Oil and gas industry training is coming in from the cold. HUGH DE LACY looks at educational opportunities in the rapidly growing sector.
PERHAPS BELATEDLY – given that the country has been producing petroleum for over a hundred years – the oil and gas sector is finally about to come under the umbrella of a formal government-backed industry training system. New Zealand, no less than the rest of the oil-producing world, has been somewhat slow in setting up oil and gas training facilities, especially at entry level, despite the significance of the industry.
The oil and gas industry has been growing steadily here for the past decade and a half. In the year 2000 it comprised just 12 enterprises and 420 employees, but that rose to 30 enterprises and 520 employees in 2009, and to 48 enterprises and 1070 employees last year, according to Statistics NZ.
While the related extractive industries of mining and quarrying have well-developed training and qualification structures in place, at least in this country, oil and gas has largely been left to muddle through on its own.
That’s about to change, with the Mining Industry Training Organisation (MITO), which also handles training for the transport and logistics sectors as well as quarrying and mining, planning to release programmes in petrochemical, steam generation and workplace safety this year, with hydrocarbon and nonhydrocarbon drilling qualifications due out next year.
MITO chief executive Janet Lane told Energy NZ that the organisation has been working with the oil and gas industry over the past two years to review the qualifications available to the sector as part of the Government’s Targeted Review of Qualifications.
“These qualifications are currently in the process of being registered with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority,” Lane says. “Once they have been registered, customised training programmes will be developed and the new qualifications will be released.”
The qualifications range from entry level National Certificate Levels Two and Three, right up to tertiary Levels Four and Five.
“Other education providers also offer training programmes leading to the award of these qualifications,” Lane says.
Although full coverage by an industry training organisation (ITO) has come slowly to our oil and gas industry, the demand for training has resulted in a range of providers stepping up to offer either their own courses or those created by the likes of the UK’s National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH).
Probably the country’s biggest provider of oil and gas-related training is New Plymouth’s Western Institute of Technology Taranaki (WITT), which features a Level Three course in Process Operations (Oil and Gas) Certificate.
Another polytechnic, Greymouth’s Te Tai Poutini, also touches on oil and gas training within its wider curriculum of quarrying and mining subjects.
Of the privateers, one of the most prominent is New Plymouth’s Vause Training Centre, founded by 2013 Petroleum Sector Hall of Fame inductee Peter Vause.
Vause is a local oil industry veteran, having co-founded an engineering company in the 1970s which won the contract to pipe the first McKee2 well test for Petrocorp, and he later pioneered helicopter-assisted seismic surveying in Taranaki and on the East Coast.
Conscious both of the aging of his generation of operators, and of the growing demand for better quality industry training which arose
after the 1988 Piper Alpha oil platform disaster in the North Sea that killed 167 workers, Vause started his own training organisation in 2011.
“People saw a gap in the market because there were so many experienced personnel getting to retirement age, and [the training centre] would be a way to transfer that knowledge down to the people coming through,” centre manager Melissa Sorrenson told Energy NZ.
One of the most popular Vause courses is a two-day introduction targeted at the general public as a means of getting a foot in the oil and gas industry door.
Costing about $1250 all up, the overview course covers things like industry history, seismic surveying and drilling procedures. The course trainer is Bob Taylor from Perth, who developed the programme and offers it through his Taylormade Training Consultants company.
On the technical side, another course offered by Vause is slickline training for working down wells, and as well as New Zealanders it has attracted students from the US, the UK, Europe, Singapore, Thailand and Australia.
“The uniqueness of what we offer with this particular course is that we’ve got a 1000ft [300m] well located in our yard,” Sorrenson said.
“The course is very heavily targeted at the practical elements as opposed to the theoretical, and we’re the only place in Australasia that we know of with this slickline capability offered to the general public.”
Another New Plymouth training provider, Glasgow Services, offers a range of courses recognised by the NZQA, including two Level Five courses in hydrocarbon drilling.
Like the Vause centre, Glasgow was formed by an industry veteran: Des Glasgow started out as a scaffolder and rigger before going on to work on off-shore oil platforms and barges in the North Sea, and then settling back home in New Zealand and launching his training service in 2001.
Other Level Two and Level Three courses offered by Glasgow include Light Rigging and Lifting Equipment, Petrochemical Operations Communications and Responses, and Petrochemical Process and Product Management.
Various other training providers round the country, the likes of Tauranga’s Vertical HorizoNZs and New Plymouth’s M and O Pacific, offer courses on the periphery of the oil and gas industry, though they tend to focus on health and safety rather than the practicalities of finding and harvesting oil and gas.
While MITO already organises gas transmission, operations and business management programmes, and has new programmes coming on-stream over the next couple of years, it would be fair to say that it is further advanced with the development of its mining and quarrying curriculum than it is with oil and gas.
This has probably been to some extent forced on it by the 2010 Pike River mine disaster that killed 29 men, and lent pressing urgency to the need for an overhaul of underground mining training in particular.
MITO has that process well under way after receiving approval from the NZQA in April this year to develop four quarrying and mining qualifications from Level Three to Level Six. Oil and gas won’t be long in catching up.