As automation and new technology bring changes to the oil, gas and petrochemical industry, it is incumbent upon the industry’s workforce to keep abreast of those changes.

BIC Recruiting on job site

“Over the past 10 years, what I’ve observed specifically in the oil and gas industry is you had to have experience,” said Kimberly Franklin, manager of talent acquisition for Oxy Petroleum. “You had to have a certain degree, and if you didn’t, then we moved on to the next person who did.”

This restrictive view resulted in a shortage of skilled workers for the growing industry, “so we had to evolve,” Franklin said. “We had to be more creative.”

Since that time, the industry has learned its lesson and responded by creating nontraditional programs to address the workforce gap.

“We are hiring more military and people from NASA with degrees we would not typically go after for this industry and training them in-house,” Franklin said on a panel discussing workforce development at the Gulf Coast Industry Forum held recently in Pasadena, Texas. “They have that base foundation and the critical thinking skills we need. Now they just need to learn how to apply it to this industry.”

More evolution has occurred in the realm of “field operational-type, critical-skillset people that actually touch the wellhead,” she said. “For so long, we could have individuals with high school degrees. That is becoming the past. With the skills and the advancing technologies that we have in our operations, we are looking to community colleges that we partner with for applied science degrees and process technology, petroleum technology — anything that has an inkling of automation, because that is our future.”

New enthusiasm for industry

Representing the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF), Chairman Brandon Mabile recollected a much different experience when he first entered the construction industry as a welder’s helper.

“Even as recently as 20 years ago, your dad, your uncle or your cousin brought you to the gate, you met a superintendent, filled out some paperwork, maybe went down the street and peed in a cup, then you came back and went to work,” he said.

Today, an individual interested in a similar position must first go to a human resources office, take a competency test and then take a hands-on test.

A background check and drug screen are also part of the hiring process, and then, “if you’re lucky, six days later you’re in the facility,” Mabile said.

Mabile said he believes one of the major factors contributing to this change in the hiring process occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“A lot of our workforce dispersed, and I think it brought a lot of new people into our workforce who were claiming they had work skills that they didn’t,” Mabile said. “All of a sudden, assessment and verification became important.”

Background screenings have also become a priority to owners in a post-9/11 world, Mabile noted.

Co-panelist Frazier Wilson, vice president of Shell Oil Co. Foundation, observed the overall perception of the industry has also changed in recent years.

“As I look at what has happened over the years, what I see is better collaboration and alliances partnering with community colleges, definitely better use of the technology that can help with the training — and also how we share and bring employees into the workforce,” Wilson said.

“Now we’re welcomed into the classroom and parent meetings to share about the opportunities and careers in our industry,” he said. “There’s more of a desire and interest to pursue occupations in our space.”

Jim Griffin, associate vice chancellor and senior vice president of the petrochemical training division at San Jacinto College, moderated the panel.