For those of us fortunate to have worked in the global oil and gas industry since Pink Floyd and flared jeans, the constant highs and lows of the market will have prompted some recent déjà vu as prices sank, wallowed and started to rise.
We hear it again and again during a downturn that lessons from the past have not been learnt. Each time, people lose their jobs, salaries are cut, graduate and apprentice recruitment halts, investment in R&D is curtailed and training diminishes. When the market does eventually pick up, those who have been made redundant have retired, moved to a different industry or started their own business, making it hard to find personnel with desirable knowledge and experience. I read recently that in the US, the shale market has already raised people rates by 20 per cent to draw them back into the industry – no wonder costs rapidly spiral.
But this downturn has presented us with an opportunity to assess the landscape and apply new thinking to how the industry handles its people. For example, it’s a prime opportunity to reset the average age of oil and gas workers, which we all know is getting higher. I know of one Diving Support Vessel owner/operator which has designed their new vessel bell deployment systems to be off-set from the vessel’s centre line, so ‘older’ divers can get to the site more easily. It’s a novel idea, but one which highlights both the need for us to continually attract younger people into the industry and have a firm grip on succession planning. What’s more, individuals who have started their own businesses in the last few years have devised original ways to heighten competition, either with new technology or support from organisations like the Oil and Gas Technology Centre and Scottish Enterprise. In doing so, they’ve refreshingly removed the “but we’ve always done it this way” attitude that shrouded the industry. Companies which have survived the downturn can learn a lot from their entrepreneurial thinking – even if the company is decades old. If we want a future, we need to think creatively about re-attracting, retaining and nurturing people who can take us into this so-called new chapter, and not simply by putting an extra zero on their pay check.
A common factor of any downturn is the consolidation of companies to acquire technology, expertise and product offerings in an adjacent sector, while using the synergies to optimise costs. We’ve seen this first-hand with Flexlife: it’s still only four months since we were acquired by the Seanamic Group, but we’re already seeing enormous benefits from shared facilities in Aberdeen and Houston, to integrated overhead functions like finance and HR, and operational support through cross-discipline utilisation. Our people are bringing together their knowledge, experience and skills to give assets a new lease of life through testing, inspection and repair programmes.
So if we really want to avoid another groundhog day, one of the most important things the industry can do is carefully control people-related costs. But with rates already rising to bring talented people back into the fold, déjà vu strikes again… -Stewart Duthie, Manager Subsea Technology, Flexlife