... Challenges for the Future - North American Energy Pipelines

Challenges for the Future

Training in the Oil, Gas and Chemical Industry

By Sarah Desborough and Jane Williams

Go into any local nursing home and you will most likely find there in the lounge four women sitting at a card table playing one of several games, possibly a game of bridge. Now everyone knows not to bother these ladies, because they take their game very seriously. As they play day after day, they form a social clique keeping most out of their social circle. Then one day, without notice, one of them goes missing. The game comes to a grinding halt until they can find the next replacement that meets their social requirements. In the meantime, the game has stopped. If these ladies had only planned ahead to find alternatives and developed future players, then their game would never come to a screeching halt.

How does this example relate to the business world of hiring and training? If you don’t plan and set a strategy to bring in new hires and train them on all the various nuances and inter-workings of your company the business flow could come to a stop. This may actually be happening before many companies realize it due to the current status of the workforce.

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Our society has been defined by the baby boomers, and the whole world is facing the same issues related to that generation. Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964 and total almost 79 million people or a little more than 26 percent of the U.S. population. Although the baby boomers have already started to turn 60, since 2006 the trend is only accelerating. The median year of baby boomer births was 1954, which means in 2014 a lot more of them will turn 60.

What does this mean to the corporate world workforce? Has your company even considered these facts? How will the oil, gas and chemical industries be affected? At this time the average age of employees with major oil companies and service companies is 59 to 62 years old. The average retirement age for the oil and gas industry is 59. Thus a large number of employees will be retiring in the very near future.

“As aging baby boomers begin retiring, the effects on the overall economy and on certain occupations and industries will be substantial, creating a need for younger workers to fill the vacated jobs, many of which require relatively high levels of skill.” Arlene Dohm, Economist, Office of Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics

It has become a numbers game. The various generations coming after the baby boomers do not have the same power in numbers. Fortunately for the oil and gas industry, there has been a renewed interest at the university level to study in the engineering field as a profession, with degrees that would be appropriate for the oil and gas industry. This is a positive direction, but the numbers of individuals interested in this profession are not like they once were.

If the numbers of new hires looking for employment in the oil and gas industry are smaller today, how is your company going to compete for the best of the best in the field? Taking into consideration the new shale plays, there is development of new sources of oil and gas in various areas of the United States never known for having these resources. Finding local experienced employees creates a new employment challenge in many remote areas of the country. In most cases, a company must hire and train a younger person with limited exposure to the oil and gas industry. A new employment problem arises, as most of the new hires to support this new production come very inexperienced and require immediate training to give them the knowledge to make these new operations successful.

Are the oil and gas companies thinking of the future brainpower and expertise loss and how it will affect their future corporate infrastructure? Remember a company is made up of people not computers and machinery. Many of the hands-on, hard-earned field experiences that took years to acquire may get lost in the transition of the outgoing to the incoming staff. Studies have stated that it can take up to 10 years for a new hire to become a fully qualified operator in the oil and gas field. Has the industry taken into consideration the time gap of stop and start functioning again into consideration? Will your greatest assets be retiring before they have time to mentor the new hires and show them the proper knowledge to continue the business? With technology changes and new business opportunities, are your near term retirees even qualified to train the new hires today?

Filling the Experience Gap

There is an old saying “bad data in causes bad data out.” If your current staff has not had the proper professional training, then what they have been doing all these years may be wrong in the first place and can you risk these bad habits to be passed along? The current message of how to do the job may overshadow why you do it.

Answering the question “why?” and gaining a full understanding of a project’s outcome may hold the key to what affects a company’s financial bottom line.

All of these are very challenging questions and issues that every company needs to begin to ask to continue being an ongoing viable entity.

How can this knowledge and experience gap be filled with so much to know in so little time? One solution that allows companies to overcome this hurdle is to develop training programs to help their employees stay at the top of their game. It is important that all companies devise a plan and program to train their employees but that does not mean they must develop such programs on their own. Many larger companies may have excess resources but the time, expertise required and effort may not be a wise use of time and talent. It is a fact that many people are very qualified at doing their jobs but when it comes to effective teaching and/or training, they fall short.

