Standardized entry-level program could help address personnel shortage; trend toward team-based training aiding crew communication
By Linda Hsieh, managing editor
Claus Bihl was named CEO of Maersk Training in May 2010 upon the merger of Maersk Training Centre and Svitzer Safety Services. Maersk Training is now an independent business unit within the AP Moller-Maersk Group, with worldwide training facilities open to all companies.
From the perspective of someone who doesn’t necessarily work directly in the drilling industry anymore but who works very closely with operators, drilling contractors and other oilfield service companies on the training of their personnel, what do you see as this industry’s biggest challenges?
There’s a huge problem with human resources. If you look at the number of rigs that will be coming out, and they’re all going to be high-tech and deepwater, where are the crews going to come from? When you look at how many years it takes to grow an individual from a starting position like a roustabout or roughneck into a senior toolpusher or OIM, it just doesn’t add up.
The other issue is the contract drilling industry does not have any international entry-level programs. A person just applies for a job with Maersk Drilling or Transocean or Diamond Offshore, and then gets a job and become a roustabout and goes offshore. It is learning by doing and taking in the company’s training. The other industry that I’ve worked with a lot is the maritime industry, where the International Maritime Organization has set standards for entry-level programs to become able seamen and general-purpose crew onboard vessels and ships. Whether an able seaman was educated in the Philippines or the US or Denmark, you know that this is the minimum standard that he had to comply with in order to be issued an IMO certificate.
There’s no such regime in the drilling contractor industry, so if you’re a young person wanting to come in and work in this industry, you cannot really go into a school where you can get a standard list of competencies. You have to just try to get employed by a company in the industry and have them train and educate you in accordance with whatever individual training programs that particular company may or may not have.
It’s a bit of a lottery, I would say, on how good your training is, when you are employed. Some companies have very good training programs where they spend a lot of resources on developing their people and build competencies; others just train for compliance.
Have you seen a notable shift in the industry away from just training for compliance and toward developing competencies?
I do. Training for compliance is a matter of “Where can I find a certificate the cheapest possible way so I can show it to the authorities or whoever if something happens?” But what competencies are behind the certificate? How do we check that? Who verifies that when this certificate is given to a person that he has the competencies behind that certificate?
That’s a choice that quality employers will have to make. I know for one that Maersk Drilling is building competencies for performance instead of training for compliance.
They have looked into correlations between competencies and performance, because for all these years we have all believed that the better competence you have, the better performance you’ll also be able to have, but it’s been more a matter of belief than actual proof.
Now they have an enormous amount of data from rigs, correlated with the competencies of the crews on those particular rigs. They see that on rigs where they have a higher degree of competencies, they also have higher performance – they have fewer dropped objects, fewer oil spills, better customer survey responses and in general better performance. It’s a fantastic documentation.
How can this type of hard numbers and data help drive industry toward better training?
When we sit with customers to talk about training, they often ask, “What’s the ROI on this? I spend money on building these guys’ competencies, what do I get out of it?” We say they will know what they’re doing; they will be more safe and effective at what they’re doing, so you will improve the efficiencies and safety of your operations. But how can I prove it?
We can measure knowledge gain with a pre-test and a post-test, but how do they apply that knowledge into the workplace?
It’s a great step forward that somebody like Maersk Drilling now has actual evidence that there is a distinct correlation between having high competencies and having better performance because, as a businessperson, you could say, now I know it’s been documented and I know it’s a good investment, so let’s go ahead and do it. Like when you invest in new equipment on a drilling rig, you do that either for better efficiencies or better safety, and of course you want to see the payback. I think we can do the same with building competencies and training people.
Going back to your comment that there isn’t a global program for people to enter the drilling workforce – are you suggesting that such an industrywide program should be created as it would make it easier for people who want to work in this business to get their foot in and thereby help address the people shortage we’re facing?
It would make it more transparent what they have to do to get in, and easier for employers to verify the education and training these people have had. When someone comes in with a certificate, employers would know there’s a training program behind it that’s been verified by a third party.
This will require a very strict regime of getting the wrong schools out and getting the right ones in, because otherwise you will lose all credibility in that certification.
Do you think IADC is the appropriate organization to pursue a program like this?
