BOX 3-1 Important Points Made by the Speakers
• Many workforce needs in the oil and gas industry are immediate and cannot wait for longer term educational programs.
• Younger workers have attributes in such areas as physical health, communication styles, and privacy that relate directly to their resiliency.
• More concerted and formal ways of engaging workers in trainable jobs could strengthen the Gulf region.
• The education and training of middle-skilled workers involve many different institutions that are most effective when they work together.
• Multiple sectors of any workforce have distinct training needs: workers coming into an industry, workers in a industry who need continuing education, workers who need training so that they will not leave an industry, and those who need to learn new skills to retain their value within an industry.
• Managing the upcoming “great crew change” will require different kinds of education and training than oil an gas workers have received in the past.
The first panel looked at the current workforce in the Gulf region and how it is likely to change in the future. Today’s young workers and the workers of the future will have different attributes than past generations of workers. They also will need different kinds of training to meet rapidly changing workplace demands.
Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, pointed out that the lifetime of an oil or gas well is very long, extending from site selection to development to production to decommissioning. In the past, the number of people in the oil and gas industry has closely tracked the number of rigs in operation, but Krishnamoorti does not expect that correlation to continue. Instead, as other activities, such as decommissioning, become more important, that correlation will dissolve. “So many facilities in the Gulf of Mexico are coming to the end of life,” he said. “Decommissioning is going to perhaps be at the center of our focus… What has happened in the past does not necessarily reflect what is going to happen in the future.”
The demographics of Texas and other Gulf states are also undergoing dramatic changes. Today, the population of Texas is about 24 million, and Anglos are the majority population. By 2020 the population of Texas will be 28 million, and Hispanics will be the leading demographic in the state. By 2045, when the Gulf Research Program has come to an end, the state’s population will be an estimated 41 million. The issue, Krishnamoorti said, is that Hispanics have typically studied STEM-related subjects at a much lower rate than the Anglo population. Education issues “need to be addressed fundamentally and in a ground-breaking way so that we can start to get the right workforce for the future.”
Krishnamoorti said that community colleges in Texas have done “a fantastic job,” in collaboration with industry, of creating the infrastructure to enable the growth of middle-skilled workers. For example, Lone Star Community College outside Houston has collocated with some of the largest equipment manufacturers for the oil and gas industry and has developed shared labs with FMC Technologies, which provides equipment to industry. These initiatives provide hands-on-experience, said Krishnamoorti, which is essential for training.
Through such programs, best practices are being embodied in educational programs at both the college and high school levels, Krishnamoorti said. These programs could be articulated from high school through college through continuing education. These programs also can be linked to other professions, such as jobs in the wind energy field. One important question is how to expand these kinds of efforts, he noted.
Krishnamoorti added that safety has both technological and personnel components. Much industry safety training is for particular operations. In contrast, systemic level safety training could bring a higher level of safety awareness to all aspects of oil and gas exploration, production, and refining.
Finally, he pointed out that workforce needs in the oil and gas industry are immediate. When the industry has identified an issue, “you need to have the workforce ready within a period of 6 to 12 months.” The educational system cannot be making changes at the middle school or high school level to meet such needs, given the immediate need of the industry. Instead, the industry needs workers right away, either from educational institutions or from other industries. That raises the issue of whether workforce training programs could be instituted that can train engineers from, for example, NASA, to work in the oil and gas industry. “We need to find ways to invest in training programs that can do that transfer of skills,” he said.
Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling, director of the Gulf Coast Behavioral Health and Resiliency Center and professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama, discussed the resiliency of workers and the ways in which traits like resiliency might be expected to change in the future. Resiliency is a problematic term, because it has not been fully defined and has been used to describe many different attributes. But resiliency can be seen as both a trait and a state, Langhinrichsen-Rohling said.
Traits are the more stable aspects of a person. Resilient people tend to be hardy, economically advantaged, and intelligent, Langhinrichsen-Rohling observed. They tend to have stronger social support systems, and they are often more adaptable and flexible. “Hardy people can take some things in stride without having the real lows of other people and also without necessarily having the super highs. They can handle what comes to them.”
The state of resiliency can be context specific. Depending on the event and pre-existing adaptability, a person can bounce back from a trauma to a baseline level of functioning. Furthermore, within this context, a person functioning from a state of resiliency can bounce back sooner.
Disasters also have characteristics that interact with resiliency. The oil spill was both long lasting and had immediate impact for some people, especially those who had direct contact with the oil or whose livelihood was affected directly, such as fishermen.
The current workforce has several traits that relate directly to resiliency capabilities, said Langhinrichsen-Rohling. First, overall, they are the most obese workforce in history, which raises health issues that have not been as pressing in the past. For example, moving someone who is injured and overweight from a gurney onto an x-ray table can have health consequences both for the injured individual and for the allied health care worker.
