Thursday 10 December 2020

How KM helped "the Great Crew Change" in the oil sector.

Knowledge Management has been a key factor in easing the demographic gap as older retiring oil-sector workers gave way to younger counterparts.

Royalty-free image from Pixabay
At the beginning of this century, the oil sector realised it was was facing a crisis of both manpower and knowledge.  

During the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s the oil companies had grown rapidly, hiring vast numbers of engineers and geoscientists of the baby boomer generation (myself included). Then came the oil price shocks of the late 1980s and 1990s, and hiring ground to a halt. The demographic plot of most oil companies showed a single hump - a superabundance of middle aged professionals all due to retire at round about the same time. Others who had restarted hiring showed two humps - staff in their 50s and staff in their 20s - with nobody in the middle.

There were therefore two challenges facing the sector:

  1. to hire younger staff to fill the gap the retiring boomers would leave, and 
  2. to transfer knowledge and experience from older to younger.

Together, these issues became known as "the Great Crew Change". 

This article from the Journal of Petroleum Technology (entitled "After Years, ‘Big Crew Change’ Has Passed, But Learning, Training Challenges Remain") was written in 2017 when the crew change was largely over, and describes how it was addressed (quotes below in italics are from the article)

  • The industry adapted to need fewer staff. Technological changes have led to greater efficiencies.
  • Hiring policies were successful - "the current age distribution is more balanced than in the decade following the mid-1980s price collapse - professionals in their late 20s to late 30s are the largest segment of the workforce (but) this is less of a peak than in the past; in 1994 it was bigger"
  • The companies recognised that knowledge transfer would be imperative - "We’ve finished the head count, so we have to make sure we finish the head content. The first one is easy, the second one is hard.”
  • Knowledge management tools help younger staff to up-skill - "The industry has embraced and expanded the use of learning-, competency-, and knowledge-management tools  - learning and training can proceed with greater speed and efficiency - the time to competency is lower than it was in the past"
  • Some of the older retiring staff kept working as consultants, brought in for their knowledge and experience - "Consultants experienced with similar technology on analog fields can share lessons learned and best practices that may save the project team time and resources"
  • There has been a real focus on knowledge retention as older staff leave - "there has been a focus at Halliburton and other com­panies on capturing the experiential knowledge of senior professionals before they leave the company workforce. That experience has been captured through [online] knowledge portals and communities that we’ve been using since the early 2000s"

Through all of these methods, the oil sector appears to have weathered the Great Crew Change better than was initially feared. 

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