I think it could be. It would be a huge task because you would have to have a lot of schools around the world, and you have to have an engine developing those standards, enforcing them and auditing each school to ensure that the training and learning is indeed in compliance with the standards that have been laid out. It would be a huge task if the IADC decided to take it on.
It does seem very complicated. Wouldn’t another aspect we’d have to consider be, what about the people who already work on the rigs? Do we make them go back and get certified?
I think it would be wise to accept that we cannot do everything at one time. The feeding of new people into the industry is where we have the biggest challenge. The people who are already working as drillers or toolpushers are already employed with a company, and most companies of some quality have career development and training programs.
In 2012, IADC kicked off a project to revamp its Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs), aiming to set worldwide competency guidelines for almost all rig positions, focusing on those that are well control critical. Although this is not exactly the program you describe, it seems like it would be a good starting point toward achieving some of the same goals.
It’s definitely a good step in the right direction to have a common understanding of the competencies that IADC or the industry see that, for example, a driller, needs to have. Can he perform efficiently but does he also know how to act in a well control situation? Particularly in the very early part of a well control situation? He’s the guy on the spot and the one who can stop it. He might not be the individual who would treat the well control situation, because you would bring in the supervisors, toolpushers and companyman, but he’s the one who has to initiate first action and get the well closed in. If they don’t understand the signals coming from the well early enough, that’s when you get into big trouble.
The industry has to accept that this is going to require an initial investment, but I also think the industry should measure it against the price of Macondo, for just one accident. I think you really have to learn from that catastrophe and try to improve on what we have been doing in the past. That’s a must.
But I also know that time heals all wounds. It’s now almost three years since Macondo happened, and I already see a decline in the focus and interest. People are thinking, “We’re OK, it’s not going to happen to us.”
I do very much admire what BP has set in motion, and they’re sticking to it 100%. They really are able to influence the way drilling contractors are conducting their business through new requirements, and it’s impressive how they’ve taken learnings from the incident.
When we do the new team-based well control learning that we’re doing for Maersk Drilling, for rigs working for BP, the BP companyman participates on the course as well. This ensures a team-based learning experience around these well control situations where you’re not only training that you have to shut in as early as possible, but you’re training the communication within the entire team around the whole situation.
I know Statoil is also involving their companymen with the drilling crews at our training center in Stavanger, and I think we’ll see more and more of that. I hope more oil companies will encourage that because it’s a good way of training the crews; you have to put that additional dimension to it to ensure they work – and not least communicate – well together as teams.
An industry veteran spoke at an IADC event recently where he said training should not be treated as a cost but as an investment. He also lamented the fact that too often when any budget has to be cut, it’s the training budget that ends up being cut. As a training provider, do you still see that happening and how can management approach this mindset?
I do see it. It’s always been like that, and I think you have to accept it to some extent. We all have to have a business that is profitable; otherwise you won’t have a business. I don’t think you should refrain from addressing the training budget along with all your other budgets, but maybe the approach could be a little different.
Don’t just cut the training that will save the most money. If you’re trying to address cost cuts, it’s very important to involve operational and HR people in that process and figure out how to do it as sensibly as possible. It’s important to have operational people in the process who can say, “We cannot afford to cut this, this is business critical or this is safety critical.”
Certainly this will continue to happen because it’s an area where you will not see an immediate impact. Cut training and nothing happens the next day. Maybe some years will pass before you have an accident, and they’ll say, “What was the big deal? Nothing happened.” But it’s like a lottery. You don’t know.
But there’s a growing commercial angle to this too. If you are able to document to your customers that your crews are more competent than your competition, and as we know you will also enjoy a higher performance, then why wouldn’t the customer pick you?
The same way that qualified employees are in shortage in the drilling industry, are qualified training instructors also in shortage?
Yes, it is a constant challenge to find qualified instructors, or candidates who you can train to be top-quality instructors. But we do find them, and I would rather not employ anyone than employ someone who is not sufficiently qualified. The most terrible thing that can happen is to have incompetent instructors who impart wrong learning’s to their students. It’s a disaster because students think the instructor knows what’s right. They will take the wrong information and knowledge with them out to the rig and share it with their colleagues. That’s why it’s so important to ensure the quality of the training taking place.
