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Construction to Operations: Key Resourcing Challenges for the Australian Gas Industry [Blog]

Oil and Gas ResourcingAustralia’s enormous natural gas reserves and Asia’s demand for clean and reliable energy have seen an unprecedented level of capital investment in LNG projects in recent years.

The commencement in the design and construction of a number of LNG projects across Australia has resulted in major economic growth and development and subsequently led to the creation of thousands of job opportunities.

With TMS having been involved in two of the three major projects in Queensland recently, in this article we wanted to take a deeper look at some of the challenges associated with resourcing these projects as they progress to operations.

Sourcing and Retaining Skilled Engineers

Currently, as a number of these LNG projects are about to come ‘online’ and transition into their operational phase, many organisations have intimated their concerns over the paucity of skilled and suitable personnel with experience in LNG operations.

From an Engineering perspective, over the last five years there has been a significant increase in the demand for skilled Engineers with experience in the Oil and Gas industry, performing such tasks as working on the concept, FEED, detail design, commissioning and construction phases of many of these projects.
While a number of these resources have been sourced from the existing Oil & Gas market, a significant number have been brought in from overseas, whilst others have transferred from other industries. Until recently, there was a huge volume of work with both Owner Operators and Engineering Consultancies, which created significant demand for skilled Engineers. However, the dynamics are about to change.

As the projects are about to commence with operations and exporting this gas, there will certainly be requirements for Engineering staff but not on the same scale. Many organisations are also aware that being engaged in an operational capacity is often viewed by many Engineers as not the most attractive or appealing proposition. We have found that very often Engineering candidates are seeking the next ‘mega’ projects where they are once again involved in the design and front-end engineering, something often perceived as the ‘sexier’ part of the job.

Taking into consideration the economic climate both domestically and internationally, there does not appear to be any marquee Greenfield projects on the horizon and further capital investment in LNG in Australia is likely to stagnate in the short-term. There will of course be retrofit type work but this again will not be at previous volumes, and finding Engineers with suitable Brownfield experience will be very important. Many Engineers may have to satisfy themselves with operational roles but there also remains a risk that organisations will lose some of this talent and knowledge to projects being developed in other countries around the world. Competition from other industries and overseas will potentially limit the sector’s ability to source appropriately skilled workers when the need does arise.

Lack of specialist operators

Blue collar workers, encompassing both trades’ people and technicians, have also been integral to the construction of the assets and facilities associated with the LNG projects.

As construction nears completion on many of these developments, there will be a desire and effectively a need for many people to evolve into the capacity of operators. However, there are reservations regarding insufficient numbers of highly experienced operators available. Experienced operators may not necessarily be found in the construction teams that have worked on these projects so what can be done to resolve this?

It has been well documented by the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency (AWPA) that resources companies will need to develop more people with specialised technical skills and industry experience in order to sustain growth in the LNG sector. This may be a convoluted and protracted process that will require improved efforts in training and education in the longer term, however, what can be done in the short to medium term? In order to compensate, it may be necessary for companies to look overseas to recruit and source qualified personnel. This can be a time consuming and expensive process, especially given constant modifications in visa systems, but it may be necessary in order to sustain these projects in the short-term. While required skills may be ‘bought in’ from other industries and countries, a new response is needed from employers to meet the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining these specialist workers.

Moving forward, Oil and Gas companies will need to build the specialist skills of their workers as the sector shifts from construction into operations. In the short-term, the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified and experienced staff is imperative to manage this transition. Long-term, close liaison between industry, government, and education and training providers is essential to prepare Australia for years to come in the Oil and Gas industry.

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TMS Consulting