BOX 4-1 Important Points Made by the Speakers
• Cooperative efforts between industry and educational institutions can help produce integrated and comprehensive oil system safety training programs.
• Rigorous STEM courses can enable students trained in oil system safety to synthesize information across fields.
• The inclusion of nongovernmental organizations in partnerships between the private sector and academic institutions can help create educational pathways that produce well-qualified workers.
• Agreement on general core competencies, including employability, or nontechnical skills, and more specialized competencies would enable all parties involved in education and training to work together coherently.
• Organizations can foster greater safety through leadership and by measuring and reinforcing safe behaviors.
In the second panel of the workshop, four speakers examined the knowlede skills and attitudes (KSAs) that workers need to be successful. Much of the session focused on safety systems for oil and gas production, but the conclusions derived from this area apply much more broadly. As panel moderator Eduardo Salas said, “safety is about people. It is about culture. It is about what people do and what leadership does.” These same factors heavily influence the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed in other areas as well.
Most of the workers on a drilling rig do not have a college degree, noted Jeff Zinkham, director of competency consulting and solutions for PetroSkills, a competency-based training provider for the oil and gas industry. They have learned on the job, and what they have learned will help determine the levels of safety on that rig.
At the same time, the crew on a rig can be fragmented. The roughnecks and roustabouts work for a drilling contractor. Another crew handles drilling fluids and the mud. The mud logger is likely to be an independent contractor, who may bring a casing crew to run the pipe into the ground. The operator is accountable for the job, but the people working can be from many different companies. “The challenge is, how do you make sure all of those people understand what is going on that day and how it all interrelates to what the objective is?” said Zinkham. “Do they understand the whole process of drilling a well, the geology, the port pressure, the frac gradient?” The whole crew needs to understand what is going on and what a bad situation looks like so they can all help each other be safe.”
Situational awareness is extremely important, Zinkham continued, which requires training. Furthermore, the training needs to be ongoing. “We need to make sure they are trained continually on the job year after year and understand what the process is of producing oil and gas offshore and what those risks are. When you turn that valve, what happens? When you are painting that facility and you have a pressure washer, what are the risks?” The skills that employees need are interrelated, Zinkham continued. They need to understand how the pieces fit together into an oil safety system, which is also known as process safety.
This broader knowledge can be built through cooperative efforts between industry and educational institutions, be they community colleges or a third-party trainer like PetroSkills. But the fragmentation of the industry works against this kind of cooperation, Zinkham observed. Groups employed by different industries come and go on a rig for three or four days. “Do they really understand what the risks are? Can they recognize a hazardous situation?” Everyone who steps on an oil platform needs to know what to do, understand
what is going on, and grasp how everything fits together and what the risks are, said Zinkham.
Zinkham expressed the conviction that industry has to drive education for instruction to be successful. “The people who are going to hire these people and actually employ them are the ones who have to help with the programs.” He also advocated starting in high school. “If there is some way to do some apprentice or summer jobs in the industry as high school students, that would be very powerful. Then they would get interested in industry. They would get a little flavor of what it is all about. It piques their interest in a career or a profession.”
Zinkham also discussed the behavioral issues that are problems in the industry—for example, employees who show up for their hitches and fail a drug test. “Something is happening back home on their 14 days off. Of course, the company has very little control over that. Maybe that is [a matter of] outreach where industry can work with communities and with local agencies to talk through the importance of your behaviors and what to do and what not to do. You have an important job. You are making a lot of money. You are providing for family and friends and relatives. People can screw up quickly through drugs and alcohol. That’s the behavioral piece that is really frustrating.”
This problem is related to attitudes, not to technical knowledge or skills. People need to understand the implications of their actions, Zinkham observed. Some people understand this implicitly. Though attitudes can be hard to measure, “you can see the individuals who are going to succeed. They may not be a CEO someday, but they are going to be a very effective person. They will be a team leader someday.”
Many workers in the oil and gas industry were referred by others. Friends and family know more about the jobs in the industry, so they are not so shocked when they are working for 14 days on an offshore rig. Many people would rather work in a poor-paying job that does not take them away from their families for so long. “The ones that were successful usually had a family unit back in a small town, and they helped each other. So when they are gone for 14 days and something happens at home, they are not getting phone calls on the rigs and feeling really guilty for not being there.”
Finally, Zinkham mentioned the logistical challenge of inserting a training program into a 14-day-on and 14-day-off schedule. “To try to get them into a training course during their days off is almost impossible. Yet we don’t have enough people to take them off of a hitch and send them to training.” One possibility is to locate training in the places where workers leave for offshore rigs so that people can receive training right before they leave. “We need to make it easy for people to get to the training.”
