Shortage Seen for Offshore Worker Safety Training for Gulf of Mexico

Demand for high quality offshore water survival training and offshore/onshore major emergency management training in the Gulf of Mexico region is already outpacing supply, an official with Raytheon Professional Services told Rigzone in a recent interview.
And the situation will only become more severe given the impending retirement cliff and projected industry growth.

Tracy Cox, director of performance consulting with Raytheon, expects demand for offshore worker training to continue increasing, given the fact that recent studies forecast U.S. oil production to continue growing and a movement towards making the United States less dependent on foreign oil sources.

Raytheon partnered with Petrofac in November 2011 to provide water survival training to the oil and gas industry. Training is conducted at NASA's Johnson Space Center underwater facility in Houston. Both water survival training and NASA-related activities are conducted at the Netrual Buoyancy Lab concurrently.

In the past, Gulf of Mexico operators tended to drive their own standards for safety training. These companies would then ask training providers to tailor programs to meet those standards. As a result of the Macondo incident and regulations resulting from Macondo, "we're going to see more adoption of global common standards that will navigate work in the Gulf," Cox told Rigzone.

The ever-changing dynamic of regulations and safety requirements will place a premium on the industry's ability to increase training capacity and meet regulatory requirements. To date, the oil and gas industry has been primarily dominated by the instructor-led paradigm.

"We still take the learner to the learning," Cox commented.

To stay productive, the oil and gas industry needs to change the paradigm, given the changes in the industry and the acceleration of the changes.

The blended learning approach is necessary to bring a large number of workers new to the industry up to speed. Due to the retiring of many baby boomers and an influx of Millennials into the workforce, the industry must reach deeper into the workforce and recruit workers with no energy industry experience.

"You have to have an onboarding process to get workers up to snuff quickly," said Cox. "Before, the industry could rely on hiring people with oil and gas experience from other companies."

However, this is no longer the case. Besides growing demand for safety training that meets new standards, the industry faces the challenge in transferring knowledge to younger workers coming into the industry as large numbers of older workers retire. This issue is a "perfect storm" for the oil and gas industry. It's a challenge in itself for a company in growth mode and bringing in new workers, but the loss of tacit knowledge as one generation retires and a new generation comes in makes the situation worse.

"Given the lack of formal knowledge management architectures, including mentoring, coaching, apprenticeships, repositories, vehicles, the retiring workers are taking a lot of tacit knowledge with them," Cox said. "This amplifies the need for a more robust learning solution architecture that will create common and transferable learning nuggets that can be house and moved in a robust Learning Management System. Involving the true Subject Matter Experts in the learning design phase helps make what was tacit knowledge, explicit."

Generally, the baby boomers and Generation X members running the companies and the Millenials just entering the workforce have two entirely different mentalities, including preferred training options. Baby boomers and Gen Xers primarily want an instructor-led class and hands on training. Millennials want training on the Wii Nintendo or X Box, Cox said.

However, the immersive video games that have been created to cater to this demographic are not making workers more proficient at their jobs, but confusing them. For this reason, Raytheon uses a blended approach to learning, with classroom, hands-on and gaming. But gaming can be useful for situations where trainees must learn to deal with major emergency management situations in which they have to make decisions and solve problems.

Raytheon has provided this type of learning for global clients, but is mainly focused right now on its offshore water survival training services. Cox also anticipates a global adoption of standards regulating offshore water survival. For this type of training, offshore platform groups are put in a live simulator and go through emergency scenarios as a team.

Through the Hi-Con partnership, the company also provides multi-level emergency response training, not just for workers at the scene of an incident, but for mid-management and upper-level management. For example, upper-level executives can be trained on how to response to the media in the time of an offshore incident, such as a helicopter crashing into a platform.

They can also be trained on responding to mid-level management, who may call during an incident needing an emergency budget approved. The shore team responding to an incident can also be trained on responding to calls from the company's public
relations officer seeking updates on an incident, Cox said.

"These are highly tailored and specific to a client, so [the training] would be designed with the client based on their needs," Cox said.

Besides safety performance, the oil and gas industry must deal with meeting Wall Street's expectations in terms of financial performance as well as more scrutiny from government, the public and stakeholders on safety and performance following Macondo, Cox said.

"The industry knows it has to be so careful now in terms of the perception of being good stewards of resources and embodying a culture of safety and awareness. They have to step up and demonstrate their ability in the areas of safety, quality and reliability to prove to a skeptical crowd they can be safe and responsible."

Raytheon's Hi-Con partnership with Petrofac is Raytheon's first foray into a partnership for training in the oil and gas industry.

Raytheon, which has trained air traffic controllers, astronauts and the U.S. military members, has a similar business culture to NASA, in which failure is not an option and safety training is imperative. Raytheon has worked with NASA for over 40 years; Raytheon also has managed the Neutral Buoyancy Lab for the past 10 years.

In 2010, NASA tasked Raytheon to leverage the unused capacity at the lab following the expiration of the shuttle program and completion of the space station. Raytheon targeted the oil and gas industry and the partnership with Petrofac Training was formed to develop Hi-Con Training at NASA.

"We looked at a lot of industries and saw [the Hi-Con] partnership as an opportunity to bring a business that matched NASA's culture," said Cox. "We're glad to have the Hi-Con partnership with such a well-branded and well-regarded company."

"We're trying to help NASA create commercial opportunities," said Cox, noting that bringing oil and gas offshore training into the Neutral Buoyancy Lab is a way to protect those assets.


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