News Back

30 Dec 2011

Oil and Gas Industry Faces Critical Shortage of Skilled Workers

Source : Well Serving Magzine

On the first day of autumn, oil jumped $25 a barrel to $130 on the New York Mercantile Exchange before falling back to $120.92. The cause? Jitters over the government’s $700 billion bank bailout plan. It’s the biggest one-day price jump ever, reported the Associated Press.

Despite the volatility of the market and other unpredictable events such as Hurricane Ike’s recent hit on the Gulf Coast, an August unemployment rate of 6.1 percent and other like factors, jobs in the energy sector continue to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, it was one of just two sectors that actually grew during this period. While most sectors declined, health care and mining were two areas that added jobs in August. Employment in mining increased by 12,000 in August, with gains occurring in all the component industries, reported the BLS. Over the past 12 months, job growth was especially strong in support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction (17,000). Is this a fluke or is the oil and gas industry just having a good year? Not according to Rick Zamarripa, Texas operations manager for the Petroleum Education Council (PEC), a Louisiana-based training and consultant company. “The energy industry (oil and gas included) is here to stay,” says Zamarripa. “They’re desperate for workers. They’re not at all worried about a bust.” But there is a wrinkle or two in the midst of all this growth — workers to fi ll positions and the technological changes that require employees to have stronger skills. “Things have changed,” notes Zamarripa. “New derricks are often run by robotics, and there’s a kid in a trailer that’s running things by computers.” He recalls that 25 years ago, the energy and petroleum industry couldn’t explore the places they now can reach or have the capabilities they now possess, such as horizontal drilling. Some in the industry have foreseen the worker shortage problems and already have begun to address them. Texas, in particular, pays close attention to the energy industry since the oil and gas industry contributes about $63 billion annually to the state’s economy. In fact, Texas is the No. 1 producer of oil and gas, refined products and chemicals in the U.S., and its production of natural gas represents one-third of the total U.S. supply, according to the state’s 2008 marketing plan. Because of this, the state watches the industry closely. In anticipating some of the problems the energy industry faces, Texas published a 2005 Texas Energy Cluster Assessment, interviewing key stakeholders such as government, academia and industry to gain insights into Texas’ strengths and weaknesses. According to the report, “The greatest factor that will limit job creation and capital investment in the Texas energy industry of the future … is manpower and the availability of adequate skills at all levels of the industry.” The report concludes that the current group of technical professionals in the industry is approaching retirement age, and there is an inadequate “pipeline” of replacement professionals. “Assuming a reasonable learning curve, it may take three to five years for these ‘knowledge workers’ to be fully prepared to make significant contributions to the company’s efforts,” the report states. Improving the energy-related skill set through education and updating worker skills by offering customized training programs is listed among the actions to be taken by the industry. Of course, Texas isn’t alone in its assessment. The common problem repeated in report after report, and story after story, is the lack of qualified workers and inadequate training skills. CNN, the New York Times, Well Servicing Business Insurance, Onshore Drilling, Drill Bits and many others have been writing about this problem for some time. It’s not just a problem for Texans. And it’s not just a shortage that’s a problem either. Perception among young people and their view of the oil and gas industry is one of the main reasons for the shortage. It seems as though the younger generation perceive jobs in the industry as dirty and hard work and that doesn’t jibe with the current generation that tends to move from job to job in search of ever-greater excitement and higher pay. The irony is they can find all of that in this line of work. Somehow, we’ve got to change their perception and show them these jobs are increasingly high-tech that pay very well. Zamarripa agrees, adding that younger career searchers are “not too concerned with long-term benefits. They’re more instant gratification,” he adds. But PEC and TSTC are working together to change that perception. Using Skills Development Funds offered by the Texas Workforce Solutions, these two entities have formed a partnership to recruit and train workers. After conducting a thorough industry-wide survey to gather input for the curriculum, PEC and TSTC have developed a highly customized training program that will address skill gaps and create a bank of qualified workers to fulfill the needs of the industry. “TSTC will be the first to integrate training out in the field for both land-based and offshore companies in partnership with the PEC,” says Zamarripa. Training can be conducted on location or at the college. Students have five areas critical to the petroleum industry that they can study and earn certificates for: drilling operations manager, drilling rig technician, drilling instrumentation tech, well service technician and certified safety officer. The program, set to launch in spring 2009, is designed for personnel who work in active oil and gas fields, refineries or chemical processing facilities. This career track will also enhance anyone who wants to hone their skills to advance to higher positions within their company. And, addressing the nature of the younger worker, it features extensive hands-on work that quickly grabs the interest of young people who have a restless nature. Designed with the input of the industry-wide survey, a sampling of courses include Process Troubleshooting, Piping Standards & Materials, Pumps & Compressors, Digital Measurement Control, Application of Industrial Automatic Controls, Flow Measurement & Calibration, Hydraulics & Pneumatics, OSHA Regulations and Safety, Health and Environment. We can bring the program to you, if you desire. Workers can be trained right on your own equipment. “It’s a very thorough curriculum given all the changes in the industry,” says Zamarripa. “Charlie Carr, president of PEC, spent 40 years in the industry listening to what was needed.” Is the program a panacea for the industry? Not entirely. But it’s a strong step toward addressing some of the major problems the industry faces. And with the gaps the industry is now facing, it’s just the step many in the industry should be taking.

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