The current workforce also communicates in different ways than workers have in the past. Its communication is faster, shorter, more immediate, and more direct, Langhinrichsen-Rohling said. “There is a certain creativity to it. When you look at a Tweet, you have to truncate it down to a smaller amount of information.” Changes in communication will continue to require flexibility as habits and skills change, she said. However, professional interpersonal and communication skills will continue to be essential.
The current generation has different notions of privacy than do older generations. “Kids pay for things online. They use their Social Security card to access their student grades. Every time they check out at K-Mart, they type in their telephone number.” One positive aspect of this lack of concern about privacy is that it may make it easier to conduct some kinds of longitudinal health research than in the past.
Finally, the growing diversity of the workforce points to the importance of mastering a second language, said Langhinrichsen-Rohling. Bilingual education will be necessary for many schoolchildren. And children will need to learn a language from teachers who are comfortable in that language, which typically requires a close familiarity with the language and its culture.
A critical factor in resiliency is inclusion, said Patrick Barnes, president of BFA Environment, which is a minority-owned multidisciplinary environmental engineering and scientific consulting firm, and founder of Limitless Vistas, Inc. “You can’t have a resilient community that does not include those at the bottom.” As a result, more concerted and formal ways need to be found to engage those at the grassroots in the process of studying and strengthening the Gulf states, he said.
One of the best ways to do that, Barnes continued, is to partner with local community-focused groups. Limitless Vistas, for example, is a job training and con-
servation program. It exposes people who may not even make it to a community college to the opportunities that are available to them. Many of the jobs that need to be done do not require associate’s degrees− they are trainable skills. For instance, in surveying, the Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) heads up a project, while the field supervisor drives the project in the field. The PLS is licensed, but the field supervisor typically has a high school education and lots of experience. “He tells the [other workers on a survey team] what to do and where to go and how to hold the various instruments and how to read the various instruments and what to write down.” All of those skills are trainable and do not require an associate’s degree or certificate. “What we found is once [trainees] get used to this and understand that this is an opportunity, the mind opens and they start to want to do more with it. That is the connection. That is the pathway.”
Barnes recently started a program in central Florida focused on short-term construction job skills. Over the course of a single week, the program identifies job candidates, screens them (which includes a drug test and background check), and introduces them to specific construction job skills. “We give them the entry points,” said Barnes, after which employees can progress to further training and more advanced jobs. So far, 60 individuals have gone through the program, about 25 have jobs, and employers continue to request the program’s graduates. “They are being placed with small engineering and small construction firms that are out on these jobsites.”
Outside grant funding offers a way to connect these job opportunities with workers, said Barnes. If one small engineering firm can start a program and train 400 people in a short period of time, then certainly more could be done.
In 2012, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership, Robert Harvey, visited with many of the companies in the region to learn what the partnership needed to do. The Greater Houston Partnership is in essence “a chamber of commerce, economic development organization, and international trade organization rolled into one,” said Elaine Barber, vice president of education and workforce for the partnership. The organization has a board of 130 chief executive officers from small, medium, and large companies.
Most of the companies Harvey visited praised the work of the partnership, but many of them also pointed to workforce development, and especially the development of middle-skilled workers, as an area of weakness. “They could not get the individuals that they needed for the jobs in the middle-skills space,” said Barber. As a result, the partnership began to develop its programming in those areas.
According to Barber, a major step forward in this area has been the passage of legislation in Texas known as House Bill 5. The legislation established endorsements or degree plans that students in the K-12 system can pursue. These pathways lead to a range of options, from STEM programs in four-year colleges and universities to technical pathways. The endorsements also reflect the needs of students. For example, the average age of community college students in the Houston region, as is the case throughout the United States, is late-20s. Students “knock around for years trying to figure it out,” said Barber. “They work in retail. They work in fast food. Then they decide that they …want to get married or they want to have a family, and they realize that these dollars are not going to take them to where they need to be.”
Based on its findings, the Greater Houston Partnership focused special attention on middle-skilled workers. It brought together 80 representatives from all parts of the community, including industry, education, labor, and nonprofit organizations, that had been working on this issue or had an interest in it. For example, the nine community colleges in the region had put together a petrochemical initiative, and the United Way was working with individuals who were having difficulties finding jobs. “We wanted all of those organizations at the table with us as we began to discuss this important issue,” said Barber.
Focus groups revealed some of the difficult issues at play. For example, an African-American man involved in construction trades training pointed out that, even in his predominantly African-American neighborhood, most of the construction jobs are held by Hispanics. In a focus group at a Chinese community center, an individual with a master’s degree from a Chinese college but limited English proficiency said that he was routinely sent for jobs far below his skill level. “It is those kinds of issues that we looked at as we began to address this issue,” Barber said.
