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Solving the skills gap: learning technology

Oilfield Technology,

There is a great deal of concern in oil and gas about the growing skills shortage. A 2012 study by OPITO and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) found that more than half of firms in the sector identify skill shortages as their ‘number one challenge’. More worryingly, as we see increased investment in the North Sea, demand for qualified staff is set to reach an all-time high in the UK, which is likely to exacerbate an already serious skills crisis.

The impact of this skills shortage affects not just the oil and gas industry, but also the economy at large, with the oil and gas supply chain contributing over £27 billion per year to the UK economy and over 450 000 jobs. A recent survey by the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce shows that half of the contractors questioned consider the skills gap as the biggest barrier to growth. Despite this, many advances in learning technologies are helping businesses to solve some of the problems posed by a growing skills shortage.

Consistent training across borders

As the industry becomes even more global, companies have a need for an international workforce which can move easily between markets, depending on where they are needed. In countries like the UK, where there is a skills gap due to a shortage of new people entering the oil and gas industry, a fluid global workforce can alleviate some of the problems, bringing experts from outside the country and ensuring continued growth of the industry.

For this to work, however, companies must ensure that all their employees have a consistent level of training, regardless of where in the world they come from. E-learning enables companies to have one consistent training programme implemented across all markets, delivered to the same standard, which can be recognised throughout the world, facilitating the movement of skilled employees.

The rise of technology supported learning

In the oil and gas industry, the average age of the workforce is 41.1. As many of these skilled workers approach retirement, a gap is being created within companies as younger employees do not have all the necessary skills needed to replace the outgoing workforce. Couple this with an industry decrease in training budgets and it is easy to see why the skills shortage is causing such a problem within the industry.

Furthermore, lower budgets are threatening training quality and performance, while aggressive project schedules and shorter lead times requiring skilled and qualified personnel are creating manpower shortages.

Fortunately, advanced learning technology means that companies can now provide excellent training within lower budgets, and up skill their workforce to fill the gaps. One of the challenges in the past has been how to provide training to a rapidly growing workforce in a cost-effective manner, particularly when most training was provided in a classroom. Face to face training is very expensive, both in terms of the cost of the training itself, and also the associated costs with sending people to centres to complete courses. E-learning, however, inverts the cost basis of training, making it far more scalable throughout an organisation. It also makes a more efficient use of learners’ time, through adaptive learning systems. For example, at Atlas, we have developed FastTrack technology, which pre-screens trainees’ existing knowledge to deliver only what they do not already know.

As an added benefit, e-learning allows far greater consistency of content than face-to-face training, which can be dependent on factors such as the quality of an individual trainer or how tired the trainee is. This is important in an industry where safety is critical and procedures have to be effectively controlled. What this means is that employers can not only train a greater number of employees, despite decreased budgets, but they can also ensure that junior workers are being trained to a sufficiently high level to help plug the skills gap.

In addition to this, learning is not tied to the location and time constraints of a particular knowledgeable individual. It can be delivered to where an employee needs it, 24/7. This means that employees do not have to be taken out of the working situation to learn new skills, saving money for employers and removing some of the time constraints on teams. Learning and knowledge can be delivered ‘just in time’, ‘just enough’, and personalised to the user (i.e., ‘just for me’).

The drive towards competency-based learning is an important development for organisations in oil and gas.

For many oil and gas organisations, qualifications are only part of the story. Experience gained on the job is at least as important to effective, safe working, as you cannot replace field experience.

This is why competency-based approaches will play an even more important role in training workers in the industry, and helping to solve the skills gap. An individual’s ability to show they have the practical skills and knowledge to carry out a task safely, at an appropriate pace, consistently and within the level of responsibility given to them, is absolutely crucial for ensuring that the oil and gas industry has a developed workforce that can handle growth within the sector.

Competency also means having the capacity to deal effectively with emergency situations. A competent person will therefore have the practical and theoretical knowledge, skills and experience to perform a particular task, when assessed against the national or internal standards.

Moving towards the younger, global workforce

As the oil and gas industry moves towards a younger, more global workforce, it is imperative that we find ways to address the growing skills shortage both in the UK and internationally. Key initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes and encouraging more young people to study engineering will play a major part in this, however it is important not to overlook the impact that training and learning technology can have.

In particular, new learning technologies have an important role in up skilling existing workers, promoting workforce mobility, and developing competency within the sector. Providing accessible, industry standard technology learning can be an important step to bridge the skills gap faced by the industry, by addressing these three factors.

Written by Robert Morgan, Executive Chairman, Atlas. Edited by Cecilia Rehn.

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