Combating The Global Skills Crisis

Hess To Form MLP For North Dakota Oil, Gas Transport Assets
Andrew Speers discusses why the oil and gas sector needs to target transferable skills with sideways recruitment, and where it should ago on the hunt.

This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
It does not necessarily reflect the views of Rigzone.

Much writers ink has been spilled on the severity of the skills shortage facing an otherwise resurgent global oil and gas sector. The figures are stark, and speak for themselves. The average age of oil and gas workers – at 56 – is astonishingly high relative to almost all other industries on the planet. Nearly half the industry workforce is now over 45. And the shortage is most severe where the industry can least afford it to be – highly skilled, technical roles out in the field, crucial to any project. Of the total pool of experienced engineers within the industry, over half will be eligible for retirement in the next five to ten years; a sobering statistic for anyone with an interest in the future of the industry (which, to be frank, is everyone).

This shortage – predominantly of mid-tier employees in the 35-50 age range, with around a decade’s worth of experience – is in part the price the industry is paying for the shutdown of recruitment and training programmes during the oil price slump in the 80s. Until now, companies have largely muddled through regardless, buoyed by a return in demand. But the demographic conveyer belt will come to an end sooner rather than later. What’s more, the industry will soon need a major influx of people if it is to cope with ballooning demand from emerging markets (not to mention the potential impact of shale gas extraction taking off outside of the US). It is estimated that the global oil and gas industry will need over 120,000 new workers to plug the gap over the next decade.

Fast-tracking younger employees and graduates through training schemes will play a big part in the solution. Making effective use of industry veterans in a mentoring capacity will also play a vital role at the other end of the spectrum. But given the scale and immediacy of the crisis, these solutions alone will not suffice. In order to adequately rise to the skills challenge, the industry needs to look sideways, and recruit candidates with the relevant transferable skills from other sectors.

So far, so simple – after all, sideways recruitment is an everyday fact of life in many other industries. However, the oil and gas sector has historically – and understandably – been reluctant to do so. This is an industry where multi-million pound projects reliant on multi-million pound pieces of very sensitive, technical equipment are routinely placed under the responsibility of a relatively small number of highly specialised employees. So the oil and gas industry has more incentive than most to want to ensure its workers are ‘proven assets’, with mountains of previous hands-on experience in that precise field.

Now the time is fast approaching – if it isn’t here already – when relying solely on candidates with direct experience simply isn’t an option. There are sectors out there that the oil and gas industry would do well to tap more thoroughly for talent. So where should companies be looking?

Where to Look for Talent

The main priority for oil and gas businesses when it comes to these skilled roles is usually practical experience as opposed to pure technical know-how. Firms want ‘field-tested’ candidates, who have used the equipment, run successful projects, and have encountered and overcome the thousands of pragmatic and logistical niggles, set-backs and malfunctions that can plague such projects. So the key for successful, cost-effective sideways recruitment is to find such ‘field tested’ candidates from sectors where the jump across in terms of retraining for a new environment or new equipment is minimal.


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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.

Evan Jones  |  September 12, 2014
This essay argues that the oil industry can get talent from other industries such as mining or the military. With the right kind of training, this has been shown as possible for many decades, Service companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger take bright young people and train them to be effective oilfield service hands. But the skills needed to run entire projects, such as to install facilities offshore, or to drill a modern extended reach well or to build a complicated offshore rig, needs a person with detailed knowledge of the product, which can only be acquired from decades at the coal face - an entire working life performing every job on the way up to being boss. The modern fast track method of university-to-project engineer-to-project manager doesnt work very well. The critical people on the whole project are those at the top, key managers who possess a "mental model" of not only the finished product but what the exact state of logistics and progress is supposed to be, at every single stage of the entire job. People with this skill can spot problems early and rectify them fast. We are talking about people who carry ten or hundreds of thousands of pieces of project information in their head. For example, a typical offshore central processing gas facility may involve the fabrication, installation and testing of 3,000 pipe spools. A top line piping guy wont be on the job all that long before he knows every spool personally, its dimensions, what material it is made of, what stage of fabrication or testing it is at now, what precautions have to be taken before it can be put into service, where it is physically located on the site at this moment, etc. It is unusual to see highly effective project leaders with less than 30 years of experience who have these abilities.
Bruce Terrill  |  September 11, 2014
Just back from Argentina where this problem is 2X. We provide consultants with specific skills and relevant experience to train and mentor technical and sales staff. Your best suited experts are too busy to do this and we have 20-40 year hands that want to give back , but prefer consulting.
Ralph  |  September 08, 2014
I am sick and tired of hearing the same message every month about how there are so many jobs but there are no experienced people to fill the jobs. There are operators in the US paying exorbitant salaries so they can snatch workers from other operators and would rather do that than train mid career service hands or new hires. They pay salaries in the mid 200s and cannot put together a training program to train the new hires. Train new hires just like every other industry does and stop pushing the skill shortage propaganda.
Bob Littlechild  |  September 06, 2014
I sometimes feel that comments from oil industry "experts" are far wide off the mark. There is a great deal of new recruits coming into the industry not only in UK but International as well. I personally think that there is an underlying message from the "experts" here - that the industry cannot get the people with the skills -so they will have to recruit from abroad using cheaper labour - thus driving down the terms & conditions of the already highly skilled personnel already employed in the market.
robert  |  September 05, 2014
Really! What a bunch of bull! The real problem is. Little men pushing their chest out and judging young recruited good men. They are not willing to teach cause children are the future and a threat to their retirement.which they never had a chance at working for island or the wood group wake up and run off the people who run good men off with pride and think its funny then you will have a productive oil field.

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