A motorist holds a fuel pump at a Gulf petrol station in London in this April 18, 2006 file photo. Oil dropped nearly 2 percent on March 20, 2012 as Saudi Arabia sought to knock back crude's price rise that has threatened the global economy, with the oil minister offering the most detailed argument to date that the OPEC nation was prepared to meet any supply shortfall. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/Files (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY COMMODITIES)

Cape Town - The shortage of critical skills in the petroleum industry needs attention, MPs heard on Tuesday.

The industry was going through a transition as a new generation of engineers and operators entered the workplace, chairman of the SA Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa), Gerard Derbesy, told Parliament's energy portfolio committee, according to a statement from his office.

“This transition is largely due to a wave of retiring expertise. There is a looming shortage of skills which are typically gained over many years.”

Derbesy said these skills were needed to ensure the safety, reliability and environmental performance of plants.

In 2007 and 2008, Saipa conducted research among its member companies to quantify and understand the extent of scarce skills and critical skills gaps in the sector. The findings showed employers in the petroleum industry needed advanced technical skills and that existing employees needed training.

Reasons for the shortage of skills were lack of petroleum industry experience, and a scarcity of qualified employment equity candidates, especially black women.

“The critical role played by the petroleum industry will only be sustained if a skilled, technical workforce of sufficient strength and range is available.”

Derbesy said collaboration between the industry, the government, Sector Education and Training Authorities, Further Education and Training colleges and universities, was essential in addressing the skills shortage.

The petroleum industry contributes 6.48 percent to the country's Gross Domestic Product and employs about 100 000 people. - Sapa