Are We Developing and Retaining Rig Workers 'Well' Enough?

Are We Developing and Retaining Rig Workers 'Well' Enough?

In the booming Bakken oil shale play in North Dakota, which stretches into large portions of Canada, the robust hiring of oilfield service companies such as Halliburton is a sign of the times.

Anticipated 2011 gross North America hiring of some 11,000 people targeted customers in the North America shale plays, especially the Bakken, a Halliburton spokesperson said. To put that into perspective, Halliburton's global 2011 hiring goal was 15,000.

While a very positive development overall, such brisk hiring also poses challenges. The demand for skilled workers brought on by the shale boom comes at the same time as the retirement of millions of skilled "baby boom" generation workers

Are We Developing and Retaining Rig Workers 'Well' Enough?

The lion's share of study regarding the great crew change emphasizes white-collar workers. Concerns over white-collar industry demographics arose during the 1990s partly from sharp decreases in college and graduate-level enrollments in petroleum-related specialties. However, higher crude oil prices and a more stable industry outlook have improved enrollments for engineering and geoscience professions since.

Meanwhile, serious problems loom in the rig worker sector. "The operational side needs attention, rather than just always focusing on these engineering /college graduate positions. There should be more willingness by oil and gas operators to cross-train some of these young people who have good experience, are intelligent, and know rig operations thoroughly, but might not necessarily have an engineering or science degree," said Eric Roth, a drilling consultant based in the Philippines.

"The oilfield keeps building rigs without the right personnel to put on them, which causes performance to go down," said Keith Strickland, a rig worker from Merryfield, Louisiana. "It doesn't take a college degree to run a rig, just a strong back and the will to work."

"The hiring of personnel will not be a problem. You will be able to fill any spot with a pulse but what we are losing is experience. The higher ups are not learning the ropes from the bottom," Rigzone reader Rocky Lumpkin from Hattiesburg, Miss., commented in an earlier "Great Crew Change" article. "We will be losing the older wisdom and since this will almost be another mass hiring like 2005 and 2006, we will be getting those who are rushed through schools and have no hands on experience This is the only problem we will have. There is nothing wrong with new minds thinking on a process that has been going around since the 1900s, but too young and inexperienced, we will start reinventing the wheel without proper guidance."

Safety Issues

Indeed, safety on rigs stemming from a sharp reduction in experienced personnel is a serious issue, according to J. Ford Brett, managing director of PetroSkills, a training center in Katy, Texas. Should demographics result in approximately 20 percent of the industry's personnel having fewer than five years' experience, Brett calculates that there will be a corresponding 20 percent reduction in performance across the board. "To put this into focus, in 2006 the industry spent about $170 billion on E&P. A 20 percent reduction in performance correlates with an economic cost of approximately $35 billion," Brett said.

Profound shortages of rig workers are already underway. For instance, while Canada reports severe rig worker shortages, companies operating in Australia are trying novel methods to attract workers in a labor-tight market. And, in addition to the Bakken oil shale play, the U.S.' natural gas "shale gale" supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010, a number that is projected to grow to nearly 870,000 by 2015, according to the think-tank, IHS Global Insight.

So, while the availability of jobs, per se, appears to be no problem, the ability of companies to keep rig workers in the oil and gas industry does raise questions.

Wages are already well above-average in the rig sector, yet attrition of experienced hands is a serious problem.

"The oil and gas industry is bleeding from high attrition," wrote recruitment expert Manoj Parmesh in Talent and Technology, a Society of Petroleum Engineers publication. "In the service sector, the average attrition rate for 2006 was 23 percent."

One solution is access to training programs that teach a variety of skills, so rig workers can move up the ranks.

Available Training

College degrees are not necessary for some training programs out there, including those at PetroSkills, which has dozens of courses for every level of worker to enrich and improve their careers.

For those who can't travel, there's interactive training, such as that offered by PetroEd Multimedia. PetroEd's offerings focus on rig worker skills and include courses in well control, drilling and production operations approved for certification by the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC). Other courses include under balanced drilling, mechanical and electrical skills and HSE.

Faced with what may be the most intense hiring needs in the industry, the oilfield service and supply companies also sponsor their own training programs. One of the tried-and-true programs is aboard Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc.'s 1954 rig and museum, "Mr. Charlie," in Morgan City, Louisiana. The rig provides a more lifelike experience for prospective new hands, including whether they can handle long hours and time away from shore.