Bill Raley, dean of industrial and technical programs at the College of the Mainland, which has received $5 million to create the Gulf Coast Safety Institute, described a specific example of how to build an oil safety system. The curriculum developed at the institute is about more than knowledge, he said. It is about comprehending what you know and tying the pieces together. The objective is to be aware of every aspect of every job and how that could affect the overall operation. Synthesis and evaluation make it possible to prevent accidents because people understand every aspect of every job, every component, and every unit in the process production facility.
Raley suggested that the current educational system funnels more students into traditional college pathways than the labor market requires, while at the same time, failing to provide all students with opportunities to learn more about the variety of career pathways that can lead to a successful adulthood.
Raley is responsible for a series of training programs in machining, welding, and other skills that are in high demand. These programs can have a big effect on safety, with a reduction both in accidents and in workmen’s compensation costs, he said.
Advisory groups from industry are critical, Raley noted. The people who hire the graduates of a program need to have a say in that program. Programs also need to be STEM-based, he said, because people need the knowledge to be able to synthesize information across fields, and to do that, they need mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Preparing people to work in high-tech, high-wage, high-demand fields requires academic rigor.
“Accidents don’t happen. They are caused,” he concluded. “Somebody didn’t do what they should have done or were supposed to have done. They did not follow procedures and did not understand the whole ramification of everything that has taken place on the floor of the rig or inside of a refinery.”
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization that has worked with many federal agencies, counties, cities, and other nongovernmental organizations on a variety of natural and cultural resource service activities and partners. “Over many years, we have brought young people out into the natural world and connected them to it,” said Marsha Towns, director of partnership development in the Gulf region for the SCA. “They did valuable service. They learned about each other. Some-
times they were on teams. They learned a lot about group dynamics. They challenged themselves and built life skills, all things that are very valuable.”
Over the past 15 years the SCA has seen a need to focus on urban communities where a growing population of young people have pressing needs. It is now working in 18 cities, including Houston. These programs meet both immediate and long-term needs, said Towns. For example, the SCA developed a program, known as the National Institute of Conservation Training, to provide opportunities for recent veterans to work within the U.S. Forest Service. It was a short-term solution to the development of skills that aligned with skills veterans already had, such as working on a team, which allowed for a smoother transition to civilian life. Trainees also could learn new skills, such as firefighting.
As an example of a long-term program, Towns mentioned SCA’s school year and urban programming, where students learn such lessons as how important it is to show up on time and what happens when they do not, or how to inform others of things that are not being done safely. “That builds leadership skills,” said Towns.
Towns said she was “thrilled” about the idea of connecting the private sector with academic institutions, but she also asked that consideration be given to how to engage nongovernmental organizations in such partnerships. For example, the city of Houston has 83 community and recreation centers that have afterschool programming. The SCA is starting to work with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to come up with ways to educate and do programming in these community centers, and this programming could incorporate the development of work readiness skills to build the pipeline of well-qualified workers.
Maureen Lichtveld, professor and chair of the Department of Global Environmental Health Science at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, began by laying out what she termed “guiding principles” for programs supported by the Gulf Research Program. Investments should be scalable and sustainable locally, she said. “We can’t create and introduce a Cadillac if we can’t afford it.” Strategies should be competency based, she added, with an embedded evaluation component at the learner and program level. “What gets measured gets done.” Learning is most effective when it takes a 360-degree approach, with an alignment among mentees, mentors, and supervisors to achieve sustained progress and change. Adult learning theory supports problem- or case-based and team-based pedagogical strategies, and learning can capitalize on existing evidence-based competency sets and practice- and skill-driven learning. Finally, programs need to foster life-long learning, she said. “What if we graduate our high schoolers not only with a transcript and a GPA but also with a professional development portfolio so that they have a trajectory to go to the next step?”
