Industry increasingly looks to non-traditional geographies, disciplines for workers, enhancing safety through strong corporate culture
By Katherine Scott, associate editor
Mark Burns is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ensco and 2007 IADC Contractor of the Year.
The industry is challenged with a shortage in qualified and experienced personnel. What have been the effects of this critical issue on industry operations?
In addition to strong onshore demand for personnel, the offshore industry is set to deliver approximately 150 newbuild rigs over the next few years that must be staffed. At the same time, we are challenged with an aging workforce, and we need to manage natural attrition, so we’ve got to continue to train and develop and retain qualified personnel. Additionally, drilling equipment is becoming much more complex than what we dealt with years ago, so the level of sophistication in these systems and the level of education in the personnel required to operate them is very important.
Ensco has implemented a Competency Assurance Program for all of our offshore positions that is accredited by IADC. This ensures our employees are qualified to do the jobs they’ve been assigned to.
How can industry do a better job of recruiting?
First of all, we can do a better job of promoting our industry. A lot of young people who come out of universities or technical schools overlook our industry. This is a global industry with a global workforce. Years ago the majority of our senior operating personnel came from the United States because of the inherent amount of operations we did there. That has changed. You’ll see companies looking at non-traditional geographies for oilfield workers, like southern Europe, some areas of Latin America and some areas in Asia, and you’ll see more recruiting from outside the industry, like the military. We have focused on all branches of the military for several years. Veterans bring discipline. They understand how to work in a safe, systematic manner, how to follow policies and procedures. Plus, many of them are highly skilled in technologies that we use in the drilling industry.
You noted that the workforce is now global, so how can we ensure that people moving from rig to rig are able to work together among different cultures with different backgrounds?
The key is to have a strong corporate culture built on shared values. All employees agree on the importance of safety. Everyone understands the significance of operational performance, customer satisfaction and ethical behavior. Reinforcing these core values brings people from different backgrounds together – working toward common goals.
At the tactical level, we have translated many of our materials into multiple languages. Our safety induction video, for example, has been produced in 10 languages, from Portuguese to Thai and Vietnamese.
You said industry could do a better job of promotion of its image. How would you approach this?
There are three pieces of our story I think we need to tell:
First, there is great opportunity for young people entering our industry today. With the growth rate of our industry and the demand for hydrocarbons around the world, there is limitless opportunity to grow and be promoted – and to have an impact on the future of our industry.
Second, we’re a safe industry, and we have very defined processes, policies and procedures. We spend a huge amount of time and money on training our workforce to work safely.
Third, as with our safety performance, we focus on protection of the environment. We have sophisticated environment-processing equipment onboard the rig, and we follow very stringent marine and government regulations as it relates to the environment.
When recruiting, is industry looking for people who are already competent, or is it better to grow a new generation of loyal employees?
It can be a mixture of both. Anytime you can promote from within, it’s desired. Promotion from within builds loyalty, it builds familiarization with the company, and it builds a stronger culture. To me, promotion from within to the maximum extent possible is what you want to achieve.
How should competency be approached?
For competency assurance programs to be effective, they must be auditable and verifiable. How can you verify someone’s competency? You’ve got to do it by watching them perform something, and there has to be a certain amount of classroom instruction. Companies that adopt and apply effective, stringent, disciplined competency assurance systems see major benefits.
As IADC’s 2012 chairman, Dan Rabun, Ensco chairman, president and CEO, worked with the association to develop enhanced competency guidelines for rig personnel by expanding IADC’s existing Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) templates.
How do you think that will improve operational integrity across the drilling industry?
As personnel transfer from rig to rig, in some cases from company to company, if you have standardized competency requirements and a floorman on Company A goes to work for Company B, then he would know what’s expected of him at Company B. For a program like this to work, it really has to be implemented industrywide. Also, you have to keep refreshing and revitalizing the program.
Anytime you do something consistently, people understand what’s expected of them and you keep everyone inside the boundary, and you can’t help but improve efficiency and improve operating performance.
We’ve talked about the new generation of workers and the gap between the older and younger workforce. How can the industry make sure there’s a sharing going on where everyone is learning from one another?
We’ve always been a very close industry. We work together, and we collaborate well. It’s incumbent upon the senior generation to pass on to the younger employees entering this industry what are the good, strong points about working in this industry. Technology has changed, so it’s not so much a matter of handing down that knowledge. But when you get to things like well control and knowing how to handle a situation that doesn’t come up that often, that’s where the industry experience gained over the years can be passed on.
You’ve said before that if people take responsibility for their own actions, then we could have an accident-free workplace. How do you think industry can achieve that?
To me, the most important thing in maintaining an incident-free workplace is personal responsibility for safety. That means that a person will work outside on the rig floor for 12 hours focusing all the time on where he puts his hands, making sure he’s got the proper PPE on, watching other workers, being aware. It takes focus.
