While operating in a global marketplace brings its own challenges, irrespective of the industry, our Scottish based energy organisation prefers to focus on the opportunities such an environment provides.

Formed in 2009 in Aberdeen, leading subsea engineering services and training provider SUBC Engineering Ltd, has operated in no fewer than 27 countries and has established operations in key energy destinations such as Brazil and Singapore, in addition to boasting a presence in Houston.

Year on year drilling contractors throughout the world are finding it harder to recruit suitably qualified subsea engineers and, as a progressive company determined to meet the ever changing requirements of an extremely dynamic industry, we have taken significant steps to address the situation.

Our training department was established to meet the growing industry wide needs for highly skilled subsea engineers and the range of courses offered covers all aspects from that all important first step into the industry through to the most up to date refresher courses for the most experienced professionals, with all courses International Association of Drilling Contractors Drilling Industry Training (IADC DIT) and British Fluid Power Association (BFPA) approved.

However, in order to seriously attempt to address the skills shortage faced within our sector, we have constructed our own purpose built training centre in the heart of the ‘energy capital of Europe’, and over the course of the next twelve months, we would expect to see several hundred personnel through the training centre combining both theory and, arguably more importantly, practical hands-on experience complete with a full size Blow Out Preventer (BOP) and control equipment.

In addition to providing training services tailored specifically for drilling contractors and service companies, at SUBC, we can also supply highly qualified engineers for ad hoc positions and crew relief ranging from just a few days to complete project management of BOP and control system upgrades installation and commissioning.

So why have we arrived at a situation whereby we have a real and potentially worrying worldwide skills shortage? There is no doubt that the industry has changed over past couple of decades or so and, as the business has matured, so too, has a sizeable percentage of the workforce, some of whom, although I do stress not all, have perhaps not moved quite as quickly in terms of training and development as the associated available technology has.

Allied to that, the lack of apprenticeships available in many parts of the world over the same period has created not only a skills gap but also substantial age disparities within the profile of the employees.

And, while the SUBC approach is by no means unique, or in any way trailblazing, from day one we have focussed on hands on training that is relevant to potential engineers say, in their early twenties, and we believe we train them well enough in order that they are sufficiently competent so that they can move on to pastures new but also treat them well so they don’t necessarily want to!

A practical example of where we are responding to the demands of the operators is our one day ‘Accumulator/Pulsation Dampener Course’, a hands-on introduction to the operation of high pressure accumulators undertaken in a workshop environment.  The course content has a ratio of 70/30 in terms of practical and theory exercises, a weighting that is core to our overall approach, and covers topics such as safety practices, repair, overhaul and inspection, different applications using hydraulic circuits and breakdown within the energy industry.

The catalyst in terms of the demand for the course, and this is just one example, came from the major Oil/Gas operators, who recognising that knowledge gaps existed within certain elements of the workforce, consequently encouraged the many service companies that work with them to ensure all relevant personnel are fully up to date with current competences via an approved provider such as ourselves.

At SUBC we believe it is crucial that all appropriate personnel, and that includes supervisory staff, are up to date in current methods, as it seems incongruous to have personnel in charge to have a lower skills base than the employees who are under their charge.

We also have to acknowledge that the current generation of subsea engineers differs in many ways from their predecessors. Back in the 1980’s, many personnel were, for example, former miners and shipyard workers who were brought up in an environment whereby if there was a problem, it had to be fixed, there and then, if at all possible. Everyone had to be hands-on and perhaps we need to try and recreate that type of environment, the difference being that now technology means that instead of dealing with wrenches, spanners and sockets, everything is touchscreen and or voice activated and extremely cutting edge.      

So in what direction do I see this dynamic industry heading? From a SUBC perspective, we will continue to offer attractive hands-on, training programmes that are relevant to the needs and requirements of employers in the 21st century. That is something we currently undertake within our UK training centre in Aberdeen, where we train subsea engineers from all over the globe, and our plans are to mirror the operation within our bases in the US, Singapore and Brazil.

I would also like to see more support from the public sector in terms of minimising the risk for organisations such as ourselves. At present we receive no government assistance at all in terms of our training programmes and, as a company that is committed to developing staff and investing in their future, we see other industries being afforded welcome financial incentives to continue to develop for the future. Even subsidising national insurance contributions for employees during the course of their training programme would be a step in the right direction.

Overall, SUBC aims to continue to be an internationally recognised company, at the cutting edge, standing for quality and reliability in the provision of subsea personal, projects and training, with the main values that guide us being experience, expertise, quality and efficiency in everything we undertake.

Colin Burney
Managing Director
SUBC Engineering Ltd


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