Lichtveld listed several KSA areas in oil safety and environmental restoration:
- Oil industry process safety and accident prevention
- Worker health and safety
- Chemical hazards (basic organic chemistry) and physical hazards (noise and heat especially)
- Personal protective equipment (respiratory, dermal, and hearing)
- Direct reading instruments for rapid exposure assessment
- HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training (initial and refresher)
- Stormwater assessment and monitoring
- Facilities preparedness and response planning
- Ecosystems/wetland assessment and monitoring
- Material safety data sheets—action steps
She also listed several KSA areas in human health:
- Core public/community health principles and services
- Core environmental health concepts
- Environmental health policies
- Community preparedness and planning
- Cultural competence
- Basic knowledge and capacity to link community members with resources and services—both health related and social in nature
- Psychosocial basics
Finally, she offered some cross-cutting areas related to employability:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Team and relationship building, including collaboration
- Organizational skills, such as balancing work and family life
- Recognizing one’s limits, including trusting and knowing co-workers
- “Workplace” cultural competence, such as how a company does things differently
At Tulane, everyone in programs such as community health receives training on a set of general core competencies along with more specialized competency-based training. If a national panel could agree on what these core competencies are in such areas as oil safety and allied health, such a list would represent “major progress,” said Lichtveld. She also urged taking a multi-pronged approach in parallel rather than sequentially. Short-term training, certificate programs, and associate’s degree programs can all be occurring simultaneously. But the different parties involved in education and training should agree on a set of competencies, she said, so that they are working coherently.
Lichtveld concluded with a strategic roadmap to educate and train the Gulf’s middle-skilled workforce. It involves a continually repeated cycle of six steps:
- Monitor workforce composition
- Identify core and specialized competencies and develop curricula
- Design integrated learning systems
- Use incentives to assure competency
- Conduct evaluation and research
- Ensure financial support
Finally, she pointed out that educational institutions have responsibilities to fulfill accreditation requirements, which act as standards for education. Also, she emphasized the need for educators to be retrained. Many aspects of what students need to know change continually, which requires that instructors remain up to date.
During the discussion session, the presenters and workshop participants spent several minutes discussing what had been described as “soft skills,” which Lichtveld suggested are better referred to as “employability skills.” John Hosey, the Corps Network, discussed the culture of the towns where many oil and gas workers live. These workers come from many backgrounds, but divorces and other problems such as drug use are common. Many of these problems relate to ethics and values, which raises the issue of whether ethics and values should be part of education and training programs. “Something may be missing if we don’t address some of the ethical and value issues that come into competency.”
Lichtveld noted that ethics can be both organizational and personal. Typically, a company requires an employee to conform to its ethical principles. But companies, to be successful, also need to learn something about the cultures of their employees. “Just as we develop appreciation of personal protective equipment, the appreciation of cultures coming together within the workplace is critical and maybe a critical core competency for everyone involved, not only for the worker.”
Lichtveld also pointed out that these employability skills typically are not valued as highly as technical skills. Yet these skills are critical for performance, a point made by several other workshop participants as well. As Langhinrichsen-Rohling pointed out, the employees who tend to be promoted are not necessarily the smartest employees but the ones who understand the work culture, are easy to get along with, know how to handle difficult people, and have empathy for others. Furthermore, many of these skills can be taught. “If we want a culture where people have some of these skills, we also have to think about building them in from the ground up.” Marsha Towns added that this may mean working with parents as well as students, since parents can reinforce values from an early age at home.
Inculcating employability skills also requires a long-term engagement with the K-12 education system. As Towns said, “We cannot wait to begin to engage the K-12 system. If we do not, we are going to be chasing our tail for the next 30 years. We have to begin to lay that groundwork.”
Langhinrichsen-Rohling pointed out that other countries do more to direct students to particular educational outcomes than does the United States. U.S. students can develop “very unrealistic expectations” as a result. More guidance counselors could help students make more informed decisions, but that requires additional funding in schools. An alternative might be to provide students with information that is more tailored to their skills and desires. “We don’t orient our students very much to reality, which means we can’t funnel information appropriately to the skill set of our students.”
Jay Labov of the NRC pointed out that the NRC has developed several documents which articulate strategies that are designed to build the skills of students by having them do science, including the National Science Education Standards and the framework for K-12 science education that resulted in the Next Generation Science Standards. “The kinds of skills that are developed in actually doing science are very much the kinds of [skills] that would provide for a very robust workforce.”
One employability skill discussed by the panelists involves making up for youthful mistakes. Workers need to stay free of drugs and alcohol to do their jobs, said Raley, but some people who would be good employees are sometimes barred from jobs by a police record. In some states, the legal system may offer ways to clean up a record so that a past arrest is no longer an obstacle to getting a job, but many young people are not aware of this option or cannot afford to have it done.
Salas noted in conclusion that safety is about people, and people are embedded in organizations. “Organizations get the behaviors and conditions that they measure and reinforce.” Leadership needs to espouse, measure, and reinforce good principles to avoid unethical behavior, he said. Also the study of organizations could help shed light on how organizations function, how leadership functions, what people say, what people do, and what they do not do. “This community needs to reach out to those who study organizations, people, teamwork, and critical thinking in all of the constructs that we have been talking about,” he said.
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