By Bill McPherson, Noble Drilling Services Inc
“I am the age-old story of the oilfield. I am third-generation oilfield who started college and made some bad decisions and ended up working the past twenty-odd years in it… I have made a good living in the oilfield, but there has always been that little something missing … a college degree.” (e-mail from an oil patch professional)
With the world’s thirst for oil and gas increasing every day, our industry has become more and more vital to not only national interests but also world interests. Hurricane disruptions have shown what impact our industry can have on the economies of nations.
And, still vivid in the minds of the general public is the sight of Bruce Willis, drilling contractor and rig owner, scrambling in and about his rig, firing a shotgun at a roughneck who was hitting on his daughter (from the movie Hollywood “Armageddon”). How unlikely is it that a bunch of red-neck yahoos could save the world? We might not feel as comfortable in a boardroom, or a room full of other traditional professionals such as doctors, lawyers, pilots and accountants, as we would in the outdoors hunting and fishing. However, are we any less the professional?
The drilling industry has come a long way in the past few years. Our rigs are being equipped with technologies far beyond the imaginations of our pioneering industry forefathers, and the pace of technological advancement is exponential. Along with this technology brings a whole new breed of oilfield hands. Today, it would be easier for my son—who grew up playing video games—to drill a well using cyber-technology, than a driller who has been on the brake since before my son was born. However, with our industry’s image, we have little threat from my son’s generation — why would they ever want to be a part of it?
Standing on tour on drilling rigs around the world are the world’s experts on drilling technologies and their applications. Who else has the knowledge and experience to do the jobs we do? We are drilling with more efficiency, effectiveness, and better environmental and safety records than ever before. And yet, “something is missing … a degree.”
It is past time that we, as an industry, establish the standard for experience, training, and competence required to man our fleets. Only with formal structure, consistent quality and standardized criteria can we give our training and developmental programs the validity required to be recognized by formal learning and educational institutions. With these standards, we can identify quality training providers, establish curriculum to fill gaps, and create an industry that is perceived as “professional.”
The Petroleum Extension Service (PETEX), a unit of the Division of Continuing Education at The University of Texas at Austin, has stepped up to help us develop certificate and degree programs for the professional men and women in our industry. PETEX is creating a partnership with Lone Star College, a Houston area community college system, to offer the program.
In addition, some Houston-area high schools are beginning to offer favorable introductory courses to the drilling industry. An obvious advantage to having early exposure to our industry and with follow-on degrees available is that we could attract the next generation of drillers to operate our rigs.
Advisory boards are currently being formed to develop program criteria, curriculum definitions and course requirements. Opportunities are available to help in the program development and set industry standards. With the name recognition of University of Texas and Lone Star College, certificates and degrees they issue can provide the recognition many of our professionals have been missing.
Those who are interested in joining this effort should contact Bill McPherson, director – organizational development and training, Noble Drilling Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org