Skip to comments.Drilling company looks high and low for workers
Posted on 12/10/2012 5:24:05 AM PST by thackney
How hot is offshore drilling? So hot that its hard to find enough roustabouts, mechanics and experienced managers to staff all the rigs under construction.
So hot that Ensco, with six new rigs set to debut over the next two years, will need 1,000 more people, said Kurt Basler, the companys manager of strategic staffing in Houston.
So hot that some 20,000 to 25,000 offshore workers will be needed industrywide over the next two to three years, Basler said.
The shortages are acute everywhere, said Steve Colville, president and CEO of the International Association of Drilling Contractors in Houston.
The search for workers with the right skills who would be the right fit has sent companies like Ensco looking outside traditional oil and gas businesses. Not everyone is enthusiastic about working 12 hours a day for up to 28 days straight on a drilling rig half a world away.
But with the right training, even a small-town barber can make a lot of money on a rig.
The last five years have seen an explosion in the number of countries seeking to exploit their energy resources, Colville said. That, in turn, is causing a surge in drilling activity.
Add to that the effect of an aging workforce that is beginning to retire in big numbers, he said. Many workers put off retirement during the last recession, but with the stock market doing better, many are opting to leave now.
Casting a wide net
Ensco recruiters recently hosted about 25 engineering students from Texas A&M University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Louisiana State University, the University of Wyoming and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to tour its newest rig docked in Corpus Christi. They took particular pains to show off the hotel-like quality of the accommodations and food service.
The offshore drilling services provider is also asking its current employees who are military veterans to come up with ways to reach other former service members.
Its hosting dinners and overnight get-togethers in Europe to attract mechanics and electricians who might be interested in jobs on a drilling platform.
One of the important selling points is getting beyond the common image that life on a rig is grim. One recruiter described the experience as a five-star hotel, though Basler said he wouldnt go that far.
Im sure we dont have the pillows that the five-star hotels have, he said, laughing.
But he added that the chefs are known for serving top-notch food; the comfortable accommodations include workout facilities and Internet; and the wages for roustabouts start at $50,000.
Allen Vineyard, a mechanic and electrician by training, was skeptical at first. He headed the automation department for a poultry processing plant in Arkansas and had never before been on a rig. He worried about motion sickness and helicopter crash training that requires an underwater escape.
Plus, he added, the oil and gas industry doesnt exactly have a great reputation.
But he was also burned out from working six- to seven-day weeks at the poultry plant and figured hed gone as far as hed go. When a good friend told Vineyard about the rig job, he jumped at the opportunity.
It turns out that even though he works three weeks straight, hes working fewer hours over the course of a year. And hes making more money.
Vineyard stressed his troubleshooting skills when he applied. Lots of computer systems use the same hardware and networking systems, he said, and he could learn what he needed with specialized software training.
Electricity is electricity, but the specialized equipment is different, said Vineyard, who has done two hitches in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Singapore. He started as an assistant electrician in May and was recently promoted to rig electrician.
21 on, 21 off
The schedule 21 days on, followed by 21 days off is working well with his family. He stays in touch with his high-schooler, the only child still at home, by email and telephone. When Vineyard comes home, they can spend a lot of quality time together.
As for his wife?
When I come back, its like having a honeymoon all over again, he said.
At work, he shares a room with the person who shares his job, so they rarely see each other.
I have my own bed. Its not hot bunks, Vineyard said, referring to the practice of shift workers who use one bed and the same linens as one shift ends and the other starts.
In October, London-based Ensco invited about 30 electricians and mechanics to Warsaw, Poland, to hear about what its like to live and work on a drilling rig. They came from a variety of other industries including refining, shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing. They were familiar with the offshore industry, but Basler said one of the recruits noted that this was the first time theyd been actively recruited.
About half will receive job offers, he said.
The drilling industry has to do more to make sure people know it offers excellent jobs, long-term employment opportunities and high pay, Colville said.
It is working on developing standardized certification programs so job candidates can learn the basics that are recognized in the industry, he said.
The industry is also joining forces with community colleges to make more students and educators aware of the wide assortment of drilling jobs available from electricians to caterers. Eventually, that should make it easier to navigate the opportunities and figure out what skills and certifications are necessary.
It happens by happenstance now, Colville said. We need to make it attractive to people.
A very good decision
Fred Ceasar certainly didnt plan for a career in oil and gas. He was a barber in Alexandria, La., and was happy cutting hair. But his best friend talked up the opportunities in drilling, so Ceasar applied with Ensco. He was hired as a roustabout in 2006 and promoted to assistant crane operator three years later.
I wasnt worried about my skills, he said. I figured I would learn.
Ceasar works 21 days in a row in the Gulf of Mexico, followed by 21 days off, and earns twice as much as he did as a barber.
It was a very good decision. It changed my life. It made a man out of me, he said.
One of the biggest concerns going in was the food. Ceasar likes soul food, and it turned out thats what the cooks make.
They cook what we cook, he said. They want to keep you happy.
The desire for gumbo and cornbread is so intense that the company dispatched one of its chief stewards to the Mediterranean to teach the Cajun techniques to satisfy homesick employees from Louisiana.
Its a big unknown, said Basler, who hopes that recruiting events in Warsaw and Corpus Christi will help spread the word.
I hope the kids say when they go back to the Marine Academy, You cannot believe what we saw and what we did.?
Son works in the gulf for Big Oil Rig company; works 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off. 28yrs old and makes 90K. He took a class in his last year of Marines for oil rig training. Tested and had highest score. He says the food is good, really hot in the summer but being a Marine helped him to deal with living on a rig.
They need to start a special trade school for this profession. Looks like the companies will have to do it themselves.
Very cool....I’m sure it is a rigorous schedule...but hell...he’s a Marine!!
There is lots of training available for those that want it.
One of the biggest problem I hear is finding those not already in the industry who can pass a drug test.
are you insinuating that I am lazy? Just kidding...
A cynic might suggest that finding people to work at any job is becoming more problematic, what with cradle-to-grave welfare...
The oil and pipeline construction companies didn’t have a problem staffing during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and weather conditions were much worse.
They didn’t make them pass a drug test at that time either.
I’ve seen the repair work done on the electrical side to bring the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline up to code years later.
They should have drug tested then, workers as well as inspectors.