Companies are also expanding their training operations to meet demand. Examples include a new training academy launched in August, 2011 by Dutch-owned Huisman NL and 13 regional training centers operated by French-owned BOURBON. Addressing Canada's worker shortage is ENFORM, an industry-sponsored group that offers more than 100 courses related to rig safety.

Meanwhile, Houston's Lone Star College expanded its curriculum last year to include the oil and gas curricula. Lone Star's Energy and Manufacturing Institute offers training for jobs in the oil and gas industry. The institute offers two pre-apprenticeship certification programs that last six weeks – an engineering technician program and machining program. 

Does Money Alone Talk?

According to a survey in the Russian online journal Oil and Gas Business, 25 percent of respondents rated formal and informal recognition as the first elements that lead to their motivation, which was also cited as a key element in retention. The second element was salary and benefit packages (15 percent), followed by career progression (9 percent), interesting and challenging job opportunities (9 percent) and achievement (7 percent). Other important factors also included learning and development, empowerment, working conditions, job security, good work-life balance, transparency and respect from superiors.

A study by Manpower Middle East also found that compensation was not the primary factor that triggered employees to change jobs. The study indicates that organizations offering benefits such as experiential opportunities, a clear career path, mobility options, travel and working conditions that balance work, personal and family growth are more likely to retain their pool of talent, according to Patrick Luby, managing director, Manpower Middle East.


In response to the need for improved education and skills for "The Great Crew Change", the American Institute of Chemical Engineers formed a special upstream-oriented entity, The Upstream Engineering and Flow Assurance Forum. The goals of the UEFA Forum include providing training and education opportunities for member at all skill levels. The focus is on better understanding of chemical engineering, fundamentals and practices relevant to upstream practice, in reservoirs, in drilling fluids, in flow assurance and other aspects of energy resource development and production. For more information, visit or call (800) 242-4363.

The Great Crew Change |


Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.

