.cfm?type=pdf) there is real concern that skills shortages could hold back the recovery in parts of the economy with six out of 10 engineering employers fearing that a growing shortage of engineers will threaten their business in the UK.

Beyond shale

It's the ease with which these taught skills and qualifications can be transferred that makes this new energy college such a worthwhile endeavour, because even in the twilight of Britain's shale gas production, it means people attending college in the next decade will still benefit from the training they receive long after shale related activities have begun to tail off and as we achieve our goal of decarbonising the electricity generating sector.

But we musn't also overlook the importance of oil and gas in making many of the products upon which we've come to depend, like plastics, and the chemicals used to make medicines etc. Even after we stop using oil and gas as fuels, we'll still be putting them to productive use in industry, meaning that there will still be a requirement for highly skilled and experienced oil and gas engineers, petrophysicists, geologists, geophysicists, and professionals in supporting industries, for generations to come. The national energy college for onshore oil and gas should be welcomed as a great step towards a skilled, local labour force that can provide long-term employment opportunties for people across Lancashire and beyond whilst helping our energy, engineering and manufacturing sectors to thrive.