Bill Bowers

by Bill Bowers, Exterran
2008-2009 SPE GCS Chairman


Brain Drain

We have all heard about and are living with the impact of “The Big Crew Change”, which refers to the coming retirement of a significant portion of the petroleum industry’s workforce. In 2004, the average age of an SPE member was 49, and 50% of membership planned to retire in 6 years. Current data shows the average age of an SPE member has declined to 46 years, and a large, experienced percentage intend to retire in 7-10 years. The problem was aggravated by the slump in petroleum industry hiring during the 1980’s and ‘90’s. This gap in hiring, coupled with the loss of in-house training programs in many large oil companies, has left a new crop of young professionals with fewer and more costly routes to gaining the knowledge they will need to lead the industry in coming years.

SPE GCS Continuing Education

SPE Gulf Coast Section offers a variety of opportunities for both SPE members and non-members to fill the gap in experience and knowledge created by retirement. Study Group meetings and workshops offer valuable education and networking opportunities, but these are often targeted at experienced personnel who wish to improve their understanding of a specific technical topic.

One of our Study Groups, Projects, Facilities & Construction, perceived the need for in-depth training at a more basic level than can be accommodated in the luncheon meeting format. PF&C also realized that the target audience of young industry professionals are unlikely to be in a position to spend several hundred dollars and take off a day of work to attend an all-day workshop. Their solution was to hold a series of after-hours workshops at sponsored venues, allowing a thorough program at low cost and minimal interference with work.

Expanding Facilities Knowledge Workshop

The PF&C Workshop committee, led by SPE members Valerie Martone of BHP Billiton and Sally Jabaley of Shell International E&P, planned a series of 5 cafeteria-style sessions designed to cover basic facilities topics while creating a networking environment during and after the sessions. The series was targeted at young engineers, interns, people new to the industry and people focused on other areas who were interested in production and processing facilities.

Each of the 5 sessions was hosted at a different Houston-area company. J. Ray McDermott, Fluor, Cameron, Shell, ExxonMobil, and Mustang Engineering hosted the meetings and provided speakers for the sessions. The session topics included:

  1. Concept Selection: An overview of facilities concepts;
  2. Processing: and overview of basic topside processing of oil, gas, and water;
  3. Valves: Explanation of various valve types and usage;
  4. Electrical and Instrumentation: Role of E&I, pneumatic controls, DCS, and PLCs;
  5. Subsea: Explanation of subsea equipment, maintenance and processes.

The sessions were held from 4-6 pm every other week from mid-June through August to minimize work conflicts, to avoid traffic, and to allow for networking opportunities afterward. The cost to participants was only $25 per session, with venue, materials, refreshments provided by the sponsoring companies.

The workshop series was very successful, attracting 429 total attendees. Feedback from attendees and sponsors was highly positive. One attendee felt the series was superior to a $5,000 Introduction to Facilities course he had attended. Several companies want to sign up all their interns and new employees for future sessions, and a number of companies expressed interest in sponsoring and hosting future workshops. As a result of this feedback, PF&C will reprise the workshop series in the Summer of ’09.

Other Possibilities

The format of PF&C’s Expanding Facilities Knowledge Workshop series is readily adaptable to other technical specialties, and they encourage other study groups to emulate the format. The group has already brainstormed a suggested agenda for a Completions & Production Study Group Production Engineering series, and similar workshop series could easily be designed around Drilling, Reservoir, and other technical specialties. Valerie and Sally have offered their advice and assistance to other GCS study groups who wish to try out this format.

Bill Bowers

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