Bridging the Production and Skillset Divide

There have been some positive reports of late on the quest for the Unites States to become more energy independent. A recent story by Dow Jones, citing a new report from government energy officials, states that U.S. crude oil production is projected to reach 7.5 million barrels a day by 2020, an increase of more than 30 percent from 2011 numbers. According to the Wall Street Journal, a boom in domestic energy output in the coming years will also significantly cut U.S. reliance on crude oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The International Energy Agency is also on record stating that the U.S. could overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020.

While these reports illustrate excellent progress on one front, they also highlight an ongoing struggle that many oil companies – especially those within the Gulf of Mexico – are grappling with: a shortage of skilled labor and qualified engineers. As discussed in previous posts, the oil and gas industry is currently facing thousands of pending retirements among its aging geoscientists, petroleum engineers and oil field workers hired before the 1980s oil bust and recruitment freeze. So while production is on the rise, there is now a two-fold challenge:  a race to hire for the predicted industry growth, while also replacing the current workforce and retaining the institutional knowledge developed over decades of experience and through trial and error.

To accomplish this, companies are turning to training and technology to bridge the knowledge gap between what is needed to meet production levels and what assets are available in terms of skilled workers and engineers. The high rate of retirements and increased demand for labor has required corporations to revisit their models for recruitment and training to better assimilate new workers to the field – fast. Because learning on the job is not a realistic or safe alternative for these types of high-consequence environments, the pressure to make changes in training practices is escalating with every additional retirement.

Technology is playing an essential role in expediting training to the field. Because most oil rich resources exist in remote locations, bringing the workers to the training is neither practical nor cost effective; it is critical that companies possess the ability to bring the training to the workers. In rapidly changing environments with greater demands and fewer resources, finding more efficient ways to deliver training — such as web-based and on-demand training methods — can be the game changer companies need. Bringing the learning delivery system to the learner makes it possible to accelerate proficiency and make the training more effective.

As Sir Isaac Newton once famously said, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” So while we are experiencing nearly unprecedented growth in oil production and a decline in institutional knowledge, the reaction of the oil industry has been to turn to training and new technology to meet demand and offset potential losses.