• Survey of Scottish offshore workers reveals annual training costs averaging over £1,600.
  • Years of UK and Scottish Government inaction is blocking a just transition for offshore workers.
  • Unions and climate campaigners call for government-regulated “offshore passport” as  part of a just transition to green energy.
  • Workers, families and communities are invited to Just Transition Tour events in Scotland in July.

Workers across the oil, gas, wind and decommissioning industries in Scotland strongly support the idea of an “offshore passport” that would allow them to easily transfer their skills and experience between sectors, a survey shows.

Respondents to a poll reported they are currently forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own money for training courses before being hired, with no guarantee of work, and are routinely having to repeat training they have already done.

These barriers could scupper the success of a just transition, because in order to access jobs in wind power, workers have to pay to repeat training courses, despite already holding relevant qualifications. Campaigners warn that the Scottish Government must intervene to support efforts to remove these hurdles to ensure it delivers on its promise of a just transition.

Workers facing huge costs

Jack*, 39, a father-of-two from Fife, has worked in the oil industry for 12 years. In the past two years he’s spent £3,000 on training costs with no help from employers. He said:

“Shelling out all this money does cause stress, and it does have an impact on your family and your living costs. There’s lots of people worrying about how they’re going to pay the mortgage. I know people who’ve packed it in altogether because working offshore is just too expensive.

“I have thought about working in renewables, but that’d be thousands of pounds you’d have to pay to work in both industries. It’d just be too much, it costs an absolute fortune just to stay in one sector.”

Alasdair*, aged 60, from the Highlands has 30 years’ experience working offshore as a rigger and scaffolder. He said:

“It’s like people are being forced to buy their jobs…It’s a money making racket as far as I’m concerned. Having a system where you don’t have to duplicate training would make much more sense. The training is basically exactly the same for both industries.”

Campaigners warn that Government must act

Ryan Morrison, Just Transition Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“The skills and experience of offshore workers are vital to enable a rapid shift to renewable energy, but workers cannot be expected to fork out thousands from their own pocket to duplicate qualifications they already have.

“Promises of green jobs mean little when this training regime holds back the opportunity to move between sectors. It is time for politicians to listen to these workers by creating a regulated training passport to ensure a just transition for offshore workers.”

A survey of more than 300 Scottish offshore workers, by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace, supported by RMT and Unite Scotland, found that 93% of workers were in favour of introducing standardised training for working offshore.

On average, Scottish workers surveyed had spent £1,627 per year on training. Workers are often required to repeat existing training when starting a contract with a new employer; starting a new contract with the same employer; and when moving to jobs in other offshore sectors. Almost two thirds (64%) said that when taking a contract with a different employer they were asked to duplicate their existing qualifications that were still in date.

Government warned about transition barriers 5 years ago

The Scottish Government has been aware of workers facing this problem for years. In 2016, former North East MSP Lewis Macdonald wrote to the Energy Jobs Taskforce stating that “we should be trying to remove any unnecessary barriers that prevent them from making the transition into the offshore renewables sector” [1]. Yet in 2021, workers are experiencing the same barriers.

Gabrielle Jeliazkov, Just Transition Campaigner for Platform, said:

“This unregulated outsourcing of training is a major barrier to a just transition to renewable energy. We know the energy transition will impact thousands of workers and the government needs to make a plan to support them.

“Successive governments have failed to keep the oil sector in check and allowed for the increasing casualisation of the workforce, with costs now borne by individuals rather than employers. Workers are telling us what they need, the government must listen.”

Some 71% of Scottish respondents to the survey were contractors, rather than employees, which is indicative of the trend towards offshore work becoming more casualised. Survey findings suggested this is resulting in workers increasingly having to pay for work training out of their own pocket.

When it came to employer contributions towards training, 61% of Scottish respondents said employers had paid none of their training costs in the past two years, a rise of 24% compared to pre-2015.

Trade Unions welcome the survey

Trade union RMT welcomed the survey and General Secretary, Mick Lynch said;

“As a matter of urgency the ‘Energy’ industry must take control from the countless ‘standards’ bodies that are setting the agenda based on commercial imperatives rather than what the industry and its workforce actually needs.

“This is a classic case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ and it’s the workers on the frontline picking up the cost of an inefficient, exploitative system which is failing to drive meaningful improvements in health and safety terms or skills.”

