A firm hold on energy options

15th February 2013 at 00:00
Visits to companies in the field have given youngsters new insight into what it has to offer, finds Jean McLeish

A week visiting Aberdeen energy companies has given the third-years at Northfield Academy plenty to think about over the weekend.

On Monday, they make their subject choices - and some of them are having a last minute rethink after in-depth exploration of what the energy industry has to offer.

"It shocked me to see how many jobs and opportunities there are for us on our doorstep. Even with the recession, there's still a lot of jobs people can have," says 14-year-old Hayley McMillan.

Until this week, Hayley was all set to become a PE teacher, but now she's not quite so sure. "If you get the right qualifications you'll get good money, you'll get a good job as a designer or an engineer or anything you want to be," she says.

Her dad operates sub-sea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) offshore as an ROV pilot, but taking part in "Your Future in Energy" this week has increased her awareness of the onshore opportunities too.

"Even though my dad works offshore, there's a lot behind his job - like the people who help him do his job," says the teenager.

Hayley was one of 120 third-years whose timetables were suspended to allow them to visit different types of energy companies, to learn some of the soft skills employers are looking for, attend workshops on interview and presentation skills and have a go at filling out application forms. She's not the only pupil who's been reviewing her options.

"I didn't really know what I was going to pick for my subjects beforehand, but I do know now," says Ross Allan, 14, who's interested in computing and has just given a presentation to industry executives, highlighting what pupils gained from their week's experiences. "I'd definitely think about the oil industry."

Sarah Darroch, a probationer English teacher who accompanied the pupils, said they were now better informed about subject choices.

"I think all of them have taken away that they definitely need maths and English, but they all now think that a science is something they should have," she says. "So where they might have thought of dropping a science previously, they're all now thinking, 'Actually, this is something we should take forward.'"

Art teacher Lynsey Ferguson, also a probationer, said the project was enlightening for teachers, too: "I learned so much and I would have loved to have been given that opportunity when I was at school."

This week's pilot project is a bespoke programme delivered as part of Your Future in Energy, which has been developed in line with the Curriculum for Excellence, supported by the Scottish government and industry leaders.

The objective is to showcase the range of routes into a variety of careers within the energy sector, highlighting apprenticeships and workplace opportunities, as well as college and university courses.

The man behind the programme is former PE teacher Tom Clark, now managing director of Your Future In Energy. He worked alongside Northfield's depute headteacher, Ali Dow, to devise this week's schedule. Mr Clark spent 15 years teaching at Robert Gordon's College and, after a 10-year break running his own business, taught for 15 years here at Northfield Academy.

"This is the first time experts spanning the education sector, energy industry and training bodies have come together to map where the skills shortages lie, which competencies are needed to fulfil these roles, and in turn which school subjects will steer pupils towards achieving these," he says.

With only 10 per cent of the industry's workforce going offshore, he says teenagers are learning about onshore opportunities such as draughtsmanship, accounts and front-of-house roles - all skills which are transferable to other industries.

Mr Clark has introduced a variety of Your Future in Energy projects at Westhill, Mackie and Meldrum academies and aims to expand the scheme further across Scotland. The venture is supported by the Offshore Contractors Association and member companies.


There's more to the energy industry than working offshore on oilrigs, as pupils at Northfield Academy have been discovering.

"I thought offshore was just a little office and going off to the rigs, but it's not just like that - there are thousands of jobs," says David Pullam from S3 at Northfield Academy.

Northfield Academy headteacher Neil Hendry believes there is a need to change the perspective that the energy industry is focused on oilrigs and working offshore two weeks on, two weeks off.

"If you're a young person and your only experience of the oil industry is your dad being away two weeks out of every month, that's not great. So I think we need to increase the understanding of our young people about the vast career opportunities out there.

"It's not just about oil rigs and working offshore - it's about the support and catering and HR and a variety of things."

With a skills shortage and an ageing workforce, industry leaders are keen to show youngsters like David what's on offer. And during Your Future in Energy, the teenager has enjoyed watching designers at work in 3D.

Mr Hendry welcomed this chance for pupils to make the connection between what they're learning in school and the world of work.

"Our agenda is quite clear here - we need to raise the aspirations of our young people because we have very talented young people at Northfield, but their aspirations are not where they need to be," he says.

"This is an exciting opportunity to get young people in the workplace to see that link between what's happening in school and what will happen when they leave the classroom, whenever it is - fourth, fifth or sixth year."

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