THE forecast that the North Sea oil and gas industry will need to recruit 40,000 people over the next 20 years underlines the potential for the sector to continue to make a big contribution to the UK economy.

However, the report it comes from also underline the challenges facing the sector as it emerges from the slump triggered by the sharp oil price fall since 2014.

The report by the OPITO oil and gas training body and Robert Gordon University notes the 40,000 figure includes 10,000 high value roles in the emerging digital technologies that could help transform the industry.

These are the kind of jobs that development agencies would love to see created on their patches.

The jobs may only be created, however, if oil and gas companies take a more pro-active approach to embracing new technology. They will face fierce competition for recruits from companies in what may be seen as sexier industries.

Some may come to regret laying off so many adaptable people during the slump or changing working conditions in a way that encouraged some workers to leave the industry.

It has to be remembered that many of the new digital jobs will replace other positions, which are rendered redundant by technological change.

With many fields soon to run dry production in the North Sea is set to resume its downward trend.

Even on a best case scenario, OPITO and RGU expect factors such as the fall in producing fields combined with natural attrition will result in total job numbers falling by 40,000 by 2035, to 90,000.