Special Report: The need for skill

Chris Muir, talks about the growing demand for training in this region, and why he believes the Middle East's energy sector is still keen to invest in employee development

Chris Muir, NDT/Drill Stem consultant, MSPEC.
Chris Muir, NDT/Drill Stem consultant, MSPEC.

Specification Management Consultants’ (MSPEC) presence is global, extending throughout Europe, MENA, CIS and Asia, specifically in the oil and gas sector. Our client base includes ADCO, BP, Bunduq, Soconord, Weatherford, Schlumberger, NOV, AlMansoori, SIGS, Etihad, Hunting, ITS, Petrostem, Odfjell, Al Shoumoukh Ind, PDO, Rigmarine, SIGMA, Tenaris, VAM and Vincotte, to name just a few.

Our core services revolve around NDT (Non-Destructive Testing), including the sale of associated equipment for inspection and quality-control applications. This addresses general NDT along with drill stem and OCTG products. In addition to the equipment, we also train, examine and certify candidates who perform and operate such equipment, to meet the industry or international standards that are applied by their clients.

Training services include visual and dimensional, electromagnetic (MFL, EMI, search coil) magnetic particle, penetrant and ultrasonic testing. To complete the services, we calibrate and repair such instruments that are used for integrity-checking of structures, pipeline, plant facilities, and so on, to ensure reliable performance and repeatable outcomes.

Anytime there is a reduction across a workforce, it puts a much greater demand on the remaining individuals who are at the front-end. Generally, cut-backs are made in advance, where no future work scopes are confirmed, and this may result in the need to operate current contracts with reduced staff, or to subcontract short-term project individuals in order to complete the scope of work currently in hand.

However, some projects that have already started still need to be completed, and others may be postponed until the recovery kicks in again, which it always does. Since 1986, this is the fourth market depression that I have experienced, and I believe that this one is being felt the hardest by many of the organisations – and the individuals – in the region.

Although new projects may have to be delayed, maintenance programmes must continue, in order to preserve and safeguard capital investment and assets. Regular maintenance and safety regulations often require NDT services on a continual basis, so qualified personnel are needed to make those regular checks and investigations.

This requires qualified and certified individuals that have the capability to perform these services, and also requires regular competency checks to be conducted, so that clients can be reassured that awareness, understanding and professionalism are maintained against the standards and performances they expect.

The Middle East is a very vibrant region, and this is especially true of the UAE, where the majority of the skilled labour force are of expatriate descent. The GCC region uses a global workforce in order to meet industry opportunities and challenges in all sectors of our industry.

This also means that when there is a hiccup in the market and prices drop, the expat community is usually first to go. In such instances – and depending on how long the situation lasts – some of those skilled labours leave the region, never to return. When this happens, the next influx of labour may be from a younger generation and, while they may possess some of the academic requirements that are necessary, they may be lacking the experience of hands-on work.

There is no alternative to experience – it is the foundation of a practical approach to challenges that is based on history as a guideline, and technology is the innovative tool that helps to get the job done better. These two attributes are eternally linked to balancing effective progress. Training is at the heart of any sector, but a skill is an approach to how to you use knowledge to achieve the best results.

I first came to Abu Dhabi in 1981 and started working on Saadiyat Island. I can honestly say that the days when HSSE was a foreign language to every nationality are long gone.

Today’s environment requires HSE to be an integral part of any sphere where risk to an individual or the environment is involved. Are we investing enough is the question and, to answer it, we need to start with our self-assessments of where we work, reviewing the statistics before we judge others or the industry as a whole.

It is easier to point the finger when something goes wrong and say, “I could have done better”. If you could have done better then there is room for improvement.

I believe that the awareness of HSSE has improved and things are a lot better. However, the human factor cannot be removed from the equation and, without continual training, the risk would remain high.

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