The group of 80 people met for six months and identified several major areas of growth and development in the Houston region, including advanced manufacturing, oil and gas production, the petrochemical industry, construction, ports and maritime, and health care. Most recently, it has focused its attention on industry clusters and is conducting a program called ABCD. “A” stands for awareness, so that individuals know what jobs are available and what training they need for those jobs. “B” stands for basic skills, including the “soft skills” that are so important for employability. “C” is for coordination, so that the activities going on in the region build on and reinforce each other.
And “D” stands for data−particularly up-to-date information on what companies need so that entities such as community colleges can supply those needs.
The partnership is developing survey instruments that they can use to gather information from business and industry, said Barber, which then can be sent to educational institutions like community colleges to guide the development of programs.
The oil and gas industry is facing what it calls “the great crew change,” said Brooke Polk, competence and learning development specialist at the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC), which is a nonprofit organization that serves the needs of drilling contractors, operators, and service companies. People with decades of experience who have been working in the industry since they graduated from high school are now retiring. However, the industry does not have a large group of middle-aged workers. It needs to fill the gap with new people coming into the industry who have what Polk called “the core knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful.”
This task is complicated by the rapidly increasing technological sophistication of the industry. New “cyber-rigs” are replacing conventional rigs, which will require that workers have a new set of more advanced skills.
To meet these demands, IADC has been working on what it calls the KSA project. The industry has been defining the core knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for all rig-based positions. “Who better to define what a driller needs to know than people on the rig, people who have been there,” said Polk. “We want to pull as much of that knowledge from them before they retire” as possible. The first phase of the project was scheduled to be publicly released a few weeks after the workshop.
IADC also has been developing a Workforce Attraction and Development Initiative (WADI) in conjunction with colleges in the Houston area. Under this initiative, colleges, taking their cues from industry needs, have developed programs to produce trained and prequalified entry-level workers. From an initial group of three colleges, the program has now expanded to more than 30 colleges that are located throughout the world.
The initiative includes about 30 industry partners who have defined what they would like to see in new employees, such as the ability to pass background checks. Polk also mentioned a program at one college that includes a phone interview with a prospective employee’s family so that everyone will know what a particular job entails. “They sit with the family, discussing with the wives, the mothers, and the children that you have to be aware that you are going to be away from your family for a long period of time. They explain to them the hard knocks of the industry. The paycheck looks nice, but these are the things that you are going to encounter to achieve that. That is one piece of the prescreening.”
The screening includes not only mechanical and analytical skills, including reading, writing, and mathematics, but the behavioral attributes that are sometimes described as “soft skills.” Workers in the oil and gas industry have to have common sense to avoid making mistakes, said Polk. “It is essential, going forward and training our workforce, that we embed behavioral attributes and safety in everything we do.”
The new courses being developed under the WADI also include training in how to deal with some of the generational issues that can occur in the industry. For example, younger workers may need effective ways of interacting with workers on the verge of retirement about new safety procedures.
The college partners also are working on career advancement pathways for existing workers in the industry. For example, a drilling supervisor can come back to take a leadership course and gain certificates in a continuous learning process. A KSA assessment bank being developed by IADC will measure whether new and existing workers have mastered the skills they need. Learning will be tracked so that companies know how much education and training a worker has received.
Finally, the initiative is attracting workers to the industry through career conferences and other activities to demonstrate what the industry can offer. “It is not a job. It is a career, and it is a good career,” said Polk.
During the discussion period, Jay Labov, of the National Research Council, called attention to the Strategic Education Research Program, and particularly to the feedback loop that is a prominent part of that program. Rather than conducting research in a top-down manner, researchers talk with education practitioners in developing their research plans. The same procedures could be used to identify the types of education and training that are needed to close gaps in the middle-skilled workforce. For example, a strategic research protocol could be used to identify skills that extend across sectors, which would facilitate the movement of workers from one sector to another.
Maureen Lichtveld, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, identified four sectors of the workforce that need training: workers coming into an industry, workers in an industry who need continuing education, workers who need train-
ing so that they will not leave an industry, and those who need to learn new skills to retain their value within an industry. She also cited the need for industry and educational institutions to talk with each other, and for all institutions to break out of their silos. For example, partnerships are needed that can develop core competencies that cut across all industries, including health, environmental restoration and monitoring, and oil and gas production.
Chris Snyder, University of Southern Mississippi, made the point that middle-skilled workers have the most direct connection to natural resources and are the ones who have the most immediate impact on those resources. “There seems to be a real opportunity here in developing the workforce to also increase their environmental literacy.” Connecting workers to the environment in which they work would help the industry become more prosperous, he said.
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