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A Global Skills Problem

Government, industry, and labor representatives met recently to discuss solutions to the technical skills shortage in the global oil and gas industry. Although the discussion was wide-ranging, the group came to a consensus on several key points.

The Global Dialogue Forum on Future Needs for Skills and Training in the Oil and Gas Industry, held in Geneva, drew 84 participants representing a variety of countries and viewpoints. The 2-day meeting was sponsored by the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations. The group concluded that the industry has had limited success so far in alleviating what many see as a chronic shortage of skilled technical professionals, and that industry, governments, and labor organizations need to collaborate more on this issue.

What was clear is that different countries face different challenges in overcoming the skills shortage. Some developing countries struggle to offer the industry an adequately trained and educated workforce, and complain that operators do not offer enough information on the skills they need and do not provide enough specialized training to indigenous workers. A government representative from Ghana pointed out that there is not enough detailed information on skills shortages needed to identify gaps. In addition, technology is advancing rapidly and new curricula must be developed to meet these changing needs, especially in countries where oil and gas production has recently begun. Whether the industry should favor university degrees over industry experience was also debated.

In developing countries, industry image and the boom-and-bust cycle that follows oil prices were seen as major deterrents in attracting younger professionals. The group did reach consensus on several points, including:

  • More data on the types of skills needed by the oil and gas industry would help stakeholders identify shortages in developed and developing countries and in different sectors such as deepwater or onshore operations. Operators in particular would need to cooperate in supplying this information.
  • Governments in countries where oil and gas operations are taking place have the responsibility to set adequate safety, health, and environmental standards and should ensure that regulations and contract terms are met. But industry has the responsibility to provide job opportunities for local populations and skill and technology transfer.
  • Similarly, government has the responsibility to provide the industry with a basic educated and trained workforce. But industry should provide specialized training needed in using complex technologies or methods. That could come through apprenticeship programs and knowledge sharing. In addition, industry should provide workers with opportunities to take advantage of continuous training, skills upgrading, and lifelong learning.
  • Several programs have been successful in helping improve technical skills among the workforce, including promotion of science and engineering in the classroom, distance learning, apprenticeships, and training programs funded by governments, industry, and labor organizations.
  • Measures should be taken to improve worker gender equality globally as well as health, safety, and environmental standards. This would improve the industry’s overall image and attract new workers.