Accreditation program goes beyond technical and human factors training to give students realistic expectations for drilling industry career
By Kelli Ainsworth, Editorial Coordinator
The US onshore drilling industry has been slowly putting rigs back to work, signaling that an upturn may be around the corner this year. Although this is a positive movement, it also means that the industry will likely need to kick up its recruiting and training efforts once again in order to put rigs back to work safely. Amid this backdrop, companies are now looking to the IADC Gateway Program to fill this need. Launched in 2016, Gateway accredits training programs for entry-level positions in the drilling industry, working through community colleges and commercial training providers.
Lone Star Community College in Houston was the first organization to receive accreditation to deliver Gateway training in May 2016. “As the industry starts to spin back, this is the time for colleges across the country to start building this program and have them ready when the upturn comes,” Mark Denkowski, IADC Executive Vice President of Operational Integrity, said at a Gateway summit held at Lone Star College’s Montgomery campus in The Woodlands, Texas, on 5 December.
The summit was held to educate community college administrators across the country on the Gateway program. It drew in representatives from 16 community colleges and educational associations, including the American Association of Community Colleges.
During the event, Linda Head, Lone Star College’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Education and Corporate Sponsorship, shared her school’s experience with the Gateway program to date. More than 60 students have completed their Gateway-accredited program so far. Students enrolled in the Introduction to Oil and Gas course, the first track developed for Gateway, attend an eight-week course. Only about a quarter of the time is spent in a classroom, while approximately 75% of the course is hands-on training. “They’re not sitting in a lecture with 600 students,” she said. “They’re in a lab, with 15 students. It’s very hands-on. That’s why the IADC Gateway program’s been able to be so successful.”
Hands-on training for the students is not limited to Lone Star’s campus labs. As part of its Gateway-accredited course, the college has partnered with Baker Hughes to send students to that company’s education center in Tomball, Texas, which houses a full training rig. The college is also planning to install drilling simulation technology from Drilling Systems. This is expected to allow students to practice their technical skills in a realistic setting, while their instructors observe both technical and human factors performance.
However, Gateway goes beyond technical and human factors instruction. It also teaches students what to expect from a career in the industry. Too often, entry-level workers are not fully prepared for life on a rig, leaving their jobs after the company has spent time and money onboarding the employee. “Gateway gives them a realistic view of what they’re walking into,” Brooke Polk, IADC Director of Program Development and Technology, said at the summit. For example, students receive training on intergenerational communication, as their supervisors could be considerably older than they are. The course also makes students aware that they will be away from their families for weeks at a time, live in small quarters and potentially have limited privacy. Instructors also discuss career paths in the industry so students can begin their first job with an idea of how to advance within the company.
Pacific Drilling and Patterson-UTI Energy are two companies that have already hired Gateway graduates, and both attested to the success of the program during the summit. Steve Thomas, Senior Program Manager for Training and Development at Pacific Drilling, said the graduates of the program go into their new jobs with a much better understanding of the job, with strong basic skills and with enhanced safety awareness. “The graduates that we’ve seen are able to acclimate to their jobs more quickly, and when we get back on the fast track again, will be promotable,” he said.
Pamela Wakefield, Director of Training and Development for Patterson-UTI Energy, said the retention rate for employees who come out Gateway has been close to 90%. “Even as we were downsizing and letting people go, we chose to keep them because of the training and skills they already have when they come into the company.”
Upon completion of the Gateway course, students receive an IADC Rig Pass certification and an introductory-level WellSharp certification. Lone Star also awards students 14 credit hours toward an Associate of Applied Sciences degree for completing the Gateway course.
Although Lone Star College is currently the only organization accredited to provide Gateway training, the industry will doubtlessly need more colleges to provide such training over the next few years as drilling activity increases. “We encourage colleges to pursue accreditation because doing so enables them to collaboratively work with the industry to train a much needed workforce,” Ms Polk said. “Colleges have a great opportunity to bring in a flood of students to their institutions and prepare them for great careers in the oil and gas industry.” DC