Veteran Taranaki oilman Peter Vause is so concerned that not enough young people are being sufficiently trained to replace his generation, that's he's started his own training centre. Rob Maetzig backgrounds.
In the old days when Peter Vause was a young man, employment in the oil and gas industry was much more straightforward than it is now. And it worked.
Service companies working with the explorers and producers traditionally had a "trainee" or two in tow on every rig job, and the well's operators were happy to pay part day rates - usually half - for their attendance.
Under this buddy-up system the tyro oilmen were officially part of the crew, and they learned the ropes from their experienced counterparts.
But then in the late 1980s the Piper Alpha disaster occurred in the North Sea when a production platform was destroyed by fire, and 167 men were killed. A downstream effect of this tragedy was that worldwide, oilfield operators began to insist on a certain level of experience, usually at least 10 years, from service company personnel, especially for offshore operations.
Then as the industry moved into the 1990s, periods of low oil prices and consequent low exploration activity meant that numbers of experienced people in the middle of their careers were either laid off or left the industry to find employment somewhere else that offered more job security.
As a result of all of this, those who did stay on in the industry are now either due to retire or are well past retirement age. In Taranaki, workers in their 70s are a common sight in the energy industry - their former employers have talked them into returning to work because of a shortage of people with the necessary experience.
So what to do about it? Peter Vause, creator of Taranaki-based companies Vause Oil Production Services and Vause Wireline, and his business partners have come up with their own solution - they've established their own training centre.
The Vause Training Centre is now up and running at the Vause headquarters, and it is believed to be a first for Australasia in that it is contained within a working service company operation.
The centre boasts a lecture room, examination/simulator room, "training" wells on which to practice good workplace technique, a yard, and a dedicated engineering workshop. There, independent providers of training products can educate their students.
In all, it's a perfect environment for students to combine essential theory and practice into safe and competent field operation. The training wells - one of which is a fully complete 1000-foot deep version - are especially valuable, because they are functioning replicas of the real thing and enable students to gain hands-on experience in real time but without the often hazardous environment that can be present in a real oilfield operation.
Peter Vause, who is one of the most experienced oilmen in Taranaki, is the chairman of the training centre and is likely to provide some part-time instruction from time to time. But most of the work will be done by the independent training providers, all under eye of a centre manager who is yet to be appointed.
"We expect that for the most part the focus of the centre will be on practical oilfield education to raise the skill and knowledge levels of our replacements," he says of the young people he wants to become skilled enough to replace his generation.
"But other industries, trades and professions are welcome to practice their training here. It's open to all."
The Vause Training Centre is not the only training centre in Taranaki with an energy industry bias, and Peter Vause acknowledges that they are doing a good job. "That's within the confines of their specific ambit. We are merely another one, but with some distinct and particular advantages to our industry that others may be unable or wish to provide," he says.
Working in the oil and gas industry in New Zealand is appealing because the country is stable and offers an appealing lifestyle, says Peter Vause.
"The exploration industry is international, as are its pay scales. Exchange rate gains and losses aside, the money is fairly comparable around the world. Dangerous and isolated regions do offer an income premium to those who want the risk - but conversely many are happier to earn less in exchange for the lifestyle that is available in countries such as ours," he says.
And his opinion on the state of the energy industry here?
It's small and very isolated in geographical terms, which makes exploration expensive and logistically difficult, he says. As a result New Zealand has had a low but steady level of exploration activity over the past 30 years, which has been sufficient to support only a small committed service community.
He expects this steady state to continue, accompanied by occasional short bursts of wider activity followed by the lulls that generally follow. And this means the opportunity for lengthy and rewarding careers for young people prepared to undergo the necessary training.
Which is exactly why he and his business partners have taken the big step and created their own training centre. They want a strong pool of young people who can succeed them - and they're making sure it happens.
- © Fairfax NZ News