The Aging Workforce: Resource Shortage is the Biggest Challenge for Refining and Petrochemicals

by | Jun 19, 2014 | Flow, Measurement Instrumentation | 0 comments

I have been traveling across the United States attending process industry tradeshows and conferences over the past few weeks. To my surprise, one of the biggest concerns expressed at these meetings was how to bridge the resource gap. There is a huge shortage of skilled workers and the challenge is to get technical people in place to keep these plants running for generations to come.

I came away with the realization that it is crucial for us as a supplier to emphasize the ease-of-use, low maintenance, and available training on our meters. All of these benefits translate to less customer time spent working with the meters.

Some of the key messages from the events include:

AFPM (American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers) Annual Meeting in Orlando: March 23-24

At this conference, the opening speech focused on keeping girls interested in science and math. According to the opening speaker, Bob Ballard, studies show that girls lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects as early as middle school; therefore, engagement must happen well before high school. One great solution to this problem is the JASON Project, a program for middle school students that drives interest in science and technology.
Another takeaway from this conference came from keynote speaker, retired General Stan McCrystal. He noted that corporate America can no longer operate how it has in the past because the world is changing too fast. Everyone needs to be able to learn on the fly, communicate and react accordingly. Employees must be adequately trained so that the decision-making power can be decentralized.

IHS World Petroleum Conference in Houston: March 26-28

The skilled labor shortage was the main topic throughout the speeches during the IHS World Petroleum Conference. Steve Pryor, ExxonMobil Chemical CEO and keynote speaker, said that a large portion of the rising cost of projects in the United States is due to the skilled labor shortage. Only 4% of U.S. bachelor degrees are in engineering. To help, Exxon partners with local community colleges to train future, local employees in needed skills.
(Side note: I thought I had heard Mr. Pryor wrong, as I didn’t believe that only 4% of U.S. degrees were in engineering, so I did some fact checking. Turns out, that percentage is correct! If you’re interested, the latest U.S. education statistics can be found on the National Center for Education Statistics site:

Platt’s Rockies Oil and Gas Conference in Denver: April 14-15

According to the majority of the speakers at the Platt’s Rockies Oil and Gas Conference in Denver, labor shortage is the biggest challenge that faces them right now as well. David Pursell, Managing Director and Head of Securities of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., spoke of the lack of skilled welders, in particular. He discussed how that resource shortage was the real issue with the United State’s onshore supply growth. Travis Brock, Vice President of Commercial Development & Strategy for Strobel Starostka, discussed how difficult it was to get workers to build rail loading facilities in the Bakken. They have to be creative to get people to work for them – and stay working for them. Some people commute from Green Bay, Wisconsin to North Dakota on a week-on, week-off schedule, for example.

As you can see, there are many challenges facing the refining and petrochemical industries today. But the main area of concern is the lack of new engineers needed to backfill and supplement the current workforce, and transferring the knowledge to the next generation of workers. It is important to keep this conversation open to allow ideas to flourish and solutions to come forward. Let us know if your industry is suffering from the same problems and your approach to tackling these issues in the comment section below.

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