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Industry must shake bad habits, panelists caution

Posted on 20 March 2009

He pointed to a plenary session from last year’s IADC/SPE Drilling Conference in Miami, Fla., where the audience was polled about how the applications of more sophisticated technology would affect the industry’s personnel problems. An estimated 73% responded that it would make the problems worse because it will require the same number of people but with higher skill and education levels.

Mr Brett agreed with that statement and emphasized that’s why industry must focus on developing employee competency. The current generation of managers learned in a period of “cutting” and must turn their thinking around. While it’s hard to justify training during market downturns like this, we must learn to think about developing people as an investment, not a cost.

Guillermo Arango, Baker Hughes, likened the industry to a man who knows he needs to change his lifestyle and lose weight, yet won’t break away from bad habits in order to do it. He urged the industry to fundamentally change old mindsets that keep it insular and away from collaboration. Technology can help us deal with the volatility of the market, he said, but only if we use the right process to leverage technology.

He recalled and emphasized a comment from the opening-day plenary session a couple of days ago, that the personnel problems we face now are not a result of the market’s cyclicality but rather of our response to that cyclicality. “That’s a very deep thought,” Mr Arango said.

And we have resources in order to not have the same reactions this time. Modern information and communication technologies can help us to separate work from location, concentrate expertise in remote centers and project it globally, and develop and protect our “talent bench.”

Mark Burns, ENSCO Offshore International Co, cautioned the audience that a downturn doesn’t equate to excess competent personnel. We must resist a false sense of security and continue to recruit through the cycle. And we can’t start and stop the development process because it doesn’t work, he said.

Looking back at previous downturns and the industry’s “lost generation,” Mr Burns said that industry is in a situation where the same thing could happen again, but we must think of the long term and “make sure we don’t do that again.”

He also encouraged finding a balance between tradition and progress as we capitalize on the knowledge of the older generation. The globalization of our workforce must continue as well, he said.

Mr Burns also praised the industry for working to improve its public image on issues like environmental awareness, though efforts have to continue in order to truly bring about change.

Like Mr Arango, the fourth panelist James McCallum of Senergy said he’d like to see the industry break out of a bad cycle. We already get little respect from global communities, and we’ve allowed a terrible image to be projected to the younger generations over many years, he said.

This time, we have to do things differently from what we did in previous cycles – like not confusing the issues of cost and value when thinking about employees. This recession truly is an opportunity for industry to change image for the better, he said, and we must take it.

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