SI Review: August 2013

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Power Seller

Ready to Drill

Staffing firms that can cater

By Chris Sutton

The U.S. oil and gas industry is booming due to the global stabilization of commodity prices and new technologies that have made unconventional resource plays economically viable. Although the industry is expected to add 600,000 jobs by 2020 based on a recent study by Citigroup, oil and gas companies are still faced with a severe workforce shortage. This shortage is the direct result of a skills gap known as the “Great Crew Change.” As older workers retire, there is a shortage of younger, mid-level professionals with skills to replace the retirees.

Bridging this age and skills gap is one of the greatest challenges facing the industry today. And it’s turning to staffing firms for help. Opportunity notwithstanding, the oil and gas industry poses unique challenges for the staffing industry.

Opportunities. New technology has made previously inaccessible shale plays not only accessible but economically viable. Consider Bakken in North Dakota. According to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, there are currently 7,000 producing wells in this shale play, with up to 2,000 new wells expected to be drilled per year for the next 25 years. With one to three production workers required and an estimated lifespan of 30 to 40 years per well, Bakken alone is estimated to create thousands of jobs through 2050.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure to take production from shale plays to refineries or end users is currently underdeveloped or nonexistent, consequently workers are in tremendous demand for the transportation of crude via rail and truck (more than 2,000 trucks are needed to support just one well). In addition, the gradual construction of pipelines and highways over the next five to 10 years will require a significant workforce to accommodate these types of major capital projects.

Finally, refineries need to be upgraded. Oil can be sour or sweet, depending on the amount of sulfur; and heavy or light, depending on how thick it is. The product coming from shale production is referred to as light oil. Investments in the refining sector over the last 15 years have been dedicated to processing heavy, sour oil. Consequently, there’s a mismatch in what’s coming out of the ground and what has typically been processed in the past. This will require workers for facility upgrades and the construction of new refineries.

Criteria for success. Staffing firms entering the industry should identify a niche where the company can be competitive and must understand there are many different ways staffing providers are vetted and engaged, including a competitive bidding process, via reverse auction or through a vendor management system. Each of these can result in a different pricing model as well as other unique requirements process that must be satisfied.

Challenges. The unique nature of operating environments in the oil and gas industry (onshore, offshore, pipeline, plant, and refinery) means staffing providers need to build expertise in a specific area.

Further, the industry relies heavily on independent contractors (IC), and staffing firms must ensure that all ICs they supply are compliant with state and federal requirements to avoid a misclassification ruling.

Safety is also a primary concern. Staffing providers must verify that their workers have the safety training and certifications required based on their job role and work location, which can vary greatly.

Funding is another concern in this industry, as market demand and ultraspecialization has driven up pay rates dramatically. Some contractors can command pay of $900 to $1,500 per day. With typical days sales outstanding in the industry of 45 to 60 days, that’s a lot of cash for the staffing firm to float.

Finally, there is a lack of standardization with respect to roles and job titles in the industry. Staffing firms serving this industry must be able to recognize differences between client requirements across a common body of skills, competencies and experience.

Staffing firms that fully comprehend the nature of doing business within the oil and gas industry and gain the expertise can be richly rewarded, if they can meet these challenges. Those that cannot meet the rigorous requirements on their own can still meet some level of success by partnering with firm(s) that can meet these requirements and are already serving the oil and gas industry.

Chris Sutton is partner at Clover Global Solutions. He can be reached at chris.s@clovergs.com

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