New centre is C-State of the art

Faced with a skills shortage, the subsea industry has taken matters into its own hands, as Jake Tompkins explains to Peter Jackson

A new facility opened in the North East this year to address the growing skills gap in the subsea engineering and service sectors.

The Centre for Subsea Technology Awareness, Training and Education, or C-STATE, located at Darlington College, represents a collaboration between industry and education.

Maritime Training and Competence Solutions (MTCS) has signed an agreement to market courses and deliver training at C-STATE.

C-STATE has been developed by Modus Seabed Intervention in partnership with MTCS, Darlington College, Teesside University, Tees Valley Unlimited and Darlington Borough Council. Darlington Borough Council and Tees Valley Unlimited provided start-up support.
It has been created to provide an unrivalled platform for specialist training and education – and is offered to the entire industry.

Jake Tompkins, managing director of Modus Seabed Intervention and director of C-STATE, says: “What we really want to create is a recognised centre of excellence for subsea users when it comes to technology and training that is accessed and can be accessed by a vast number of users.’’

Subsea UK, the industry body, which represents the £8.9bn subsea sector, reports that British subsea companies need around 16,000 new recruits to help them grow to £11bn and increase the country’s 45% share of a £20bn global market.

Tompkins explains: “C-STATE has come about after two years of analysis into the issues that the industry’s got. Modus is an employer and a business in the subsea sector and one of the biggest barriers that we believe the company’s going to face going forward is people. Onshore and offshore there’s a very profound shortage of technical people, either on the ROV piloting side or onshore engineering.

“We’re an SME, we employ about 50 people and we’ve got people to train. We bring apprentices into the company, but we can’t train a large volume of people and it takes about three years to train people through. Inevitably we will lose some people at the end of that period because either they’ll feel they’re ready to move on to somewhere else, or they’ll be offered jobs elsewhere. We can’t sustain that, and we thought, that’ll be the same for a lot of companies, we’ve got to try and find a way to address the problem.

“Certainly we needed to alleviate some of the issues, but how can we do that in a different way? We took a view that if we can set up a facility to train across all levels of industrial training and further and higher education training then we can help to bring more people generally into the industry, of which we’ll be a beneficiary and we’ll be able to access some of the larger volume of people that we can bring in.’’

The purpose built facility will offer a range of subsea courses from apprenticeships to further and higher education, and industry-recognised and accredited training.

C-STATE was officially opened by Prince Andrew in February and since March some
50 students have attended its courses.

“In terms of industrial training, we’ve had candidates flying in from Aberdeen and
Nigeria and we hope that that will continue,’’ says Tompkins.

Trainees will have direct, hands-on access to a dedicated 200hp hydraulic remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in a safe and controlled environment, combined with classroom based training for all courses.

“What’s unique about C-STATE is firstly, the size of the technology that we’ve put in,’’ says Tompkins. “This is a large 200 horse power ROV system, which is bigger than any other ROV that’s used for training, certainly in the UK. The approach that we’ve also taken which is hands-on technical training on the vehicle is also unique but the main USP that we’ve got, if you like, is also with education – and the sort of co-operation that we’ve developed with industry and education, which is also unique.’’

MTCS, which runs monthly ROV induction courses at Windermere as well as in Singapore and Houston, has the responsibility for marketing and running C-STATE short courses, which include: work class ROV technical, high-voltage skills, high-pressure hydraulics, umbilical reterm, and subsea client awareness. Bespoke courses can also be developed.

In addition to attracting military people and those with engineering skills, the college and university will take a medium-term approach to train apprentices and graduates for the industry. C-STATE will also develop programmes to educate school children about the careers in subsea.

Has C-STATE been well received?

“We’ve had a good response from industry and we’ve had a very enthusiastic response from education,’’ says Tompkins.

“We’re now doing some work with the Crown Estates who are now working with C-State to increase the coverage of ROV nationwide within schools. So the response to bringing more people into the industry has been extremely positive. Going forward, obviously we were extremely lucky to get the royal opening earlier in the year which was tremendous, so yes, the response has been very enthusiastic.’’

And if this early success continues, could the concept be extended?

“Yes, absolutely,’’ he says. “We’re now working with the bodies and the various potential users that I’ve just described to expand the facility. We’re looking at bringing in simulators, ROV simulators and potentially smaller electric ROVs that will be held in water tanks to do live piloting from. So yes, we’ve got plans to expand the facility and increase the customer base.’’