October 2018

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Viewpoint: New thinking to old problems

The oil and gas industry is aging, and it is time to get wiser when it comes to training and productivity.

The oil and gas industry is aging, and it is time to get wiser when it comes to training and productivity.

More than a decade ago, World Petroleum Council Director General Dr. Pierce Riemer warned the industry that it was on “the edge of a demographic cliff.”1 At the time, the average age in exploration and production was 50 yr old, and the industry had already lost more than 1 MM employees.2 Many more are now enjoying their retirement. Oil, gas and energy recruitment specialist Petroplan’s most recent Talent Insight Index 2017 report found that more than 20% of oil and gas professionals said the industry lacked the right talent for its growth.3

This problem is only going to get worse. In 2017, the youngest baby boomers, on whom the industry has long depended, were in their early 50s; the oldest were over 70.4

As boomers retire, a new generation is emerging to provide a vast potential pool of recruitment: millennials, with 15 MM more of them than baby boomers, now constitute the largest generation in the American labor force (> 33%), according to Pew Research.5

The differences represented by this new generation of workers have been well documented. Crucially, they are said to be job-hoppers. Consultant Deloitte’s 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that two-thirds of millennials expect to have moved from their current employers by the end of 2020. Only 16% saw themselves sticking around for the next decade.6 Many typically stay in the same job for just 2 yr. If it takes a year to train a new plant employee, that does not appear to be a promising investment.

Moreover, studies show that millennials require new approaches to learning and development:

  • They are the “digital natives”7 and have grown up in the Internet age. They demand technological solutions, and quick and ready access to information with the touch of a finger.
  • Because they have been raised in a connected, digital world, they are more experiential learners.8
  • They want jobs that are personally fulfilling, enable them to grow and learn new skills, and challenge them with new and evolving responsibilities.9

If businesses play to their strengths, they might find that the growing numbers of millennials will work for them surprisingly well.

Getting real.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) should be a big part of this conversation. Studies show that experiential learning techniques are up to seven or eight times more effective than passive learning through listening (lectures) or visualization (presentations). This is the basis of the learning pyramid.10 Only teaching others is a more effective way to retain information.

This is amplified for millennials, as they learn best through practice. However, turning trainees loose to practice on a live plant before they are ready is impractical and dangerous. AR and VR are ideal substitutes.

The technologies are similar. VR replaces our reality with another, using a headset with a screen in front of the individual’s eyes to draw them into a digital world they can manipulate or walk around in. AR, or mixed reality as it is perhaps more helpfully called, projects computer graphics into the real world. At its simplest, this is accomplished by having users look at the world through the camera and screen of their mobile phone, as with the popular Pokémon Go game. More sophisticated solutions, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, use headsets that allow the user to still see the real world as well as computer-generated graphics.

Both technologies give trainees an immersive experience, but the level of immersion differs. With VR, the trainee in an office may walk around a virtual plant to locate and work on a controller cabinet or flow meter. Using AR, trainees can work on the same cabinet or meter projected onto the conference room desk. Both solutions, however, offer hands-on practice without the associated risks of real life.

The technology is particularly powerful with millennials, especially those with any experience in video games. It provides training ideally suited to this generation, significantly increases the speed of uptake and can help rapidly close the skills gap left by baby boomer retirements.

It is estimated that targeted learning combined with this type of technology can reduce the typical time it takes to get workers up to speed and ready to work from 6 mos to 2 mos.

Old distinctions wear thin.

These technologies do more than just improve the speed and retention of learning: they erode the distinction between learning and doing. Immersive competency solutions help individuals learn by doing—not just at the outset, but throughout their careers.

Consider a real scenario encountered recently by a plant that identified that one of its assets had a malfunctioning probe. No onsite personnel had ever replaced one before, and it was a relatively complex process. A VR training module was supplied for workers to go through the steps in a virtual environment before doing it out in the plant later that same day, eliminating the need to call in a specialist or the equipment manufacturer.

FIG. 1. Head-mounted displays use voice-recognition technology to offer users a wide range of both productivity tools and guidance, capturing pictures and video, pulling live data and connecting to experts in the central control room or elsewhere who can see what the user sees.
FIG. 1. Head-mounted displays use voice-recognition technology to offer users a wide range of both productivity tools and guidance, capturing pictures and video, pulling live data and connecting to experts in the central control room or elsewhere who can see what the user sees.

As the line between learning and doing is blurred, we also chip away at the distinctions between tools for productivity and training. After all, training is ultimately designed to enhance productivity. With workers learning as they work and working as they learn, and as we meet the demand for information to be constantly available, the difference between these productivity and training tools becomes increasingly irrelevant.

New intelligent wearable technologies are a prime example. Head-mounted displays, for instance, (FIG. 1) combine with voice-recognition technology to offer users a wide range of both productivity tools and guidance. These displays can capture pictures and video, pull live data and connect to experts in the central control room or elsewhere who can see what the user sees. Users can rapidly access information on assets that they are examining or locate devices using their voice. Soon, they will be able to call up video clips from a library of maintenance tasks.

The solution takes technology that is increasingly common in the home, such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, and applies it powerfully in the field.

The information from a truly effective wearable device loses its value in the oil and gas industry without access to plant data. When connected, learning and guidance can be automated. For example, a spike in temperature or pressure requiring a shutdown can automatically bring up a step-by-step guide for that procedure.

Proprietary intelligent wearable solutions go further and draw from major enterprise resource planning systems, such as SAP, Maximo and Sales Force, helping inform and contextualize decisions in the field. More practically, the solution is intrinsically safe for hazardous areas, and the battery life is designed to last an entire shift.

An extensive range of applications is possible: Android-based platforms give users and third-parties the ability to develop their own apps, and the range already being used and tested in the field is impressive. AI can facilitate the collection and analysis of data from existing applications to identify patterns and learn from experience to enhance those applications, as well as develop new ones. As best-in-class businesses know, learning never stops. AI can help build better practices and procedures more intelligently and efficiently. HP

LITERATURE CITED

  1. www.world-petroleum.org/docs/docs/20th/WPCconfull.pdf
  2. http://www.world-petroleum.org/docs/docs/speeches/wpc%20Presentation%20the%20Aging%20Workforce%202.swf
  3. https://www.petroplan.com/about/talent-insight-index-2017-report/
  4. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
  5. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
  6. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-millenial-survey-2016-exec-summary.pdf
  7. https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/10748120110424816
  8. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/03/undergraduates.aspx
  9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2017/08/20/a-job-that-pays-the-bills-is-not-enough-for-millennials/#38e5a27a581a
  10. National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine.

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