How to Maximise Technical Training ROI for Your Organisation – The Case of Oil & Gas

March 27, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-oilandgas

My years in L&D have taught me that technical industries, especially oil & gas, operate at a relentless pace. Keeping a workforce ahead of the curve isn’t just about compliance- it’s about survival in the never-ending game of ‘evolve or die.’

In industries where complex technologies, evolving regulations, and often-remote operating environments create a distinct need for innovative training approaches, L&D initiatives that successfully address these challenges must not simply align with business goals but should become fully integrated within the fabric of the company’s operations. In my work with one O&G company, outdated training nearly derailed a promising deepwater campaign due to misunderstandings of the latest subsea equipment specs.

This experience underscored the fact that ‘L&D in the oil and gas sector can’t just be a service provider; it needs to be a strategic partner woven into the core of how the company plans and executes’.

Beyond Alignment: Integrating L&D with Business Strategy

Scenario-based training is an undeniable game-changer. It can save the day when things go wrong. Imagine an oil and gas company utilising advanced VR simulations to train offshore drilling crews in handling emergency scenarios like blowout prevention or equipment malfunctions. These hyper-realistic simulations allow practice and refinement of crucial safety protocols in a high-stakes but low-risk environment, potentially saving lives and preventing environmental disasters.

For rapidly evolving oil fields, L&D teams can adopt agile methodologies, mirroring those used in software development. A team preparing comprehensive training materials for field engineers adopting new reservoir modeling software could benefit significantly from this approach, continuously iterating on content based on early user feedback and rapidly fine-tuning the training experience.

Finally, technical knowledge repositories are valuable resources. A searchable database of best practices in well completion techniques, including optimal casing and cementing designs, gives engineers a quick reference when making complex decisions, thus optimising outcomes.

To take this concept even further, this repository could include detailed case studies from past projects within the company, highlighting specific challenges faced, successful solutions employed, and lessons learned. This institutional knowledge prevents the repetition of mistakes, speeds up decision-making, and promotes continuous improvement within the organisation. It prevents reinventing the wheel and builds on hard-won lessons.

Needs Assessment and Analysis: The Art of Precision

Drilling down into an organisation’s skill gaps is where successful L&D programs excel. Detailed skills matrices can map out competencies such as well control procedures, reservoir modeling techniques, and instrumentation and automation. These matrices break down skills for various roles on drilling rigs, production facilities, and refineries.

Analysing data from learning management systems (LMS) can zero in on specific areas where employees consistently struggle, signaling a clear target for intervention. However, sometimes the most valuable insights come from direct observation. I once shadowed a senior production engineer at an O&G company and realised that outdated flow loop calculations were bottlenecking their daily decisions. A quick upskilling session on the latest software tools optimised their workflow instantly, proving that observation can reveal what conventional assessments may miss.

Personalisation: Transcending the “One-Size-Fits-All” Approach

The days of generic training are over. The outdated “one-size-fits-all” training approach significantly hinders L&D effectiveness, especially in technical areas. An AI-powered platform can make all the difference. Case at hand: An oil and gas exploration company utilizes an AI-powered platform to assess geologists’ and geophysicists’ pre-existing knowledge of basin analysis and seismic interpretation, adjusting training modules accordingly.

This ensures that those with strong foundations can quickly progress to advanced techniques, while others receive necessary remediation on core principles—all without wasting valuable time. Let’s consider a petroleum engineer with considerable experience in reservoir analysis but limited exposure to production optimisation.

The AI-powered platform can recommend remedial training modules in flow assurance or artificial lift techniques to address the identified gap, ensuring the engineer can comprehensively understand and deal with production challenges.

Microlearning plays a vital role too—consider short videos on the correct use of specialized safety equipment, viewable by rig workers right before their shift. Traditional mentorship also thrives in complex technical operations; pairing a seasoned engineer with a newly onboarded local engineer creates a powerful channel for knowledge transfer and accelerates the newcomer’s professional development, benefiting both individuals and their organisation.

Within the context of nationalisation, and particularly within the GCC, this is a powerful formula to create between an expat and a national. I have seen new hires make groundbreaking reservoir management proposals after just a year of learning at an expert’s side. Make this mentorship a formal expectation, with contractual KPIs for both sides, and you’ll build national talent at breakneck speed!

