GE Oil & Gas Tackles the ‘Great Crew Change’

GE Energy04 September 2013, News Wires – While the oil and gas industry struggles to deal with the “Great Crew Change” – a major demographic shift in the sector created by the retirement of Baby Boom-generation workers – many of the sector’s major companies are seeking new strategies to find the next generation of oil and gas engineers and other technical professionals.

One such firm is GE Oil & Gas, whose CEO Dan Heintzelman noted earlier this year that approximately five million oil and gas workers – around half the total workforce – would be eligible to retire in 2015.

Ahead of the GE Oil & Gas Young Engineer Panel session at Offshore Europe in Aberdeen this Thursday, Rigzone caught up with Neil Saunders – Senior Vice President for Products and Projects at the firm’s Subsea Systems division – to discuss how GE Oil & Gas Subsea Systems is meeting the Great Crew Change challenge.

While GE Oil & Gas Subsea Systems is keen to develop young talent, the organization is mindful of the need to add some 2,000 mostly-experienced personnel to its 2012 staff count by 2016.

“Fifty percent of, certainly, the oil and gas sector’s engineers are eligible for retirement by around 2015, which is … pretty scary when you overlay the growth that we’re anticipating in subsea in the next three to five to 10 years. It’s tracking a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of anywhere between 12 and 14 percent depending on who you read and who you believe. So, when you overlay that talent gap with that growth then you see a compounded problem,” Saunders told Rigzone.

“In 2012, we managed to take on about 1,400 people and … we have a forecast of workload and growth that has another circa 2,000 people between this year and 2016. So, it’s all fairly scary from a megatrends standpoint right the way down to our business.”

As well as recruiting some of the people it needs from within the industry itself, GE Oil & Gas Subsea Systems is looking at more innovative approaches to finding appropriate staff.

“One of the interesting things we’ve done is to expand the pool where we fish for talent… Continuing to try to milk the subsea oil and gas hubs – Aberdeen, Singapore, Houston and Rio – for that talent is a law of diminishing returns for us. So we’re finding different pools to fish in. We’re looking for adjacent industries where we feel quite strongly that we can cross-train. We’re looking in defense industries, we’re looking in automotive industries and we’re running a subsea conversion program that we’ve launched this year to take in multiple disciplines: from field services engineers right the way through to project professionals, commercial roles and engineering disciplines as well.”

And it is not just other engineering industries where this talent resides.

Dipping into the Military Pool

“We’re also looking very closely at leveraging something that GE is very successful at doing in the U.S., which is to dip into the military pool. Obviously, in the UK at the moment that presents a huge opportunity for us given some of the downsizing of the armed forces there. We’ve been very successful in Scotland doing that and we’re starting to broaden that out across the UK,” Saunders said.

“So, we find very relevant and adjacent skills there. Across GE, there’s a Junior Officers program. It’s a leadership program that’s specifically designed for ex-military personnel, so we’re bringing that into subsea as well.”

GE Oil & Gas is also setting up skills hubs in non-traditional oil and gas locations.

“So, we’re building out a project office in the south of England to try to stay away from Aberdeen and London and so on. We’re building a very sizable engineering capability in Poland, for example, not because we think Poland is necessarily best cost but because we think it can be a center of excellence for us for engineering. There are very strong academic organisations over there that we’ve managed to tap into,” Saunders said.

“We are also recruiting directly from universities over in Poland. We’ve set up a huge engineering house over there. We’ve partnered with other parts of GE to do that. For example, our aviation business has a similar model.”

While GE Oil & Gas’ immediate concern is around finding mid-career people (with perhaps five-to-10 years of industry experience) who can be converted to work in the upstream oil and gas sector, the company is also continuing to develop young talent.

The Subsea Systems business is working to encourage interest in the sector among school children and university students.

“To do this, we’re engaging some of the learned societies that we have in and around subsea. For example, we’re getting more involved with the SUT (Society for Underwater Technology) and the SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers). Both of those organizations are trying to figure out how they can appeal to the young element, so we’re working with them to do that,” Saunders said.

“We’ve got pretty good engagement with some of the more traditional universities in the UK. For example: Newcastle, Cranfield and Heriot-Watt. And we have good engagement with universities in the U.S. and Brazil. More recently, we’ve developed a better connection with some of the academic organizations that exist in West Africa, such as Angola. So, we’re bringing a younger workforce into the family there as well.”

The Subsea Systems unit may also develop an Angolan apprenticeship scheme, where school leavers move directly on to technical colleges to learn a variety of practical skills useful for oil and gas.

“We’ve already got a long-standing, very successful apprenticeship scheme that feeds our Montrose [Scotland] facility, with the apprentices coming through Angus College. And we’re very proud of that population of apprentices: we have ex-apprentices out of there who now hold very senior positions within the business. So, we continue to support that.”

“Probably the only other location where we are looking to have something very similar is Angola,” Saunders said, adding that Subsea Systems is also involved in training apprentices in Australia.

‘We’ll Try Anything to Bridge the Gap’

Whether GE Oil & Gas will be successive in plugging the talent gap remains to be seen but Saunders appeared to be confident.

“Early indications are quite encouraging. Everything has a different incubation time. The academic engagement is a fairly long burn. We’re continuing to run apprenticeship schemes and sponsor graduate schemes and bring that population in,” he said.

“We’re probably seeing the gap close quicker through our conversion program in terms of bringing in mid-career people and making them effective in our business … We have people who hadn’t seen too much subsea equipment 18 months ago and are now managing fairly significant work.”

So, through several different approaches, GE Oil & Gas might just pull it off.

– Rigzone

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