OFS People Problems

Summary: Problems finding, hiring and keeping good people in the Oil Field Services Sector.
Old Redwing Boots

Our Greatest Asset is Depreciating Faster then Ever

Most people are aware of the phrase “People are your greatest asset”. People can be a great asset to your company but they can also be a great liability. Especially when we don’t have the right people. They are not only a liability to us legally, they are a liability to our vision, our culture, and our collective well-being as an organization. 

Have we reached Peak Roughneck? What is really the difference between the people we have now, and the people we had ‘back then’? Are people becoming more of a liability than an asset now?

They don't make 'em like they used to

I broke out in the oilfield in the late ’90s working on casing crews. Running casing has never been an easy job and it certainly wasn’t safe. It sometimes meant days on location, eating bologna sandwiches, and catching a few minutes of sleep on the doghouse floor when you were filling up pipe.

Everyone I worked with was mostly twice my age and they were a rough and rowdy bunch. I thought that I could easily outwork the guys around me because I was young and in great shape. I quickly learned that these 40 and 50 year old guys on my crew might be older, but they were also a lot more experienced. I might be able to out-muscle them for a few hours but if you are planning on doing manual labor for 40 hours straight you better use your head and work as a team.

Some people might not agree with me but safety was a big issue back then. We wore cut-off shirts on high-pressure snubbing jobs, we rode the blocks up to the stabbing board but we were allways aware of what could happen. The safety training happened on location, not in a classroom with an instructor.

The difference is that back then a 5 man crew might have 100 years experience on it when today you are lucky if it adds up to 10 years. Everyone knew what could happen and they watched out for each other. “Everyone one goes home the same way they got here” was a common refrain at the safety meeting. We didn’t have a lower accident rate 20 years ago but we had less accidents than we should have.  

Where did all the good people go?

A lot of the people that I worked with in the ’90s are long gone from the industry. Every downturn I went through saw good people leave only to be replaced by people fresh to the industry. Younger people that were in better shape, more willing at a moment’s notice for days on end. Single people that could be away from home for months at a time. People that were a lot more willing to endure the hardships but with a lot less experience too. 

The older, more experienced guys I worked with left to pursue careers in different industries. These careers might not have paid as much but they were less cyclical, less hard on the body, required less time away from home, and offered a better future. You don’t have to go far on LinkedIn to see hundreds of people with decades in the Oil and Gas industry ready to switch industries in a heartbeat. 

Do we need to change as an industry?

When the collective experience level in an industry drops, you lose a lot of the skills and knowledge that those people had. Those are things that are hard to teach in a classroom. There probably aren’t many people left that can still throw a spinning chain, torque up pipe without a gauge, or even tag equipment to the rig floor with a grass rope. 

The problem is not with losing those particular skills but losing the common sense and ingenuity that they had. I have seen people with years of experience that are ‘Operators’ in the oilfield that couldn’t use a chain boomer or even change a tire. I know a lot of people don’t want to admit it but the Oil and Gas industry is a declining industry. The Booms and Busts are getting more frequent, the turnover is getting higher and the experience level is getting lower. We need to do everything we can to keep the talent from leaving our industry. 

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