We’ve had a busy summer here in the UK. After seven years of planning, London finally played host to the 2012 Olympic Games. I was lucky enough to attend a number of events across the capital and was blown away by the feel-good atmosphere that the Games created throughout the country. However, as a Londoner, I must confess that I did initially have some concerns about these Games taking place in my hometown. Such anxiety can probably be attributed to the distinctly British obsession with ‘expecting the worst’.
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This national pessimism wasn’t helped by the untimely announcement from security firm G4S, just weeks before the start of the Games, that it was having ‘some issues’ in relation to workforce supply. The company was unable to recruit and train enough security guards for the event, prompting suggestions of a potential security meltdown. Thankfully, the UK’s armed forces were on hand to step in and help deliver a safe and secure Games.
The workforce supply challenge is also a hot topic in the LNG industry at the moment, particularly in Australia. The country desperately needs to increase its skilled workforce as several of its LNG projects begin to move into the construction phase. However, there are growing concerns that a lack of manpower may hinder these projects.
In a presentation earlier this year, Keith Spence of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency suggested that the country requires a minimum of a further 1300 process operators by 2017 – 2018, while another paper from GE Australia claims that the country is short 1700 engineers and over 3000 geoscientists.
The remote locations of Australia’s LNG fields are proving unattractive to skilled engineering graduates seeking long-term careers, while the cost of transporting workers to these locations, where accommodation and other facilities must also be built from scratch, is a further concern for operators. The labour shortage is also creating another financial spin-off for the industry, as wages continue to rise.
All of these factors combine to make Australia one of the most expensive places in the world to produce LNG. Shell’s Australia Chair, Ann Pickard, recently described the rising project costs as “very worrisome”, while Chevron Corp.’s Australia Chief Executive, Roy Krzywosinski, has warned that the Australian government needs to solve issues such as labour costs in order to prevent investments in LNG projects from drying up.
Just as London had to call on the military to solve its workforce issues on the eve of the Olympics, it seems increasingly likely that Australia will have to resort to a short-term solution to augment its LNG workforce. However, without an army of native skilled workers on standby, the industry must turn to targeted immigration to help bridge the gap between supply and demand.
It is likely that quality education and training programmes will provide the long-term solution to the problem. One such initiative has recently been launched by Chevron in Western Australia. Its ‘Powering Careers in Energy’ scheme incorporates LNG-related studies within the academic programme of school students, with the aim of providing a unique insight into a career in the energy industry. It is hoped that initiatives such as these will – to borrow London’s tagline from the 2012 Olympic Games – ‘inspire a generation’ of skilled workers to help shape Australia’s energy future.
Meanwhile, London is back on hosting duties for this year’s Gastech Conference & Exhibition. LNG Industry will be exhibiting at stand C166. We hope to meet you there!