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New Hires: Bridging the Gap Between Academics and Needs in the Oil Field

Posted on 31 October 2018

Chris Carpenter, JPT Technology Editor | 19 October 2018

Topics: HR/people management

A special session held at the 2018 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition featured a variety of panelists from across the oil and gas industry—as well as outside of it—in a discussion that emphasized the importance of training and learning beyond formal education. While the industry remains dependent upon professionals who acquire technical knowledge in a formal setting, oil and gas careers increasingly require flexibility and adaptability. This skill set is being addressed by new, more interactive training and competency programs that use outcome-based curricula to address the significant gap between academic preparation and needs in the field.

The session, titled “Training and Development Beyond Education,” was moderated by Saudi Aramco’s Sunil Kokal. Panelists included Salam Salamy of Aramco, Sonia Badilla of Schlumberger, Ford Brett of PetroSkills, Brad Donohue of IHRDC, and Nick Howe of Area9 Lyceum. The panelists offered the perspectives of national oil companies, service companies, skills providers, competency specialists, and learning experts based outside of the industry. Each panelist spoke briefly before a general question-and-answer period with the audience.

"With the Big Crew Change mostly completed, the timeframe needed for new hires to achieve competency has shortened from 7 to 10 years to 3 to ­5 years."

Salamy began by pointing out that so-called “corporate universities” have recently flourished as companies try to better orient young professionals entering the workforce from academia. With the Big Crew Change mostly completed, the timeframe needed for new hires to achieve competency has shortened from 7 to 10 years to 3 to ­5 years. This acceleration has meant a shift away from static, one-and-done training methods of the past to what Salamy termed “training by doing,” in which virtual and augmented reality techniques, as well as 3D visualization, are used to prepare professionals for a changing work environment.

In discussing the key difference between knowledge being “pushed” upon young professionals as opposed to teaching them to “pull” it toward them, Badilla drew upon her own experience as a cementing specialist. Her initial training, she said, consisted of reading a huge monograph without the benefit of field experiences. Now, with the scope of industry duties expanding for both young and established professionals, the goal is no longer to climb the corporate ladder but to acquire a flexible skill set that will allow a longer career, she said.

Brett of PetroSkills described the course of training in other fields such as medicine, where a mixture of formal learning, on-the-job observation, and supervised practice is the norm. He said that training programs must be designed with the “end in mind,” so that business needs align better with course materials. Like Badilla, Brett used his own experience as a young professional, when an outstanding academic course in casing design was of limited use 22 months later, when he was first required to put its lessons into practice—the type of gap that continuing training must strive to overcome.

Donohue discussed his company’s extensive work in establishing and maintaining the SPE Competency Management Tool, available to all SPE members as a resource to more effectively track and develop personal competency goals and achievements. Reflecting the main theme of ATCE’s opening session, Donohue discussed the importance of data management, and how effective analysis of data affects professional development as well as many other areas of the industry. Careers are getting longer, but the number of different “subcareers” for each employee is increasing as well, meaning that career competency now must be maintained in new, adaptive ways, he said.

Finally, Area9 Lyceum’s Howe described his company’s experiences in development, analysis, and implementation of training programs across industries. He discussed the components of metacognition, and how the learning process tends to work as humans gain and refine knowledge. Paradoxically, subject-matter experts can sometimes be “unconsciously incompetent,” as he termed it, unaware of their own weaknesses and knowledge gaps, further emphasizing the need for innovative, continual training. “Adults are believed to be self-directed learners who want to learn—but unfortunately, the real world is a bit more complex than that,” he said.