The US Offshore Employment Market in 2011

By Volker Rathmann, President, Collarini Energy Staffing Inc.

The year 2010 was not good for the offshore industry, that is, if you look at it superficially. Despite a lot of negative press, the long term outlook is not going to be as bad as some want us to believe. Here is why we believe the scrutiny into our industry’s safety record will have a very good long-term effect on the industry’s employment market.

Since the Macondo accident, Collarini Energy Staffing and similar firms we have spoken with have seen a few minor shifts in demand and in the way companies have adjusted their hiring practices. The immediate reaction chain followed something like this:

First phase: Shock. Nobody did anything for a little while and basically watched the drama unfold along with the rest of the world.

Second phase: Quick reaction. Adding help and expertise in areas where companies felt they were lacking and feared they might have vulnerabilities, companies very quickly added resources in areas, such as the review of internal safety management and reporting practices to identify immediate areas of concern.

Third phase: Deeper analysis. Companies looked internally and asked themselves what this would mean for them. Business and risk analysis experts were asked to provide expertise that did not yet exist within their organizations. After the initial review, experienced staff was added to provide additional expertise in

• Well integrity management
• Regulatory supervision and control
• Detailed safety audit support
• Management reporting structure to provide in-time feedback on safe operations

Fourth phase: More reasoned reaction. During this phase, we saw companies make decisions about staying offshore, making long-term decisions about their organizations, or, as seen in some cases, deciding to leave the Gulf of Mexico by selling assets and moving into other areas.

Fifth phase: Lasting long-term decisions and implementation of improved best practices in the wake of new information. In most cases, this simply means developing new processes and adjusting business conduct to embrace the new regulatory and safety environment.

Hiring Practices Undergo Changes

Let’s be clear. While there is much talk about renewable energy sources, some more rational than others, the large majority of the nation’s resources comes from hydrocarbons, and this will not change anytime in the foreseeable future. Whatever challenges we face, we must be willing to meet them. Whatever the overall solution to the US energy needs will be, it will include the petroleum industry.

Most of the industry is, to some degree, at some level between three and four. Entering the fifth phase would imply that all the facts are in, and regrettably, that is not the case.

Once the offshore industry has a chance to understand all the new government branches involved and consequently all the new rules coming our way, then we will see the reasonable fallout, including implications for the employment market.

New Career Opportunities Created

When it comes to career opportunities, one thing seems to be clear: The offshore industry will be challenged; but offshore production will change and adjust, not go away. In addition to the existing career paths, there will be new ones. We foresee a strong market for production, operations, and drilling experts who are able to add regulatory skills to their toolboxes.

HSE will be a wide open field with many new opportunities for employment with needs both traditional and new. There is talk that the US offshore industry will assume the internationally accepted Safety Case Management process. While there may not be wholesale adoption of this management process, due to differences in the cultural and political landscapes, the US, compared to other oil-producing countries and regions, will have fully accepted this model. Some parts of a more structured risk scenario development process will certainly find its way to the Gulf of Mexico. There will be many opportunities for rebranding and recharging careers, including application of production and reservoir engineering methods to disaster scenarios in cooperation with permitting and safety control.

In our personnel staffing practice, we have already begun to notice changes. Training courses in HSE management have increased. Also, calls from clients seeking risk managers and regulatory and safety experts have increased. In addition, occupations such as regulatory experts, QA/QC, technical auditors, and technical writers will see a gradual increase in demand.

This will not be an apocalyptic market for either employees or employers. In fact, the opposite may be true. Both will come out better on the other side. Now is the time to stay in touch with the market, understand the changes that are coming, and adjust to the new environment.

Procrastination at both the organization and individual levels will not bode well. Companies and career-minded professionals who prepare now will fare well in the end.

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