Further to that, the company has to define guidelines on how to act and permit-to-work systems, and each worker has a personal responsibility to follow those policies and procedures. If everyone is personally responsible for his or her own safety, it will go a long way in everyone working safely.
You then have to have an interdependent culture, a culture of teamwork, where each person will also look after his colleague and make sure if he sees someone putting his hands where his shouldn’t, he will remind that person not to do that. If someone is struggling in safety meetings or pre-job tour meetings, a co-worker should help them understand the job better.
If a job is not going the way it should be, workers should stop the job and regroup, think about it, re-plan and reorganize. Do not be afraid to stop the job. Many incidents occur when things get moving too fast and people forget where they are supposed to be.
We also must continue to train our people. At Ensco, our safety record in 2012 was the best we have ever had in the history of our company. We are working at a safer level than we have ever worked. Training of our personnel is very important, and through the first 11 months we’ve trained almost 2,000 of our supervisors in our safety management system, making sure everyone understands the same consistent policies and procedures and we’re applying them all across the Ensco fleet.
Process safety is obviously important as well. Process safety means you have defined policies and procedures. You’ve got checklists, so if something doesn’t look right when you reach this point, you adjust or stop and discuss it again.
I strongly believe that unless you have a personal responsibility for safety, unless you’re looking after your coworkers and you’re fostering a teamwork attitude and a strong safety culture onboard the rig, you’ll never be able to achieve an incident-free workplace.
How do you make sure that personal responsibility is instilled in every individual?
You can expect what you inspect. What that means is you might think that everyone is working safely and they understand what they’re supposed to be doing, but unless you go out and audit it, check on them and follow up, you will never know for sure. You must audit.
How often do you need to go out and inspect or audit?
We have three two-man audit teams called core value teams that go offshore with the specific requirement to audit our safety management system, make sure our permit-to-work system is being followed, make sure our energy isolation procedures are being followed and make sure our documentation is being followed. Then they also look for good housekeeping practices, make sure that we’re working consistently, that what we’re doing on ENSCO 8502 we’re doing on ENSCO 8503. If you have a culture of consistency across an organization, it makes the management of the organization much easier because everyone knows what’s expected of them.
How does equipment standardization play a role at Ensco?
It’s a philosophy we’ve been very successful at implementing. We’ve been focused on it very much the past five years. We recently delivered the seventh of our ENSCO 8500 Series semisubmersibles; we have a number of Samsung 96K drillships that are all consistent design, consistent equipment.
Many of our rigs are not only of the same design but also in the same operating areas. It makes it very easy to transfer a person from one rig to another without a lot of additional training because he’s already familiar with the equipment on the two rigs. It contributes to career development by increasing the opportunity for people to advance, but it also increases the benefits of keeping people because you have all of these rigs that are similar and you’re able to use their expertise. Equipment standardization also makes rig maintenance easier.
What equipment has become vital in offshore drilling operations?
Many improvements in efficiency and design of offshore drilling units have been achieved in the past 10 years. Our critical challenge in that arena is equipment reliability. We need to continue to work with our equipment suppliers in ensuring processes are maintained during the manufacturing, assembly and commissioning of this equipment, and we need to continue training technical personnel to operate this complex equipment.
We’re starting to see a lot more automated and computer-driven equipment, which is leading to more electronic technicians onboard. Years ago, you never saw an electronic technician on an offshore drilling rig; now they’re common. Rig designs are changing, and the equipment is more complex. It takes different skill sets to work offshore now than what it used to. Pressures are greater, temperatures are extreme and loads are heavier. In a 30,000-plus ft well in 8,000 ft of water, the loads in the weight of the casing string and the drilling string that you’re required to handle and manipulate are just incredible, so equipment has to be robust enough to work in those types of environments.
Another point is redundancy, because of the high cost of operating in extreme offshore environments. If something breaks down, you need to show you have a backup plan to continue operating.
You said these rigs are becoming a lot more complex and automated. With 150 newbuilds coming in, what is industry doing to ensure the startup and commissioning process goes smoothly?
The commissioning and startup process begins at a very early stage of construction. In other words, do not wait until the entire rig has been built before you start the commissioning process. Start commissioning and testing as you’re building the rig. Each rig has a defined maintenance system, so go ahead and get that information put into your maintenance system. If you need to pressure-test a length of pipe or a pipe spool or a pump, go ahead and get that done so that once the rig is delivered, you will have a lot of these systems commissioned individually. Then, once you do get in your final acceptance testing, you’ll have a lot of this work primarily done.
A lot of these vessels are built in modular form; when you get one module built, you can go ahead and start commissioning, and then when another one is integrated, you can continue there.
The ENSCO 8500 Series is a registered trademark of Ensco.