From Spanners to Neutron Spectroscopy:
 Changing Technology and the Need For Training

by Josh Haberer, National Oilwell Varco

It used to be, all the “average Joe” needed to work on his car or truck was a good set of tools, elbow grease, and a shady tree. Up until the 1980s, automobiles were relatively straightforward machines, with rugged mechanical design and simple wiring arrangements. They were much easier to work on than today’s models, and it was very common for car owners to tinker with their own vehicles. As a rule these “shade-tree mechanics” were self-taught, with most of them gaining their know-how underneath the hood of their own car.

'From Spanners to Neutron Spectroscopy' photo The advantages of hands-on learning are intuitively obvious: by encountering tasks and solving real problems in the field, the learner internalizes the “lessons” and retains them, developing critical thinking skills that he or she is able to transfer to other situations. This has always been an effective training method, and for many years it was the norm in the oilfield. On-the-job training certainly still has its place; however, due to the complexity of today’s critical drilling components, on-the-job training alone is no longer sufficient.

For decades, like cars, most equipment in the petroleum industry was fairly uncomplicated. But advances in technology over the last three decades have transformed rig equipment from basic, stand-alone mechanical devices into sophisticated systems that integrate mechanical, electrical, and computer technology. These advancements are unquestionably beneficial: they allow modern rigs to drill deeper and with much greater precision, operating more safely and reliably, even in harsher environments, with increased productive drilling time. Yet they are vastly complex to operate, maintain, and repair. And just as the industry must adapt to this leap in complexity, a generational departure of experienced rig operating and service personnel is underway. This threatens to create a precarious gap in vital skills.

Adapt and Advance
As drilling technology advances, the oil and gas industry finds itself scrambling to equip the new wave of personnel with critical and ever-evolving skills. While the customary on-the-job training (OJT) can teach skills effectively, one of its drawbacks is that it might take an unacceptably long time for an individual worker to experience the full variety of problem-solving situations in the field.

New training programs are appearing in the oil industry. Many of them incorporate research that shows that the best educational approach is to combine multiple training methods. In some cases, the oilfield training programs model their delivery methods after proven success stories from other industries such as aviation. In that industry, the modern curriculum offers a mix of classroom instruction, hands-on experience, and computer simulation. Providing a wider range of “incidents”—for example, breakdown-and-repair scenarios—for the student to encounter in a controlled environment can prepare personnel faster, more efficiently, and more safely.

To replicate this example of success and ensure students learn the skills required in field applications, technical training courses are beginning to combine OJT with defined learning objectives and simulation tools. These types of formal training programs promise consistency and efficiency. But in order to gain widespread adoption by companies, these training programs will have to demonstrate quantitative value. The yardstick for student performance will be improvements in equipment uptime and other efficiency benchmarks. As companies become confident that training yields a good return on their investment, the new training paradigm will truly take root. The end result will be safer, technologically skilled, higher valued employees, as well as an improvement in the bottom line for employers.

Josh Haberer is part of the Next Generation Program at National Oilwell Varco (NOV). A worldwide leader in training, NOV has developed a first-rate global training department that offers hands-on, simulation, and on-site training to support its product lines and customers.

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