Drilling industry’s top challenge: personnel needs

Feb. 26, 2007
The most critical challenge facing the oil and natural gas drilling industry is filling an urgent need for skilled technical personnel.

The most critical challenge facing the oil and natural gas drilling industry is filling an urgent need for skilled technical personnel.

Claus Chur, 2006 chairman for the International Association of Drilling Contractors, points out that last year the onshore and offshore rig fleet grew by about 350 units. To operate these rigs, about 20,000 new employees, from roustabout to toolpusher, had to be recruited and trained.

Chur, also director, Europe, Middle East, and Russia for KCA Deutag, Aberdeen, expects similar growth in 2007.

Missing generation

“Due to the cyclical nature of our industry, we have lost an entire generation of personnel through attrition starting in the 1980s,” notes David Barr, group president, drilling and evaluation, for Baker Hughes Inc., Houston. “Baker Hughes has recognized this challenge and has tripled its investment in recruitment and training resources, as well as the diversification of our workforce, and has seen the benefit of those efforts in the corresponding increase in trained new employees.”

To recruit top-notch candidates and train them, Barr says that Baker Hughes has implemented global recruitment and development strategies.

“An example of our commitment to training and diversifying our employee base is the new Baker Hughes campus in Dubai, scheduled for completion in 2008. This training center will augment the Baker Hughes Education Center in Houston and training facilities in Aberdeen.”

The Dubai Training Center will have capacity to serve as many as 300 employees at a time, or as many as 40,000 employees per year, Barr adds.

“I used to think my job was running equipment, but it’s running people,” acknowledges Keith Mitchell, vice-president, Northstar Drillstem Testers Inc., Calgary. “We are a service business, and the increased shortage in labor puts pressure on training. This makes HR a key priority to our success and the success of our industry. If we are not able to take training and HR and overall education to another level, then our industry will have trouble.”

Online initiatives

Several companies report a heavy reliance on online resources to recruit and train personnel.

Charles Jones, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for Hydril Co. LP, Houston, notes, “We are looking outside the industry and in some cases outside the US to fill job functions that we might normally have seen as located in the states. Electronic information exchange is allowing us to leverage this opportunity.”

Baker Hughes has also expanded its online educational resources through a global learning and development initiative. Components of this initiative include an enterprise learning management system for easy access to thousands of courses on both technical and business management, and flexible learning approaches through computer and internet-based courseware.

“To shorten the learning curve, we have implemented a Field Service Desk (FSD) network to help new employees reach the desired performance level quickly,” Barr says. “Our FSDs are staffed by seasoned technical representatives dedicated to improving the performance of our field workforce. In each region, FSDs define their scope differently depending on local requirements and business practices, but overall, they coordinate through the network and share best practices, standard processes and tools. This knowledge is then communicated to our employees as required to provide just-in-time technical support to expand the impact of our representatives and to accelerate the application of what we learn.”:

KCA Deutag invests in a number of initiatives to train new personnel and to accelerate and assure competence, says Chur: “Training programs include our ‘Safe-2-Lead’ courses, with the intention of developing a standard approach to safety behavior throughout the company and the introduction of several new DART drilling simulators allowing ‘hands-on’ training to be undertaken in a safe, cost-effective, and realistic environment.”