REPORT: Oil and gas industry training goes high tech to attract the next generation
9/21/2012It’s being referred to as the “Great Crew Change.” Within the coming decade, up to 50% of the total workforce in the oil and gas industry is expected to retire. There will be staffing shortages in virtually all areas of many international and national oil companies, and fears are high that there simply won’t be enough skilled workers to replace those who are departing. New recruits will need to be highly-skilled and well-educated, and the new generation has different educational needs and expectations than their predecessors.
“One of the biggest differences I’ve seen between the generations of workers is that the new generation is so computer-savvy and adaptable,” says Judith Camerano, instructor-led training product director at the Petroleum Extension Service (PETEX®) at The University of Texas at Austin.
Since 1944, PETEX has been a leading educator within the oil and gas industry. PETEX publishes a catalog of textbooks and educational materials, many of which have become industry standards, and offers instructor-led training courses in Austin and around the world. In recent years, PETEX has begun to move toward creating more online learning tools to meet the demands of workers and companies.
PETEX training specialists have found that the new generation wants to learn on a computer or on the Internet, as opposed to reading a hard-copy textbook or taking an in-person class. “It’s a mindset that translates to working on the oil rigs,” says Camerano. “The newer generations, who’ve grown up playing video games, are more comfortable with technology, while the older generation want a more physical understanding and relationship to drilling and working on a rig.”
However, Camerano adds that both generations share many of the same qualities: “Both generations are very competitive and take what they do seriously. When they are on the rig, there is a lot of camaraderie. In that respect, they are very similar.”
Zahid Yoosufani, director of online learning solutions at PETEX, adds: “Because of their comfort with technology, the new generation is relied upon to know more in a shorter amount of time. As a way to recruit younger employees, the oil and gas industry is incorporating e-learning strategies and tools into their training repertoire.”
Trainers are also finding that the younger generation has a shorter attention span, requiring instruction to become more interactive and diverse. To meet this need, PETEX has created a range of tools and materials for a “blended learning” experience that incorporates different types of educational tools and environments to keep the new generation of students fully engaged.
An example of blended learning is PETEX’s instruction about the inner workings of a rig - one of the most critical components of drilling operations. Training includes both virtual and hands-on training tools.
“Students can explore an e-learning module of a virtual, interactive rig that provides a highly realistic and detailed look and feel to rig components,” says Yoosufani. “Students then follow up their e-learning with a trip to a real training rig in Galveston, Texas. This example of blended learning – mixing e-learning with hands-on training – provides students with a solid foundation of what’s expected of them on an oil rig. They are better prepared to walk on to that platform or rig and have a good understanding of what they need to do.”
Among the newest technology tools PETEX has developed to help workers and companies weather the “Great Crew Change” is the PETEX Learning Stick™, a portable USB device that contains selected e-learning modules, e-books, assessments and skills analysis so that users may access training materials with or without an Internet connection. This device is not only practical for use on oil rigs where Internet connectivity is premium, but for anyone who needs or wants to access training materials from anywhere, on any computer. The PETEX Learning Stick™ content is customized for individual training needs and job functions.
Content found on the Learning Stick™ often consists of PETEX’s range of e-learning interactive modules. These modules can be loaded onto the Learning Stick or accessed on any computer with Internet access. The e-learning content includes text, video, glossary, full-color animations and self-assessments for a comprehensive understanding of the material.
Current modules include general training subjects such as Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing, Introduction to Petroleum and Petroleum Exploration. Other modules cover a variety of topics under the subjects of drilling and production. A new module is being introduced based on PETEX’s classic textbook “Fundamentals of Petroleum,” representing yet another delivery format for this comprehensive content.
A new set of e-learning modules has just been introduced on a range of safety issues. “From first aid to mechanical lockouts, this module provides students with virtual simulations that mirror scenarios they may encounter. In one test, they have two minutes to act in a life or death situation,” says Yoosufani. “They practice the procedures they must follow with this interactive tool so that the procedures become second nature and they are fully trained before being put in a real-life scenario.”
Companies can also use e-learning tools to assess the skills of their workers and prospective new hires using PETEX’s online skills assessment tools, which may also be downloaded on a Learning Stick™. HR managers can see if staff members are learning or if a new hire’s knowledge lines up with job requirements. Skill and knowledge deficiencies can be ascertained, so that training can be customized to each employee. With this tool, HR workers can better manage or even reduce training budgets.