Do you see operators placing more emphasis on ensuring the quality of training for the crews of the contractors they hire?
I think so. Anybody can go out and order a rig with a 15k-psi BOP stack, a top drive, double derricks, all the hardware. But the trick is to get competent people onboard to operate that rig safely and efficiently. In the future, that’s going to be where oil companies will look much more. Whereas they might have been very focused on the technical capabilities of these rigs, now I think they’re just as focused, if not more so, on who’s going to operate these units. “Let me see their CVs, let me see how you train these guys.” They’re not just going to accept certificates. I think they’ll be very strict about it.
If anything good came out of Macondo, this is probably it – changing our focus from being completely technically focused – we can drill faster, longer, under higher pressures, so on, that’s fine, but what about the guys who will operate the rigs? I hope that will stick.
Moreover, I think they will see that this is a great thing because we will get more efficient both in operation and in safety due to the higher competence of our crews. We’ll actually get a business improvement out of it.
You inaugurated the Maersk Offshore Simulation and Innovation Centre II (MOSAIC II) training complex in Svendborg, Denmark, in late 2012, featuring a dome-based drilling simulator, rig control room simulator, engine room simulator and two crane simulators. Going forward, do you see simulator- and team-based training playing bigger roles in training overall?
To impart just knowledge, you can do that in many ways, through books, e-learning or instructor-led training or other ways. But if you want your student to apply that knowledge, that’s where the simulator comes in. I would say that it’s the only way you can test the participant’s ability to apply the knowledge. If you don’t have a simulator, you can’t really test it before they go out there.
We often say here that we’re not a university where we teach 100% knowledge. We’d rather just look at 80% knowledge and make sure that we train to the extent that these guys will use it when they go back to the workplace.
That’s one of our learning principles. We’d rather cut back on theory and make sure that whatever we do present in knowledge that is also being sufficiently trained before you leave because otherwise it’s not going to be used.
For some competencies, simulators are very good tools for practicing and experiencing rather than do it in the real environment. If you fail in a simulator, you can just press a button and try again. At our new setup here in Svendborg, you can not only train the drilling crews but you can train the entire rig crews together in specific simulations, so you can have all the maritime crews, the deck crews, the cranes, the control rooms, the drilling crews, the engine crews, and then you can have a combined exercise for the entire rig on how are we going to handle various emergency situations.
You can train all these things and get 100 corrective action points every time you go through the procedures.
Does simulation-based training also provide a more engaged and interactive method of learning that enhances student learning retention?
Absolutely, but the days of “death by PowerPoint” are over. There has to be interaction between the course participants and the instructor all the time. You have to work with them to apply it and apply it and apply it, otherwise it’s not going to work.
If you go to an auditorium and stand and teach for one day, and you ask these guys two days later what they remember, it will be less than 10%. In one week’s time, they will remember zero. Simulators are a very strong tool for learning retention, but even that would also disappear over time.
That’s sometimes difficult to explain to employers who will tell me, “But he already had that course.” Sure, but if he did not work in that area for the last two years, he’s forgotten at least 50% of it. You can say, luckily, well control is not something that you deal with everyday on the rig, so when it happens, you may not have all that knowledge readily available. That’s why you also have these two-year revisits for the well control tests.
In the aviation industry, for example, I know many airlines send their pilots into flight simulators to perform emergency landings and handling of other emergency situations every six months. Everybody hopes that they will never do an emergency landing, but in order for them to be fresh if that happens, they need to train them that often. Maybe that’s something that can be considered in this industry.
I think we can learn a lot from the aviation industry. If you look at their serious accidents and fatalities compared with how many people are in the air and how many flights take off and land every day, they’ve got it right. Look at the culture in the cockpit. They go over the checklists they’ve gone over 100,000 times before, but they do it every time before they take off because they know that their own life depends on it.
It’s good to look at other industries with high potentials and how they keep the safety momentum up. That’s the other challenge for us. Macondo gave us a renewed focus on training, but two years from now, what’s going to keep the momentum up for us?
I hope we will have realized that by improving competencies and training, we will all have a much more safe and efficient operation.