AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Finding the right staff to meet the industry's needs for the next three decades is a top priority, Steve Haden of BP told the 26th SPE/IADC drilling conference today. "It's much more than a question of identifying talent - it's about plugging the capability gap.
"The current economic picture may not be bright, but the real challenge is to drill deeper, better wells, and longer step-outs. In the process, do we optimize infrastructure or environmental impact? All these issue require more expertise per barrel, and to do this we need to attract and retain the brightest engineers and geoscientists."
However, Haden - BP's head of Drilling and Completions, Eastern Hemisphere, cautioned that the drive for new recruits has little effect on the pressing issue of eliminating inefficiency. "Non-productive drilling time hasn't changed much in the past decade," he claimed. "Also, 25 years ago when I started in the industry, I was given challenges...I'm not sure we do that enough today with our younger staff."
Peter Sharpe, VP Wells, Shell International Exploration and Production, said that although Shell and others had recruited hard for petro-technical staff in recent years, he foresaw a potential shortfall of skilled personnel again by 2012, made worse by attrition if the current downturn continues.
He also felt the industry had not developed the necessary skills among the new recruits at the pace required, and that perhaps there was too little experience among some personnel working on rigs at present. Tool failures had occurred, he claimed, because some staff had been unable to recognize vibrations downhole, even though they had been trained for the task. One solution, he added, could be to pursue further automation of drilling, with fewer people needed on rigs.
Catherine MacGregor, VP Personnel, Schlumberger, said the industry needed to take a "risky" approach to developing personnel, by training them in other disciplines. "It's increasingly important to have individuals comfortable working across a variety of technical domains."
Steven Newman, president of Transocean, said many companies in the current climate were implementing a policy of hiring freezes and lay-offs - "that's just continuing the mistakes made in the past." Newer recruits were the most at risk, he said, negating recent progress in lowering the industry's age profile.
"We have to take action to address what's happening, but do we take a long-term vision, or reinforce the boom-bust mentality? What have we done with our boom over the last two years - are we really focused on staff development and retention, or simply on bringing costs in line?"
Sharpe said Shell still looks to recruit over 400 graduates, but admitted that the length of the downturn will determine how long the company can hold its nerve in this regard. Haden said BP was looking to re-deploy 1,400 personnel more effectively, for instance by transferring staff from business units in decline, such as Trinidad, to strong growth regions such as Azerbaijan.