Blackpool could be poised to cash in on a skills gap in the oil and gas industry as it becomes the hub for a National College for Onshore Oil and Gas.
Announcing the creation of a national college Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said today that Blackpool was ideally placed to train the next generation of workers from welders and drivers to geologists and engineers.
Blackpool and The Fylde College is set to expand to accommodate the headquarters of the multi-million pound college, complete with facilities including a drill simulator and emergency control simulator.
The minister, who was visiting the college’s Ashfield Road campus, in Bispham, said: “We chose Blackpool to be the hub because Blackpool and The Fylde College has an outstanding track record in training and already has strong links with energy industry employers and the other colleges which will act as spokes from the hub.”
He said the announcement was not a case of the Government jumping the gun since Lancashire County Council has yet to agree planning permission for energy firm Cuadrilla to drill and frack for natural gas at two sites on the Fylde, Roseacre and Little Plumpton.
Mr Hancock argued that if the preparations for training courses were not made now it would be too late when it came to gas production and local people would miss out on the benefits of skilled work.
He said: “It is very important the local planning authorities have their say but what this announcement does is show that, should we realise that potential, the benefits in terms of jobs and skills come for local people and will be significant.”
Mr Hancock added the £10m Advanced Technology Centre at the college for conventional and renewable energy, engineering and manufacturing training, for which he yesterday laid a commemorative stone, would link in well to the new onshore oil and gas college.
The college will be jointly funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DfB) and the onshore oil and gas industry.
£1.5m will be used to develop the courses and training needed.
Further funding would be available from the National College Programme to build the new facility whose exact location, and cost, is yet to be revealed but is set to have close links to the M55.
Mr Hancock said: “That was not just the foundation for a new college building, that was the foundation for a whole new industry and the people who will work in it. It will provide state of the art learning centre to train the next generation of highly skilled workers by delivering the technical and leadership skills we will need.”
He said around £33bn would be needed to invest in the country’s shale gas industry in the next 15 years, with a reported 6,000 direct jobs created and up to 64,000 linked to it at its production peak.
“Three out of five people in the Aberdeen area supported by the gas industry, 400,000 people employed, and it has a turnover of £35bn a year.
“We are in the early stages of shale gas, the geologists tell us the potential is there we will only find out the full extent when testing is carried out. I want to ensure the local communities benefit and that’s why I also strongly support the sovereign wealth fund announced this week.”
Daryl Platt, executive director of commercial development at Blackpool and The Fylde College said it was great news that it had been chosen to be the centre of the new Onshore Oil and Gas college.
He said: “It will represent a significant long term opportunity for everyone. We have already had seven telephone calls today after the news appeared in the media this morning asking about courses.
“That shows the potential demand from people seeking training in a highly skilled industry.
“There is a national shortage of welders and we already provide that training so it will be a case of expanding training in some areas and bringing in new courses. Not all the roles will be geologists or drilling jobs.”