Tackling the Skills Shortage Challenge in the Oil, Gas Industry

Tackling the Skills Shortage Challenge in the Oil, Gas Industry
Industry experts weigh in on the continuing challenge of finding skilled workers to hire in the oil and gas industry.

Globally, many oil and gas employers have expressed a similar sentiment when it comes to hiring potential candidates: there is a skills shortage. There have been continued efforts on how to combat the skills shortage in the oil and gas industry, but it has not yet been eliminated.

John Colborn
John Colborn
John Colborn, Director, Skills for America’s Future at The Aspen Institute

In a recent panel discussion hosted by University of Houston Energy (UH Energy) and presented by Chevron Corp., industry experts discussed how to prepare for future leaders in the energy workforce. John Colborn, director for Skills for America’s Future – an initiative of the Aspen Institute – was a speaker on the panel and identified a disconnect between institutions of higher education and the industry. He revealed that while colleges and universities believe they’re preparing people well for the world of work, employers say otherwise.

“The industry is telling us they’re not finding the skills they need, which are basic skills, workplace skills and technical skills,” Colborn told Rigzone.

Colborn said it is possible to overcome the disconnect.

“Higher education institutions in general – from community colleges to four-year universities – need to think about how they can better conceptualize material into real-world applications that students can use in the world of work,” he said. “When you look at the pattern of student success, one of the indicators that research has found makes students successful is when they engage in activities that extend beyond the classroom and beyond just one semester.”


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Valerie is an experienced writer and editor dedicated to providing useful and relevant career news about the oil and gas industry. Email Valerie at valerie.jones@rigzone.com


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James | Oct. 26, 2015
HR in the oil and gas industry is a joke when it comes to entry-level careers. I have literally BSed my way through many interviews and got offers. Lucky for my company, I actually knew my stuff and contributed quickly in the field. But, it could have been the other way around. They have no assessment (real-world and science-based questions given to them by oil and gas engineers, etc.) to filter out the idiots who cheated through college, learned nothing and could offer nothing to their company. Many companies continue to hire incompetence based solely on GPA when they have no clue to how that number was obtained. There is no talent shortage, theres always talented people out there. HR for oil companies just dont believe in testing candidates for engineering skills because they dont have these skills themselves. The only gap is between HR and actual engineers. Personality and persuasion is great but when stuff hits the fan, you want real technical people working in your company not a funny guy who cheated on projects through college. Im glad to be working for a company who hires on whether the new graduates actually learned the field in college. But, other big companies just dont get see the big picture. High GPA doesnt even mean book-smarts anymore and certainly not real-world ability. You have no clue what youre getting these days.

Pete | Apr. 20, 2015
Theyd better think about not sacking personnel before thinking of shortage in skills!!!!!!!!Thats common sense. A Norwegian Minister said that the companies are doing the same mistake than in the 90s (firing ppl)and then companies start winging they could not find any skilled cause all the good guys went somewhere else where there are less idiots.

SB | Apr. 20, 2015
I am a 13 year veteran of this industry in his late 30s. I endure the last downturn and decided to hang around after the bust from the financial crisis that hit our country in 2008. This great shortage is really due to a lack of perceived upward mobility. I have extensive experience at the ground level and have managed some large exploration projects. I hate to say this but the people who gripe about this are the same people who wont give those of us who hang around a chance to take over. They (being the old timers = baby boomers) have decided to keep the plum positions for themselves (i.e bonuses, stock options, etc). Maybe I would like to be the manager one day. Kind of hard to train the next group of people when they are the same age as your kids. You dont relate to them and often I can hear some contempt and condescending tones in meetings. Of course so and so doesnt know how to do something because they dont get the chance to do it. It may be time to force retire some people because they just dont get it anymore. Too busy worrying about paying for their kids college, wedding, retirement account, house remodeling, etc instead of mentoring the people they gripe about. SMH!!!