Fortunately, in the oil and gas industry, there are several training firms offering services as a valuable resource to help with internal training development, hosting a course on site, online training and holding courses at qualified training facilities.

These training firms can become a valuable and cost-effective outsource solution. For those who need to outsource, aligning with the right training provider is a very important decision to make. Using the right parameters to evaluate the right training provider should become the starting point.

What are the right parameters and how does one evaluate to compare apples to apples? When reviewing and assessing the various training courses that are currently offered, there are several suggested factors that need to be evaluated before putting your dollars on the table:

  1. What long-term strategy is in place within the organization and what qualifications are required by the staff to implement the strategy?
  2. Discerning the required qualifications needed, what staff within the organization will have involvement, influence and decision making capabilities that may affect the new strategy?

As mentioned earlier, the labor force is shifting and there is a rising need to hire a fresh, younger workforce. These individuals will need to be trained not only on corporate standards and safety issues, but also on the nuances and intricacies of the oil and gas field techniques. There is a need for expanded knowledge not just in the field but also back in the office where the accountants and management teams evaluate the various processes and numbers. This group needs to know if the field is doing the job and reporting data correctly. So who needs to be trained? Everyone needs to be trained so the accuracy rate is improved which in turn improves the financial bottom line.

Once the recognition of the qualifications and staff that need to be trained has been assessed, it now comes down to selecting the right training programs/courses and training firm to meet the corporate goals. Comparing the myriad of industry training programs with so many potential players in the field today can become a daunting task.
Here are some suggested factors to consider when making the selection:

  1. Look at the level of expertise both technical and operational of the trainer and their background of knowledge.
  2. Check on the training company’s involvement and its support to industry associations and level of their commitment to these associations.
  3. Review the potential training company on how they lead in the industry to build a better marketplace for the overall oil and gas industry.
  4. Analyze how flexible the training programs are, and can they offer custom tailored programs to your needs.
  5. What do their customers say about them and the references, how do they compare to others in the field?

Specialized training today has become ever more important as an investment in one’s corporate workforce. It is a fact that well trained employees feel more valued because their employer has made an investment in their future. So it is not just about hiring, it’s also about retaining employees for the long term. Again many companies find the employees know how to do their work but never fully understand the reason they do it that way and how it affects the corporate financial bottom-line. Sometimes this lack of knowledge can cause a very costly mistakes or financial corrections.

Choosing the Right Program

How do you evaluate one training program and company over another? Is it by price, quality, value or a combination of all three? The key is to put value and quality to the right price point so you know you are getting the right product for the right price.

There are several key players in the field of oil and gas training with some being more highly qualified than others. When one does the necessary proper research this field narrows to just a few that have all the key factors to help you make your decision with confidence and not just a dollar price tag. It is extremely important that the trainer can convey their complex knowledge in an understandable way. How many of us have put money on the table and not received the value’s worth long term? What is better, saving a few dollars or gaining great knowledge and expertise for long-term gain?

That leads to the issue of the return on investment (ROI) question. How does one put into place a measuring tool or process to evaluate the lessons learned and applied toward the company’s investment? Every company is going to have to build its own metrics but to help with the basics here are a few suggestions to use in setting your company’s evaluation:

  1. The use of a testing process at end of the course.
  2. Ask for the testing results and what other tools are suggested by the trainer to help the individuals gain the full knowledge.
  3. Create an exercise using some of the key skills learned in the course and apply back into the field to see if the individual was able to retain the information learned and apply the newly learned material.
  4. Consider the value of follow-up testing within a six-month period after the initial training.
  5. Monitor the individuals during a select period after the training program to evaluate the retention of knowledge.

All of these are viable ways to capture the ROI on the training and learning process. When you select an outside resource to assist with a training program one should also ask if they can help with the follow up and long term evaluation process to monitor success.

So yes, there are many training programs and firms available. The question to be asked is, do you know how to select the right firm for your company’s teams development and future? Remember don’t let just a low price tag make a very important corporate decision. It is all about value and quality at the right price and for long-term gains. Like the four ladies sitting around the game table, have you prepared for the future to keep the game going? Selecting the right training provider can be a game changer.

Sarah Desborough is a marketing consultant and Jane Williams, P.E., is a partner at Energy Training Solutions, based in Kingwood, Texas.

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