Eden Scott Aberdeen at Subsea Expo 2019
The 14th edition of the world’s largest annual subsea exhibition and conference, Subsea Expo, attracting over 5,000 delegates and around 150 exhibitors, was held at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.
With this year’s theme of ‘Innovating the Future’, the attendance is up 20% from last year – a clear indication of the industry’s interest in innovation and an increase in activity in the Aberdeen market. Of the 174 companies exhibiting at the event, 89 are from Scotland, 63 from England and Wales, are the remaining 22 firms are from all over the world.
Plenary Session on Day One
We attended the plenary session hosted by Neil Gordon, Chief Executive of Subsea UK, on day one of the event. Mr Gordon emphasized on the need for an overall change - not only in customers, but in supply chains as well, to pursue smart solutions and efficiencies.
The keynote speaker, Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland’s Minister for Energy, stated that the oil and gas industry will continue to play a significant role for decades. With twenty billion remaining barrels in the North Sea and seven hundred companies with subsea capability in the UK, there are ample opportunities to tap into.
The industry is in relatively good health and is well on the road to recovery, but there needs to be greater focus on overall innovation and developing the relevant skills required for today and for the future. However, with innovation comes risk and industry trends show that not enough companies are willing to take that risk at the moment.
Also on the panel was Mike Beveridge, Manging Director of Simmons Energy, who talked about the industry’s unwillingness to change and adapt to different ways of working; an example of which is the disappointing lack of mergers with tier two firms at a time when companies need to consolidate to survive. This was not the case two or three years ago which saw big consolidation action in 2016/2017 among the likes of Technip FMC and Schlumberger Cameron.
Tech innovation is key to growth, but so is behavioural change which is why a truly collaborative approach is the only way forward.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Colette Cohen, Chief Executive of the OGTC, pointed out that the subsea industry is extremely competitive and right now it is working against itself when companies compete against each other. They should be working collaboratively if they don’t want to be bypassed.
In terms of attracting talent, Ms. Cohen believes there is a need to combat the industry’s reputation from recent years and reiterate the potential of the subsea industry. This can be achieved by offering incentives such as remote working – a benefit particularly attractive to millennials and those returning to work.
Cohen further stated that the perception of the industry in the public domain needs to change. In order to attract more people to the industry there needs to be a significant change in the language used by the industry professionals, how they talk about the sector, and how they interact with the public. Additionally, companies need to stay updated with hiring trends and the aspirations of job seekers. For example, there is a trend towards people not wanting to work for companies that are not environment friendly, so there needs to be a focus on companies becoming energy efficient and having a clean footprint.
Alistair MacDonald , CEO of Benebecular Group and Chairman of Tekmar, added that new reforms are not just limited to attracting new talent, but also extend to retaining the existing workforce.
Diversification into the Renewables Sector
Elaborating on the diversification in the energy sector, Mr MacDonald stated that renewables sector companies are more open to adopt new technologies and innovation while subsea companies have always been risk-averse. He further said,
“There are parallels with how subsea developed and how renewables have been developing, but they have learned a lot quicker and I think they embrace technology quicker, they engage a lot quicker.
“If I had a choice between a renewables project and a subsea project, I would back renewables because straight to market is quicker for me.”
The subsea industry needs to set aside its traditional way of working make a move into the renewables sector. In the words of Ms Cohen,
“We are facing the low-carbon economy. Whether we like it or not the renewable industry is really growing right now and there’s also massive societal support for us to become a greener world.
“So if we’re going to be part of an energy solution and part of a balanced energy mix, we as an industry have got to embrace low carbon technology to continue to operate and produce hydrocarbons, but in the cleanest, greenest way that we can.”
Impact of Brexit on the Industry
The panel agreed that Brexit did not pose any direct threat to the industry, with Mr Beveridge explaining that the industry is not as EU dependent as the majority of its operations are in the UKCS and there are no major supply chain dependencies like those found in other industries
John Mann, Director General of Exports at DIT, did say that there will be short term hiccups and the current uncertainty is the main problem.
According to Ms Cohen the main concerns are in relation to R&D, especially at Universities where most research is manned by EU staff. She also said that since OGTC is an industry funded body along with funding from the UK and Scottish governments, there won’t be a huge effect of Brexit on the industry in terms of technology and innovation, but there are certain foreseeable issues with both on and offshore rules and barriers potentially resulting in violations and inefficiencies.
The future of the Subsea Sector looks strong and with a variety of opportunities to grow in the UKCS available to it, but the industry must embrace new technologies and work together in order to develop further. There must be a strong focus on acquiring skills and attracting new talent as a consistently growing, talented workforce is required to deliver projects. For this reason, companies need to implement graduate programmes, apprenticeship schemes, work placements, and training programmes to ensure they remain fit for purpose in the years and decades to come.