John Boland, Regional Officer for Unite the Union, said:

“Our members have made it clear to us that training costs and duplication of training are a major issue for them, particularly since the downturn, caused by Covid and the fall in oil and gas prices.

“Many of our members have been made redundant, and are having to pay thousands of pounds to have their training and medical certificates updated, so they can get work.

“Unite have been raising the issues highlighted in this survey, about the barriers for offshore workers transitioning into new renewable jobs, for several years.

“The current situation is that our oil and gas members are going to have to pay for additional duplicated training to work in renewables, like wind, and thus it creates barriers that need to be removed if we are going to see a just transition from oil and gas into renewables.

“All that the workers are asking for, is the ability for workers to be able to move freely between offshore and onshore energy sectors, standardisation of certification across the energy sector, and the removal of duplication of training.”

Oil & gas workers were already facing industry decline

Last year workers in the oil and gas sector were hit hard by the dual effects of lockdowns and a crash in demand [2], and in a separate survey 43% of offshore workers said they had been furloughed or made redundant in the first six months of the pandemic [3].

Oil majors such as BP and Shell made thousands of redundancies and acknowledged they anticipated that the pandemic would accelerate government shifts away from fossil fuels in a bid to reach net zero [4]. Workers are already feeling the effects of industry decline, but UK and Scottish governments have no firm plan for a managed transition to renewables.

Campaigners are calling for Scottish Government to turn words into action to help workers move into sustainable, future-proof jobs in the renewables sector.

Mel Evans, head of Greenpeace UK’s oil campaign, said:

“If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon truly believes in a just transition, that means going beyond warm words and actually taking action.
“It’s outrageous if the success of a transition to renewables relies on fossil fuel workers to pay out thousands of pounds of their own money to change to a job they’re already qualified for.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s government must properly engage with workers, remove costly training barriers and guarantee unionised, green jobs with secure contracts for offshore workers”

Calls for regulated offshore training passport

Together, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform, Greenpeace, RMT and Unite Scotland are calling for:

• The implementation of an Offshore Training Passport which will allow workers to move freely between offshore and onshore energy sectors (ie renewables, oil and gas, and decommissioning) with a standardisation of certification across roles and sectors, and clarity that a certificate in date does not need to be repeated. This should be accessible to all workers, including ad hoc contractors.
• The UK Government, BEIS in particular, and the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, in particular, must lead this process and work directly with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to set standards for working conditions.
• A training fund for the offshore passport should be established as part of the North Sea Transition Deal to directly support workers rather than companies, which can be accessed by individual, self-employed and contract workers rather than only through employers.
• The Scottish Government to explore how the National Transition Training Fund and Green Jobs Workforce Academy can help address these issues.
• Industry backing of an Offshore Training Passport to ensure full compliance across the sector.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform are joining with oil workers to launch their just transition tour in Scotland on the first weekend in July. Offshore workers, families and communities in Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness are invited to come and add their name to a 13-metre wind turbine blade and join the conversation about a just transition for oil and gas workers.




*Names have been changed to protect anonymity, because workers face being blacklisted by the industry for speaking out.

The findings showed that:
• On average, workers in Scotland reported spending £3,255.32 every two years on training costs.
• Respondents to the survey were asked to report where their biennial training expenditure sat within a series of ranges, for example “between £1,000 and £2,000”, or “between £10,000 and £12,000”. The average was calculated using a midpoint for each ranged answer. The top 1% of spenders in this survey reported paying out “£14,000 or more” over the previous two years. For the purpose of calculating overall average expenditure, Greenpeace made the conservative estimate that the highest spenders paid out only £14,000 each, the minimum spend possible within their reported range.

The full survey findings can be seen here.

[1] Lewis Macdonald 04/1016: Macdonald calls for common sense on offshore safety training http://www.lewismacdonald.co.uk/msp/index.php/news

[2] Coronavirus: Oil price collapses to lowest level for 18 years, BBC, 30 March 2020

[3] Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, 2020, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace, Platform.  https://foe.scot/resource/offshore-oil-and-gas-workers-views/

[4] BP to cut 10,000 jobs as virus hits demand for oil, BBC, 8 June 2020
Shell to cut up to 9,000 jobs as Covid-19 accelerates green drive, Guardian, 30 September 2020.
BP chief says Covid has deepened commitment to net-zero emissions, Guardian, 17 May 2020.

[5] North Sea Transition Deal, BEIS, March 2021