With so little known about the skills it will target and the courses it will offer, the launch of the UK’s first shale-specific College feels somewhat premature.
By 2032 the UK shale industry could have secured investment of around £33 billion and created roughly 64,000 skilled and semi-skilled jobs, according to an Ernst & Young report published last year.
However, as the demand for UK shale development surges, and exploratory drilling permits at shale sites such as Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road are more frequently granted, there is a more immediate need for highly skilled engineers and other specialists to work on everything from drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to gas processing and analysis.
If you go too late the industry takes off and you are forced to import skilled engineers from overseas and then play catch-up
UKOOG senior advisor Corin Taylor
To help meet this need, energy minister Matthew Hancock announced last November that Blackpool and the Fylde College would lead a group of colleges in providing newly developed training courses for the UK’s shale oil & gas sector as part of the government’s National Colleges Programme.
The National College for Onshore Oil and Gas will be headquartered in Blackpool and linked to colleges in Chester, Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth, as well as the University of Strathclyde.
The government is providing an initial £750,000 of funding to be matched by industry bodies and education providers to ensure the development of a robust business plan for the new College.
“That work will happen over the next nine months, and subject to that business plan, there would be further capital funding on a matched funding basis,” says Corin Taylor, a senior advisor at industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG).
However, that business plan is very much a work in progress.
For example, UKOOG has yet to finalise the number of students that will be taught at the College, or indeed what the curriculum will set out to achieve and the specific courses it will offer.
Taylor says UKOOG has begun working with skills body the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) to map out the common job roles and the common training requirements that will be needed to operate in shale-specific environments.
“Then a set of occupational standards will sit behind that,” Taylor says.
“Once those have been clearly defined, they can be mapped against existing training provisions and will inform specifically what it is the college will be teaching.”
According to Taylor, the whole point of the College is not to just offer one type of qualification, but a broad spectrum where skills are most needed.
“In terms of being able to nail down [which] particular course gets [which] particular qualification or certification…that’s the work we will be doing over the next nine months,” Taylor says.
The courses themselves, Taylor suggests, could take anywhere from a year to several years to complete, depending on the level of training required.
“There will be a variety of training types on offer that will require different timescales to complete,” Taylor says.
Though the specific skills and courses being developed at the College are yet to be formally decided, the College will be designed to deliver engineering training programmes from level three to level seven, Taylor says.
Yet with so little known about the skills it will target and the courses it will offer, the launch of the UK’s first shale-specific College feels somewhat premature.
There seems, at the moment, only to be a rough outline which will be subject to change – rather than a firm structure that is all but finalised.
However, Taylor suggests that by launching the UK shale College now, industry will become best placed to maximise the UK’s shale potential.
“You either risk going too early or risk going too late,” Taylor says.
“If you go too late the industry takes off and you are forced to import skilled engineers from overseas and then play catch-up.”
According to Taylor, launching the College now will help fill skills gaps and make sure UK citizens are trained to fills those roles.
“We want to make sure as many British people as possible are employed.”
If the implementation of fracking within the UK proves successful, Taylor says it is likely that Britain will become an international centre of excellence – exporting its skills and expertise to the global market.