Robert Contreras Jr.  |  March 27, 2012
I see that as far as experience workers, there might be a shortage but the companies who are smart will send good experience hands to work up North. The one company the I see go just recently sent good experienced hands which have been working on rig for over thirty years. But is is true we are about to loss these baby boomers and then what, the new generation has a different sense of work ethic and its not the best.
Mike Modica  |  March 27, 2012
I've been applying for positions for rig electrician and have experience as well, but apparently not enough. In my experience, the job is not difficult to learn. It just takes time and a mentor(s) who is willing to communicate and teach rather than to play a pure game of politics, such as is done in the name of safety.
Rodney  |  March 22, 2012
I think its true about the article, but some companies that publish that they have job openings are falling asleep at the hiring switch. I've had a Secret Security Clearance that they can reopen, I have a resume on file on almost everything in my field of work with 4 of the top companies in Afghanistan, and I'm also looking for training for the diesel to LPG conversions. I don't mind being trained for another field of work with the oil, and gas industry. It might be better for me, because, I'm not as fortunate with being close to retirement, but the way the recruiters of those top 4 companies are doing to people who are the "Grunts" of any industry are making me wish I was 65, and staying at home. It doesn't make any sense for anyone to be out of work for more than 1 month. Whomever is sleeping at the wheel in the recruiting office should wake up, because if you don't open your eyes up, you might be in my situation.
Jason L Kimbrough  |  March 19, 2012
I agree with what some of you are saying pertaining to not being able to find O&G job openings. I have experience, have certifications along with an impressive resume, HAVE A JOB, and Im still not getting any REAL hits. If the jobs are out there then where are they at? Hello?
Alex M.  |  March 17, 2012
It is true, there are shortages of semi-experienced beginning floorhands. This may be due to giving the oportunity to be a worm to friends and relatives rather than searching the resumes for heavy construction workers with common sense and respect for others, but then again, I could be wrong. I'm learning so much from this amazing rigzone web site, this is an eye opening learning experience in the oil & gas industry. God Bless y'all!!!
Don Campbell  |  March 17, 2012
I feel that the problem isnt finding the hands to work on the rigs, it is the company hiring the people that want to work on these rigs. I'm an experienced rig hand from the 70s, 80s and 90s, but they won't hire me, for my age. Nonetheless, the companies bring in hands from the western states, and won't hire the locals. I live in Pa. where the Marcellus is active and have tried to get on with these companies and have been turned down for my age. I have seen these companies spend more money and time on 1 location than they need to, for they do not have the expeience, and knowledge of the local hands that know the rock formations, and what it takes to drill these holes. I worked on the deepest hole drilled in Pa. 17000 feet back in the 80s in the Williamsport area and drilled through this formation and I as the derricked hand that smelled this gas when we drilled through it. At this time, we did not have the knowledge or ability to deviate as for the directional drilling going on today. I have been on some of these holes and tried to give this company pointers on drilling in the area with air and not mudding up till we need to, to keep the gas down. But they did not want to hear it from me for I am a Pa. empolyee and dont know what I am talking about. So I let them spend their money foolishly, and sat back till I had enough and quit, for I seen that I was not going to move up from lead tongs, for which when hired. I was to be Derrick hand, when I got to the rig to work I found out I wasnt because I wasnt a Western states rig worker.To this company and hands, I was an outsider,older, and a local to them I didnt know anything even though I have 28 years expeince in the gas patch of Pa., W.Va, Ohio, and N.Y., I feel until they want to hire the men that want to work, and have the expeience no matter their age, they will keep haveing problems with getting the right hands for this job, as Rig workers. (Roughnecks) Donald L. Campbell Pa. Roughneck
Randy Harrison  |  March 16, 2012
After 38 years in the industry, I retired last year. The biggest problem I see is that engineers are put in supervisory positions to direct operations without having spent enough time on the rigs themselves. This leads to the under-experienced directing the inexperienced resulting in re-inventing a wheel that is over 100 years old. This prompted me to stop working offshore several years ago. The culture I developed in took engineering students and worked them summers and holidays while they were in school and then put them on the rigs upon graduation. When they went in the office, they started writing re-completion programs and then were sent to the field to direct the operation they had designed. This was a very successful training regimen and today most of those guys are referred to as "Boss", VP, or president and run sound effective organizations. The Macondo train-wreck did not surprise me.
Ron L Tendler  |  March 16, 2012
I dont feel that I can afford to waste any more of my time pertaining to career choices or payment plans. I had left 20 yrs of master carpentry behind and went on to 3 yrs of college to achieve a degree in science and an associates in welding (with honors) for Stick,Mig, and Tig. The job market of Portland Oregon rewarded me with 14 dollars an hour and that job wasnt easy to get. I hope it gets better and these job shortages have real openings because I love to weld and dont mind traveling but I am doing it for the money or not at all. I will check into Rigzone, and increase my know how for brighter horizones. Thank you much.
Barbara Saunders  |  March 15, 2012
Sean and Wayne, Thanks for an idea for another story! I keep seeing comments similar to yours, about people who sincerely want in and can't get there so I'll check around. Meanwhile, good luck!
John Hoopingarner  |  March 15, 2012
Over the last 65 years PETEX has developed the very best selection of training products and services for "personnel new to the oil and gas industry" whether they are working in the field or in the office. Its "Primer of Oilwell Drilling" is the #1 best selling book in the oil and gas industry and is a "must read" for all personnel.
James Cooper  |  March 15, 2012
Very interesting. I roughnecked all the way through the 80s and returned to college...followed by pursuit of another career. At 54 years old it would be nice to combine the two experiences. It becomes a matter of convincing the companies there are many of us with 10 to 15 productive years to offer. There are many jobs we can perform that dont require pulling slips. If looking at the younger generation spells shortage, then look a little further up the experience chain.
Brady Joe Fretland  |  March 15, 2012
If the older generation in this oilfield is complaining about not being able to retain personnel, they may want to look in the mirror before they start looking elsewhere for reasons. I was in the oilfield for a grand total of three hours before I got put on a set of tongs during a bit trip. No one explained the first thing about the process to me, and if I didn't know the lingo or what we were trying to accomplish on that very first day, then I was considered stupid. I spent the next six months asking questions about processes, terminology, and safety, and was essentially told to go scrub something and quit wasting my drillers time. And then this prick of a driller, the toolpusher, and company man all had the stones enough to complain about the unreliability of the hands these days.
SEAN HAGGERTY  |  March 15, 2012
This sounds great, for me and others looking for a new career, but why is then so hard to land these entry-level jobs? I have been applying left and right without any success. I am willing to move my family in order to obtain steady employment (Australia included), willing to bust my butt in any of these jobs, so again I ask why is it so hard?? I want a career in the oil/gas industry, willing to start at the bottom and bust my butt and eventually move up the ladder. Ready to start tomorrow...
Wayne Morris  |  March 14, 2012
If there is such a shortage then why cant I even get a safety position or a floorhands job? I have 25 years in safety and 10 years as a toolpusher in the GOM and Peru, don't drink or smoke and can't get a return call from any company. WHERE ARE THE SHORTAGES?

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