Building a Culture of Learning and Innovation: The Leader’s Role

Building a true learning culture in oil and gas takes more than just lip service. A genuine culture of continuous learning requires demonstrable commitment from leadership. Consider an oil and gas service company that carves out 5% of every employee’s workweek for dedicated training and upskilling: deep dives into new logging tool software, vendor-led training on completion equipment upgrades, or mentorship sessions on complex lithology interpretation.

This is a company that explicitly recognises that employee development is essential for the company’s success. Employees might choose between formal training, collaboration within their community of practice, or working towards industry-recognised certifications.

Managers are key here and must go further, actively weaving ongoing skill-building into performance reviews and career progression discussions. Maybe that newly trained cementing engineer takes the lead on the next high-pressure job, proving it’s not just about knowledge, but application.

A drilling superintendent might introduce friendly competition with a leaderboard, tracking team members’ progress on upskilling in advanced drilling techniques. Throw in badges when someone hits a milestone and you’ve suddenly got crews eager for training. Most importantly, show the payoff, demonstrate the direct link between an employee’s newly acquired skills and their expanded responsibilities or potential for promotion. That geologist who just mastered geosteering techniques? They are leading the placement of the next horizontal well, proving that upskilling translates directly into greater responsibility and impact, reinforcing the value of continuous learning and innovation.

The Digital Edge: Tools and Trends

Technology is revolutionising how we train in oil and gas, offering innovative tools specifically for technical training and L&D programs. Highly immersive virtual reality (VR) simulations are increasingly utilized for training field technicians in the assembly, maintenance, and repair of complex oilfield equipment like wellheads and pumps. The ability to safely practice in a simulated environment is particularly beneficial for high-consequence tasks. For troubleshooting scenarios, a technician dons a VR headset and suddenly finds themselves on a virtual offshore platform, working on a complex control valve assembly.

The simulation can introduce a malfunction, forcing the trainee to pinpoint the fault, reference schematics, and execute the correct repair procedure – all under the pressure of a simulated time constraint. VR shines for remote operations too, addressing remote work challenges, allowing technicians in dispersed locations to train collaboratively on complex procedures without having to leave the workplace, travel or convene in one location. Imagine a multi-location team analyzing vibration data patterns on a critical downhole pump. They can all be in the same virtual wellbore, seeing the issue visually, collaborating on diagnosis…no matter if they are in Houston, the North Sea, the UAE, or onshore. This is a definitive game-changer when expertise is scattered.

Proving ROI: The Data Speaks

In the oil and gas world, training isn’t an expense, it’s an investment. But to secure ongoing support, L&D departments need to speak the language of the bottom line. They need to effectively measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of their L&D initiatives. L&D specialists must go beyond solely demonstrating training efficiency, or even competency gains, and instead focus on how their programs drive tangible business results. This means tracking business metrics closely linked to the training objectives. Let’s say your team rolled out a program focused on optimising artificial lift selection and maintenance. Don’t measure success just by course completion rates.

Track metrics that matter: boosted production per well, fewer unplanned workovers, or a drop in equipment replacement costs. Surveys are good too, but only if they target specifics. Did the training change how engineers approach problem-solving on the job, enhancing collaboration with the well servicing team?

Finally, cost savings speak volumes. Imagine proving that improved safety protocols for H2S handling led to a 20% decrease in safety stand-down hours. That gets attention. By meticulously tracking results like these, L&D presents a compelling case that transcends simple workforce development. It’s about safer sites, more productive wells, and a demonstrable impact on the company’s profitability. This data-driven approach fosters a strategic partnership between L&D and other departments within the company, positioning training initiatives as drivers of both operational efficiency, business effectiveness, and long-term success.

Conclusion: L&D as a Strategic Driver

Training departments in technical industries, including the oil and gas sector, have the power to shape the future. By going beyond mere alignment with business goals and truly integrating L&D into the company’s core, a culture of continuous learning and innovation flourishes. Embracing agile methodologies, personalising the learning journey, and harnessing the power of digital technology are not just best practices—they are catalysts of innovation and resilience and safeguards against costly knowledge gaps as our fields mature and regulations evolve.

The question for training departments isn’t whether to adapt, but how to become proactive architects of a workforce equipped to thrive in an ever-changing landscape. By doing so, they secure a future for organisations where employees are not just keeping up; they are leading the charge into the next era of energy innovation!

Mostafa Azzam

Executive Director, TALENT Training & Management Consulting

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