ellis | Apr. 20, 2015
Half the US rigs drilling HZ oil wells are shut down. Schlumberger laid off 9,000 Jan and now another 11,000. Those are the poster boy numbers in the industry. Yet here is an article in the WSJ, a couple days after, throwing out the round number, of 100,000 lost jobs around the world in the industry. Mostly service side and drilling related Cos, as per Graves and Co. the Houston consulting firm. The cuts will continue well into 2016 as oil futures show $60 a bbl a year out. Saudi this past month ramped up another 500,000 bbls/day. Thats half of Bakken production (which took 4+ years to accomplish 1 million a day). Our last crash was in 2009. Then another 2014 in the 4th quarter. The cycles are so rash. I have yet to see an oil Company keep all of its employees thru a downturn. Companies of significance have share holders to report to, and that is the biggest problem. The Bottom Line. How do you protect the bottom line? Fire everybody in sight and protect your own job. A sad mentality, but it has permeated the Oil Industry, many downturns ago. The Oil Industry is always in the Training Mode .....until its time to fire the most recent batch of Boom Engineers And as stuff roles down hill.....the Service Sector and the Drilling Rigs Personnel, get decimated. The Oil Patch is more of a supplementary job to a Farming Operation that you have, to fall back on. Big pay, averaged out over downturns, is pretty average pay. Dont expect the Oil Co to more than just window dress the problem Window dressing, is synonymous with the price is right.

Chris | Apr. 20, 2015
If the companies were truly worried about hiring and keeping skilled personnel, we wouldnt be reading several reports ever week on how many thousands of personnel whose employment they are terminating. In the mid 1980s, we saw the industry dump over 500,000 employees, many of whom never returned to work in the industry. In the late 1990s, we saw similar reductions in personnel. We saw the results of these workforce reductions in enrollment numbers in industry related majors at the universities. It took several years for enrollment to recover the downturn in the 1980s. If you review experience levels in the industry, you find gaps that correlate to minimal enrollment and hiring of graduates during these periods. Unfortunately, a new hire directly following graduation has minimal experience. They cant replace the person who had 15, 20, 25+ years of experience who was RIFed. Skilled employees are viewed as a business expense that is quickly reduced. But, that is false economy. Personnel are a minor expense compared with other major components of project costs. Until this type of thinking changes, the industry will always face a lack of skilled personnel.

Terri | Apr. 20, 2015
Chad has it about right. With 30 years in the business Ive been through a number of these layoff cycles. There are skilled people out there who have just grown tired of being jerked around. During these down times if any hiring is done its the young guns who come in with plenty of ego only to show themselves as one dimensional. Those willing to get in the field and learn about other disciplines will be fine in the long run. Dont wait to be trained....go after every opportunity you see and find mentors and you will get training. In the meantime, Im on the street and looking, again.

Duncan Clark | Apr. 19, 2015
Great article

Randy Pearson | Apr. 18, 2015
I have been saying this for years. Young people would be better prepared with a on job training session, at a vo tech or do an apprenticeship with a prospective employer. That piece of paper from the college is just that to a lot of oilfield jobs. They need actual experience and employers are shorting themselves thinking when they hire that college grad/piece of paper that are filling a need when in fact they have someone who is not at all qualified.

Arthur | Apr. 18, 2015
This is all a joke. They can hire smart and valuable graduates and early career candidates like us, put us through a short training program and all problems with skills shortages will be solved. The oil companies do not want to invest in training new employees and it may come back to hunt them in the future.

Nor Azlan Nordin | Apr. 17, 2015
Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineers are the dying breeds!

Chad | Apr. 17, 2015
Perhaps they should look in the mirror. Every time there is a slump in oil prices, the operators use it as an excuse to lay people off and cut spending. In turn, the service companies and suppliers do the same. All of a sudden a lot of experience is gone, never to return. Or if they do return, its to a different company, the trust in the former no longer being there. This industry, while filled with very smart people, is stupid in general. Instead of focusing on long term financial sustainability, they focus on short term. At the first sign of a drop in oil prices the operators squeeze the suppliers and in turn, the suppliers stick it to the operators at the next up tick in oil prices. I have personally spoken to several service providers who are just licking their chops to stick it to the O&G companies at the next opportunity. Its a never ending cycle. And a lot of guys/gals who have gone through numerous layoffs, in spite of doing their job, get tired of it and move on into other fields.


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