Solutions for the Skills Gap in Oil & Gas

For at least ten years we have heard about the “skills gap” epidemic across most American industries. The problem stretches beyond America’s shores — this is an international issue as evidenced by similar concerns overseas. The “skills gap” can be defined as a shortage of qualified workers. If your company is under pressure to find and retain quality workers then you know this is more than perception.

In today’s dynamic world of work, with daily advances in technology, Boomers moving toward retirement, and new generations entering the workplace it is an understatement to say we are in new territory. You do not have to Google long to read about “old-school hiring practices”, a “staffing crisis”, or “unprecedented labor shortages”. You are maybe sick of hearing about the demographic nightmare we are facing.

As America’s economy ramps up are you finding the new hires to pass your tech skills entry exam? What steps is your company taking to mitigate the loss of experience as your older workers age-out?

The Rand Corporation Study

In 2017, Rand Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research firm, together with the National Science Foundation, published a 107 page report, Developing a Skilled Workforce for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry — An Analysis of Employers and Colleges in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Although the study pertains to employers and educators in the Tri-state oil and gas region located in and around the Utica and Marcellus shales, its conclusions are more universal. One of their recommendations is that, “Colleges need to adjust programming so that it fits better with the agile, flexible, and nonlinear nature of workforce development.”

The world of work is changing — and quickly. The nature of employment in America today is that workers will likely have dynamic and versatile careers, working for multiple employers interspersed with periods of unemployment, job searching, training, and re-training. With the nature of work continually changing, it is important that training keep up and remain relevant through constant updating and revision. However, many companies do not have their own training departments; training development work has to be outsourced. The training development organization will have the ability to create, manage, and deliver the training. However, the technical subject matter expertise will likely remain within the company itself — with its own employees. Companies with the need for the training have the expertise but need an educational organization to manage the training development and delivery for them. The way to overcome this obstacle is to utilize the company’s own subject matter experts (SME’s) in the training. Without providing a workable plan to pass the torch from generation to generation many companies will suffer a tremendous loss of technical knowledge and abilities — not to mention, loss of business. Educational organizations involved with skills gap learning can develop and deliver high quality technical training as they guide a company through the process of utilizing their own SMEs. An educational organization can capture and retain much of a company’s “tribal knowledge” before it walks out the door and “retires” with the employees.

When is training needed? The answer is, “at the exact moment the need arises”. The better question is this, “When the need does arise, is the sought after training available and accessible”? Especially in oil and gas, training should be available when and where the learner (your employee) needs it. Do companies have their training digitized and is it available to their employees online 24/7? Is it accessible via smart phone, tablet or PC? At a typical gas compression site the many pieces of equipment and procedures all need attention and/or maintenance. Some companies will find it cost effective to develop an on-demand (online) training library for ready access to training. They may even employ some people experienced with certain aspects of training but may need to work with an educational organization to ensure everything is in an effective and efficient training format online.

As shortages of skilled workers remain, companies must implement the right mix of training solutions to attract and retain the talent they need.​ Although two and four year degree oil and gas training programs are available, one college professor was recently quoted: “People were getting decent jobs without much training, so they did not see the need to take formal courses.” When put into the context of today’s ever-changing world of work, it is evident that some entry level workers will opt for short term bootcamp-type training rather than a longer-term commitment. My experience has been that training achieves its highest approval ratings when put into the context of the real world (“contextual-learning”). While students will often request training that is “more hands-on” it is also necessary to provide them a solid foundation of the way things work. After all, if a technician does not how something is supposed to work when it is not broken he/she may not be successful in recognizing if and when a problem has been corrected.

Don’t Go It Alone; Consider Bootcamp Partnerships

So, how can bootcamps put the real-world worksite into context? Incorporating work-based learning into a structured training program not only provides students with much sought-after hands-on experiences, but it also exposes them to a variety of jobs to help them make sound, experience-based decisions regarding career choice(s). We train not only workers with many years of experience but also those just entering the workforce or desiring to use their cross functional skills in the oil and gas space. Here is one example of what a bootcamp might look like.

The Rand study recommended in addition to traditional education, that companies include “…other stakeholders, such as workforce investment boards and industry trade associations, in strategies for workforce development and planning.” The skills gap epidemic in America will not improve unless employers, educators, and organizations (state, local, public, private) cooperate. Employers should be cautioned about falsely placing hope in higher education and workforce development systems to “solve” these issues with minimal corporate responsibility or involvement. The skills gap affects organizations small and large. Some colleges have recently put their oil field and natural gas training programs on hiatus, which may partially be a result of a lack of industry support. At press time, GE is completing the sale of its Jenbacher and Waukesha gas engine businesses and moving the Waukesha manufacturing facility out of the U.S. Other companies are showing us what cooperation looks like. Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, Fluor and others have taken bold steps to put a dent in the skills gap epidemic by cooperating with educators to strengthen STEM curricula, recruit military vets, and even offer tuition-free pre-employment training. The Gas Compressor Association (GCA) and other groups also support oil and gas training efforts.

Solutions

A skilled, knowledgeable workforce can be maintained with good planning. A solid training plan should be part of a company’s overall talent retention solution. Training can transform workers with outmoded skills into more productive workers. Research shows that the most engaged and trained employees are less likely to jump ship. By all means, we should also keep our knowledgeable employees as long as possible. Rather than letting an aging workforce carry a significant amount of technology, expertise and knowledge out the door, why not preserve that “tribal knowledge”? Then, make it available online to other company employees via a Learning Management System (LMS).

SnackLearning is a U.S. based education and training organization dedicated to help solve the gas engine technical skills gap. They deliver customized, instructor led, online, and on-demand training — where and when needed. They have a significant background with Waukesha products, but their gas engine course will benefit anyone involved with the operation and maintenance of industrial gaseous-fueled engines. Visit SnackLearning.tech to learn more.

Founder/CEO at SnackLearning | Skills Gap Learning Solutions for Manufacturing and Oil and Gas | SnackLearning.tech