Mobilisation in a dynamic Australasian oil and gas market

Brownfield contractors must demonstrate high levels of nimbleness and governance when it comes to accessing and deploying appropriate calibre, cost-effective resources.

Oil refinery at twilightHow do major brownfield maintenance and retrofit project contractors manage their resources across a geographically dispersed market that is transitioning from the greenfield ‘mega-project’ era into sustainable operations? How do we manage the complex operations and production opportunities with a finite in-country resource pool without compromising safety, quality and competitiveness?

The mega-project era in Australia has seen unprecedented growth, but on a capital project basis; brownfield contractors need to take the long view, and structure their resourcing strategies accordingly. This means tapping into global networks of suitably experienced personnel, unblocking barriers to mobility and developing sustainable development programs.

Investment in, and relentless focus on, safety leadership through tailored development and competency programs is a must for any contractor that is serious about mobilising safely. When considering the cultural, behavioural and competence contexts of diverse locations, leading contractors must come ready-armed with robust, proven tools managed by leadership personnel who are deeply intimate with these methods and the core values that underpin them.

By taking direct ownership of resourcing through strategic, in-house capabilities with a global reach, a contractor can constantly monitor its talent pool and link this to its strategic opportunities. But even more critically, the contractor can provide assurance to clients and communities that the crews deployed to work sites as diverse as Karratha, the Bowen Basin, Bass Strait and Papua New Guinea are completely fit for purpose and well suited to each environment.

Making people networks deliver

The lure of greenfield construction projects with their high profile, premium pay rates and relatively short-term commitment requirement has generally ensured that labour provision – at least for the mega-projects in Australia – has been met. However, establishing permanent, stable and competent workforces for long-term brownfield contracts is quite a different challenge again, and one that requires a highly disciplined, pro-active and considered approach.

As a result of its Australasian and global successes in securing long-term contracts in new locations, Wood Group PSN has had to evolve ways of working that put resourcing know-how ‘where the action is’. This has meant relying less on external agencies and putting real investment into developing internal resourcing capabilities. This provides greater assurance in terms of alignment with organisational standards, and strengthens the connectivity between resourcing, company growth strategies and ultimately, the client needs. In other words, it is a more predictive and integrated approach to delivering the right people to the right place at the right time. The investment makes sense; if you are in the business of very long-term brownfield contracts, you really need a resourcing strategy that works to the same horizons.

Wood Group PSN has developed an internal resourcing network based on regional hubs where the local context and cultural and logistical nuances of life on the ground in the contract delivery locations are better understood. By deploying regionally-knowledgeable resourcing professionals and connecting these people directly into a global, 24/7 internal network of labour-rich hubs, a more responsive and scalable resources pipeline can be leveraged.

Know your talent pool

The approach discussed makes further sense when considering that brownfield services need to be both enduring (over the life of the contract) yet cost-effective for the client. Satisfying these divergent aims relies almost entirely on the calibre and suitability of key personnel for each assignment. The often-quoted business critical success factors of competence assurance and talent management are therefore even more important here. Delivering people to the client who have the attributes not merely to survive in a new operating environment and culture, but who can perform at their best over a number of years in that location – over just technical merit – is a major factor in determining the success or failure of the contract. In capturing and characterising the entire career experience and key skills of its global talent pool, and overlaying this on the business’s mid-term growth prospects, Wood Group PSN is able to take a more predictive approach to mobilisation.

This capturing of key competence information on a global scale further drives standardisation in assessment criteria, data capture processes and formats, which all leads to improved knowledge management regarding the organisation’s competency-based strengths and weaknesses. Over time, these become genuine high-value tools for a business that evolve to core people-based differentiators which competitors may struggle to replicate. And when a brownfield contractor is positioning for a major mobilisation into a developing country such as Papua New Guinea, for example, the organisation’s ability to identify early the internal candidates with the appropriate experience and skillsets further drives home this competitive advantage. This also has a virtuous effect on succession planning and retention; movement of people creates space and opportunities across the network and succession strategies for positions that might be exited can take shape much earlier. This de-risks the brownfield contractor’s business and the client’s operations.

Develop the game-changing skills 

APLNG-Coal-seam-gas-500x332Contract longevity is the cornerstone of any sustainable brownfield services business which must be based on peerless safety performance, cost-effective delivery and continuous improvement. It therefore follows that development programs and tools for key delivery people must centre on the attributes that support the long view; integrity, social tolerance, endurance, tenacity, nimbleness, inquisitiveness, calmness under pressure and openness. These are all traits that we as business managers would like to believe are hard-wired into our assessment criteria for the key contract delivery positions we recruit for, but turning these core values into embedded organisational DNA across globally dispersed contracts is hugely challenging. Even more so in our typically engineering-based organisations that can bias technical strengths over ‘softer’ skills. Any brownfield engineering, procurement and construction organisation that invests in helping its people better understand their innate thinking and leadership preferences and develop more rounded capabilities will, over time, distinguish itself as a more evolved service provider.

Wrapping it all up in flawless start-up

Getting our people there is just the start; how people are mobilised into action is the process element that will set the delivery team up for success or failure. Again, an integrated approach is needed for this highly vulnerable phase of contract mobilisation and start-up. Wood Group PSN has learned over the past three decades that the start-up phase benefits enormously from a disciplined and integrated approach to assure brownfield contract services are launched on the right footing. Wood Group PSN has invested in a global “Strategic Projects” team that is seeded with the company’s most experienced and talented start-up specialists. These specialists are assigned to specific start-ups and undertake a dual “audit and assist” role. Part is an assurance role to provide ‘cold eyes’ guidance on the key contract start up elements, treating the whole mobilisation as a project in its own right with key performance indicators (KPIs) and compliance with a rigorous control gate process through Verified Certificates of Readiness (VCRs). The other part is an active hands-on approach where these specialists are embedded in the mobilisation team from time-to-time.

All oil and gas delivery organisations know that mobilising people into new and challenging environments is inherently risky and we know that exploration, construction and production activities will continue across the globe and the most evolved brownfield contractors will be there for the long game.

We only get one shot at first mobilisation and our peoples’ safety and our business’s reputations depend on it – there can be no room for compromise.

Gas Today — Spring 2014

This paper was originally presented at the 2014 APPEA Conference in Perth.

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