22nd May 2020

Louise Sinclair of Sinclair Bay Subsea on the importance of resources such as the Chamber-led Developing the Young Workforce North Highland initiative. Louise is also Vice-Chair of Caithness Chamber.

When I was first approached about this column in February, COVID-19 was already headline news and the UK was preparing for the onset.  However, little did I think that when it would be time to put pen to paper that we would be in week eight of restrictions and that we would be in such unprecedented times with so many personal and business challenges.

My company, Sinclair Bay Subsea, supplies specialised engineers to oil and gas clients and I routinely have a few plans ready at any time given the dynamic nature of the industry.  These last few weeks, I have been working on plans R, S and T some days!  Late-March and early-April passed in a flash of repatriating workers from far flung places such as Singapore, Ghana and Mexico and trying to get fresh workers out to Azerbaijan and Angola.

Training has been sadly neglected in the oil and gas industry since the last downturn of 2014-17 due to economic uncertainty.  As we moved into April, Brent crude had dropped from $61 per barrel in January to approximately $20.  Oil price is cyclical in nature and it will rebound in time, unfortunately not to the heady (and unsustainable) heights of $108 per barrel in 2013.  Training will therefore not be back on the agenda any time soon.  With many engineers deciding to retire or diversify into steadier careers, each downturn presents a reduction in the available labour pool with no new talent coming through.

Similar issues are encountered by businesses across all sectors and will be even more prominent in the aftermath of COVID-19.  When budgets are tight, training and mentoring, which require a substantial time commitment, prove prohibitive for many businesses.

Training is key to ensuring business continuity and economic growth, and there are resources available to help local employers, such as the Chamber-led Developing the Young Workforce North Highland (DYWNH) initiative. Offering an industry-led conduit between employers and young people, DYWNH can help employers develop and fill skills gaps locally.

Due to COVID-19, S4 to S6 SQA exams have been cancelled and training opportunities will be limited whilst businesses re-group.  DYWNH is reacting to this and is currently drawing up plans for a revised focus on employability for the cohort of learners immediately affected.

DYWNH covers areas including employability skills, work experience and apprenticeships, utilising a wide range of employers.  Over the last few years, I have been asked to help out at various events organised by DYWNH team, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed.  As a judge at the Junior Dragon’s Den event, the enthusiasm, imagination and creativity of the P6/P7 children never ceases to amaze me.

Although time will be at a premium going forward, I will be continuing my efforts with DYWNH as I firmly believe that the work that the team does complements the children’s formal education, providing crucial industry interaction.  I find it a very welcome change of focus from my day job.

Caithness has an excellent track record of training and apprenticeships, across many different employers, and it would be great to see this commitment continue through these difficult times.  As we start to look towards the recovery of the local economy, the Caithness Business Fund (administered by the Chamber) has funding available to assist with training costs for employers meeting the fund criteria.

As a business community, I am certain that we will pull together to counter the challenges which 2020 has brought, with the Chamber no doubt in a pivotal role.

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