Tapping into demand in the offshore industry

EFFORTS are being made to reduce unemployment figures in the county by targeting an expanding industry.

Support is growing for the NortheastPress Keep Northumberland Working campaign, which aims to highlight the potential investment opportunities in the county, as well as those companies expanding.

And one enterprise agency which aims to do that is Northumberland Business Services Limited (NBSL).

The organisation, which operates in Northumberland and across the North East, aims to encourage more people to start up businesses, particularly those in disadvantaged areas.

Over the last 10 years, the organisation has helped more than 5,000 people turn their ideas into reality.

But concerns have been raised about the continual growth in unemployment in Northumberland, despite more people becoming highly skilled in the workforce.

As a result, bosses at NBSL have come up with what they call ‘an exciting project’ for the county, which could see more people receive specialised training and a chance to land a job in an expanding sector – the offshore industry.

Talks have begun with a number of Norwegian companies involved in the oil and gas industry which are struggling to find sufficient highly-skilled workers.

NBSL Managing Director Phil Langton said: “The concept we are developing was introduced by one of our board members, Ken Beattie, who has an extensive list of contacts throughout the world in the oil and gas sector.

“The initial idea is to tap into the large demand currently required in one particular country, Norway, for a full array of skilled workers covering a number of disciplines including mechanical engineers, electricians, pipe fitters, welders, CAD operators and document controllers.”

The move comes at a time when there is uncertainty about 515 jobs at the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium smelter, at Lynemouth, which is earmarked for closure.

If the plant was to close, officials at NBSL say there would be an opportunity for those workers, and others currently unemployed in the county, to receive the necessary training.

Mr Beattie said: “Currently, Norway is experiencing a dearth of skilled workers and with it being only one hour away and with regular flights from Newcastle to Stavanger, and offshore conditions being attractive, modern and comfortable, coupled with working rotas of two weeks spent offshore and three weeks back at home, in my opinion it offers a viable opportunity to many of our workers.

“The problem being that the majority who are keen to work in oil and gas simply do not know how to go about it.

“With the plan that we have developed, we aim to educate people just what to do and how to go about it.”

NBSL has already started discussions with Northumberland College to use its Ashington site as a training base, and the college has signed up as a partner in the scheme.

Officials from several Norwegian companies are due to visit the region next month to see first hand how the training could help them.

Mr Beattie added: “Through Northumberland College, we aim to fine tune the available skills and even help with offshore survival courses.

“In helping to achieve this aim, we have arranged a delegation of several senior people from Norwegian blue chip companies to visit Ashington at the end of January to hold further talks with our committee.

“Included in the list of companies attending are oil giants Statoil and Conoco Phillips, together with major engineering and equipment company Aker Solutions.

“During the visit, we intend to highlight Northumberland’s ability to deliver and to illustrate the county as a highly motivated and skilled workforce, who although lacking experience in offshore engineering, are keen to learn.”

Northumberland College Assistant Principal Mark Bolton said: “As well as wanting to gain access to our workforce, the Norwegian companies are extremely interested in our training facilities at the college.

“The idea of linking up such international players really excites everyone at the college, both in the short-term and longer-term.”

He added: ““Importantly, however, we need jobs now and the concept Ken has put forward will deliver important cash to the county and in particular south east Northumberland.”

For more information on the project contact Ken Beattie on 07740 081048 or email kbb.techflow@googlemail.com