THE number of jobs supported by the North Sea oil and gas industry is set to increase for the first time since 2014 as confidence returns to the sector following the slump triggered by the crude price plunge.

Read more: Premier highlights appeal of North Sea as it recoups investment in giant field

However, the number of jobs supported is expected to remain around 190,000 below the peak recorded in 2014.

The Workforce Report by Oil & Gas UK found the sector will likely support 269,000 jobs across the wider economy this year, compared with 259,900 in 2018.

The trade body said the figures pointed to a welcome stabilisation of workforce numbers following years of retrenchment.

Firms that produce oil and gas slashed investment and jobs as they looked to cut costs in response to the sharp fall in the oil price from summer 2014 to early 2016.

The cuts caused pain across the supply chain as businesses that provide support services and supplies for producers found orders drying up, forcing many out of business. The effects impacted on firms in sectors such as accountancy.

Read more: Hotel in Scottish village pushed into administration by oil sector woe

Conditions have started to improve in recent months.The partial recovery in the crude price since late 2016 has encouraged firms to invest in new field developments again.

Oil & Gas UK said: “ While parts of the supply chain continue to be under real pressure ... our report findings indicate that the health of our industry continues to improve.”

But, the findings underline the scale of the damage inflicted on the labour market amid the downturn.

Oil & Gas UK has estimated that the industry supported 460,000 jobs in 2014.

It said yesterday that employment figures are back in line with the trend prior to the exceptional spike in investment and activity seen in 2014.

This represented a period of peak employment.

Read more: North Sea upturn provides boost for engineering giant

The Workforce report noted: “While some companies continue to make reductions in the size of their workforce others are now actively adding to their numbers.”

It noted total employment in 2018 was significantly lower than previously forecast following lower than expected spending on new assets.

The report found 39 per cent of the jobs supported by the industry in 2018 were in Scotland with 56% in England, 4% in Wales and 1% in Northern Ireland.

Aberdeen is home to the largest proportion of offshore workers, 30%.

Oil & Gas UK said the skills requirements of the industry are changing.

“Digitalisation, internationalisation and the transition to a net-zero emissions future will require significant re-skilling for existing workers and the recruitment of up to 10,000 new roles in these areas, some of which don’t exist yet,” it said.

Oil and gas firms invested heavily in North Sea projects during a period of $100 per barrel plus oil prices earlier in the decade.

This ended when growth in production ran ahead of demand.

The crude price fell below $30/bbl early in 2016.

It has increased in recent months following moves by major exporters led by Saudi Arabia to curb output to support the market.

Brent crude sold for around $60/bbl yesterday.