Skip to comments.The Great Crew Change: 'Honey, How Are We Going to Train All These Kids?'
Posted on 10/10/2011 8:18:27 AM PDT by thackney
The petroleum industry is amid a tremendous wave of hiring that's occurring in response to the gradual retirement of the so-called "baby boom" generation, which was spawned in the wake of World War II.
Much of the hiring focuses on the very youngboth blue collar labor and newly minted petroleum geoscience and engineering grads. Another important trend is on the re-training of mid-career professionals into more labor-tight technical and management positions.
The American Petroleum Institute says that it has no statistics on how much hiring is directed toward the young and middle-aged, but other statistics are compelling on how badly replacements are needed for aging "baby boomers."
For instance, by 2012, the peak (mode) age of petroleum engineers and geoscientists will be 60, versus only 45 in 2000, according to Pete Stark, VP of Industry Relations at IHS, a company focusing on energy, economics and geopolitical risk.
In a survey of technical oil company professionals age 55 and over by the recruiting firm Working Smart, the average intended retirement age was found to be 65, with only 23 percent seeking to work beyond retirement age.
Meanwhile, within a few years, the majority of new technical professionals in the oil and gas industry will have less than five years of experience, increasing the chances of serious, costly mistakes and accidents, according to J. Ford Brett, managing director of PetroSkills, a petroleum training company.
Training Intensifies Such alarming trends have the industry focused on training programs while skilled, experienced people are still available. One much-discussed resource is the mentoring of younger people by older ones, including already-retired workers who either come back to the industry voluntarily to train or sometimes, are recruited back specifically as mentors.
One example of a formal mentoring program is ConocoPhillips' Legends effort.
"The program brings back senior project managers from retirement to train younger hires," explained Carsten Alsguth, a professional engineer with ConocoPhillips.
Mentoring also is available through professional organizations, such as the Society for Petroleum Engineers (SPE). For instance, SPE has an online mentoring program, www.spe.org/ementoring. In addition, the group's Gulf Coast Section is considering a new program to match up the Legion of Honor (SPE members for 50+ years) with young professionals in a mentoring program that would swap hard-earned field experience for help from younger members with high-tech products.
Such mentoring programs are no doubt on the rise, although measurement of how much they've increased is difficult. Still, a survey by SPE's Young Professional group, which appeared in a 2006 group magazine called The Way Ahead, found that mentoring was a "common practice" among only 37 percent of survey respondents at the largest companies profiled (more than 3,000 employees), and was not practiced at all by 46 percent of mid-sized companies and 44 percent of small companies in the survey. While the survey is indeed dated now, it shows how badly mentoring needed to grow just within the past five years.
A separate briefing paper on the great crew change by Rigzone, found (among other things) that in addition to mentoring, some companies are stepping up the intensity and duration of in-house training while experienced professionals are still available to train newcomers. One such program is Chevron's Horizons initiative, a formal five-year training program available to recent graduates that provides a curriculum of technical courses and practical experience opportunities led by skilled and experienced professionals as trainers.
Offsite training programs are also experiencing growth. For instance: Boston-based International Human Resources Development Corporation (IHRDC) added several new courses for 2011; PetroSkills' new training center in Katy, TX, is burgeoning with students and SPE has increased the number of short courses offered from roughly two dozen to more than 80.
Some companies, such as ExxonMobil, also are hiring people not for existing jobs, but to be trained for anticipated future openings. One example is Andrew Wolke, 23, a construction engineering technician hired and being trained as a rig supervisor.
When asked if he was concerned about becoming a victim of layoffs in a future downturn of the highly cyclical petroleum industry, Wolke replied confidently, "Absolutely not. I'm not worried at all."
When asked why, Wolke explained, "I'm not even sure they need me now except to be trained while experienced trainers are still available. They need people my age so badly, it's not even funny." (For full story see www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=108639.) Yet indications are that actual on-rig experience of newer hires is limited.
"Something ironic that I see is a number of my students who are being trained as rig supervisors, but have never been on a rig yet," said Dr. Leon Robinson, 84, himself a retired ExxonMobil physicist and renowned drilling expert, now a trainer with Petroskills.
Indeed, adds Petroskills' managing director, Brett.
"The aptitude, you can hire. The knowledge and skills, you have to develop. Solving the problem will require deliberate programs to develop younger talent," Brett said.
Americans graduating from a typical American HS may not be trainable for demanding technical jobs. Some can handle it, no doubt. Some 18-year-olds are bright and ambitious and will go to college to learn real things. But the rest? I think a job at Starbucks may be all they can handle (after they get an advanced degree in Poli Sci).
"important" = "import".
I imagine you don't work in the oil industry or you might not imagine that.
Americans graduating from a typical American HS may not be trainable for demanding technical jobs. Some can handle it, no doubt. Some 18-year-olds are bright and ambitious and will go to college to learn real things.
The rig supervisors of tomorrow are out here not long after High School, learning everything they can, and making $60,000 or better a year doing it. They are go-getters, they will apply themselves to learn what they need to know, often hands-on, and some are vets who can readily handle less than perfect living/working conditions and work long and odd hours and still think on their feet. Those are things no college offers a course in.
It will be interesting to see how many guys will graduate from the rigs to the refining and marketing side of the biz.
I always enjoy and appreciate your posts...thanks
Still working at 84, bless this guy.
I plan to still be at it (in ERP applications) then if capable.
Energy production is a bright spot for our nation.
Somebody needs to teach this guy how to fish.
Shame on me, my focus is on the upstream end. (After all, I'm on a drilling location now.)
Chemical engineers and such are needed more there than here, but degreed people count in both places.
Still, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of getting oil out of the ground, some of the most capable people I have met did not have a college degree, just a lot of OJT and independent study.
The entire upstream industry is moving towards offering more training on an ongoing basis at almost every technical position, partly because of continuing safety programs, partly to keep abreast of technical developments, and partly to tap into the experience of the older hands before they retire.
H1Bs are okay for some applications and some are truly brilliant people--especially some researchers I have met, but on a drill site, if you can't communicate clearly and concisely in English everyone can understand, you are a potential safety hazard.
One thing about the industry, it is diverse enough, jobwise, that there is a place for most anyone willing to apply themselves.
Well what do you prefer, a washover pipe, grapple, magnets, or a spear? (8^D)
If Obama gets his way both blue collar labor and engineering grads will end up installing and repairing solar sells.
It took me a minute, but I laughed when I caught up.
My first energy job (after leaving the reporting field) was in coal, which is all about heating values, costs per MM/BTUs, and a dozen other specific qualities. The was excellent training for understanding residual oils and bunkers which was most of what I did (and still do to some extent.)
I think cold calling on news makers prepared me pretty well for cold calling on sales contacts. I got a leg up when I was invited to join the family coal business. I made my own luck from then on and it paid off.