By Asim Choudhury
E-learning in the Oil and Gas sector in India is in its infancy. Given the fact that India is one of the fastest growing Oil economies in the world where billions of dollars are being invested in the upstream, midstream and the downstream sectors, cutting-edge training has been grossly neglected. The reasons for this are several -- perhaps there are few or no e-learning players who can take up the challenge or perhaps the Oil and Gas companies are ignorant of emerging technologies and the benefits therein. Its high time for things to change: either by a strong will of the companies or by the e-learning industry that is all too happy without nerve-shattering challenges. This article takes a look into the possibilities of what may be termed as a 'goldmine'.
The oil and gas industry is a global, highly competitive, and knowledge-intensive business with high demand for e-learning. However, most oil companies in India are not au courant with cutting-edge learning technologies like e-learning. Even if they are aware, they remain aporetic to its power and reach. While both Indian e-learning developers remain unlettered of the vast business prospects of e-learning business in Oil and Gas in India, global companies are adding more and more clients to their existing repertoire.
Even while the Indian e-learning service providers ignore e-learning in Oil and Gas, the Oil and Gas companies based in India too appear ignorant of the tremendous possibilities of e-learning. These Oil and Gas companies are yet to open their eyes to the tremendous potential of e-learning in helping them reduce training costs and building a knowledge-based workplace.
In a classic case of training ignorance in India one can only point out the example of Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). So far, ONGC has evaded the idea of incorporating e-learning in their organization. Perhaps the real benefits are unknown to its policy makers or because of lack of credible and ‘qualified’ Indian vendors. ONGC is entering e-learning in a small scale, by securing some training licenses for technical courses from international e-learning companies on a license basis. However, the training institutes of ONGC largely remain unmoved by e-learning.
Why E-learning for the Oil and Gas Sector?
Companies in the oil and gas sector are rapidly embracing e-learning as an integral part of their training initiatives. The reason for this lies in the benefit it offers to their staff and their bottom line. Considering the issues faced by oil and gas companies in working offshore and meeting the demands of health and safety, e-learning benefits are pertinent to meeting their critical organizational needs.
However, there are still several small oil and gas companies who remain unaware of the larger benefits of e-learning. The fear then is that these companies may miss out on the benefits accrued through structured learning and eventually fail to face competition.
Developing a highly-skilled and adaptable workforce in a flexible way remains the priority of the leaders in the oil and gas sector. E-learning includes the use of a variety of media and techniques for learning, including text, sound, graphics, photography, animation, video, e-mail, discussion forums, chat rooms, virtual meetings or tutorials, and simulations.
Simulation-based e-learning remains a potential tool for e-learning in Oil and Gas. Simulations can take learning beyond the possible – into realms that can never be accessed through regular training. For example, when technical trainees are taken to a drilling rig for onsite training, they may never get to see inside a pipeline when it pulls-up crude oil or how the robotic arms move beneath the surface and shoots bullets to gauge the potential of crude or gas. At best, it can be visualized in an instructor led classroom-based training setting. E-learning, however, can show the animated action of the robotic arms and all such activities that are beyond the reach of the learner.
Some Noteworthy Global e-learning Initiatives
Across the world several e-learning giants have woken up to this reality. In 2004, PETRONAS (Petroliam Nasional Berhad), Malaysia’s Oil and Gas giant, tied up with Thompson NETg to develop a comprehensive training system to drive its employees to a higher learning path, thereby enabling them to take up more responsibility and assume bigger roles in a globalized business environment. The initiative is part of the Malaysian Government’s Vision 2020, wherein the Government wants to create knowledge-based workers to be able to serve as the foundation for the nation to acquire a developed status.
Known as the “PETRONAS eLearning” programme, it aims to bring eLearning opportunities, information and communications technology (ICT) to staff, partners and on a latter part to the public locally and worldwide. PETRONAS selected Thomson NETg to provide IT courses, on-going support and valuable industry experience. The training solutions would be blended e-learning and would help train a workforce of 25,000 employees working in 35 countries.
Statoil, another Norwegian oil and gas company has setup a SAP-based Learning System that seeks to address the learning needs of its 17,000 employees working in 28 countries. The SAP Learning Solution is used to manage over 1,100 courses of all delivery types (classroom instructions, WBTs and CBTs). The system has proved to be an easy-to-use tool that gives employees and managers the ability to plan and track competency-development activities. Statoil has also replaced several legacy systems and increased its usage of e-learning by offering better visibility of available courses across the enterprise. Statoil primary training initiatives focus on exploration and production, drilling operations and maintenance, safety and environmental concerns, technical skills for engineering and geology professionals.
Petrobras, another major Oil and Gas player is now using the services of e-leaning companies to increase employee productivity, ensure safety compliance, and enhance its competitive position. Petrobras has almost 40,000 employees and nearly 80,000 contractors working throughout 11 countries, including Brazil and the U.S., and in locations such as offshore drilling facilities and remote offices in the Amazon.
Learning on Demand (LoD)
Oil and Gas companies across the world are increasingly subscribing to the concept of Learning on Demand (LoD). Learning on Demand refers to ‘situated learning’ in a working context which occurs at the user's discretion, often triggered by a breakdown. In large information stores, such as high-functionality computer systems, where users only have a partial knowledge, learning on demand is the only viable strategy. Learning on Demand applies a wide lens to learning and includes the broad range of ad hoc or informal learning activities that takes place everyday in organizations.
Employees of Oil and Gas companies have a tremendous need for learning. Unlike other organizations, the employees of Oil and Gas companies require a large amount of learning material. This learning cannot be defined within the narrow parameters of a few courses. They have to be wide and should encompass a wide range of professional and personal development.
Consider a scenario to understand the concept better. Oil and Gas employees are typically situated in several levels of the hierarchy. When a General Manager wants to learn about the nuances of making an effective presentation, he/she has a dilemma. He/she cannot go to a presentation expert in the Public Relations department and seek his/her help as this would entail a ‘loss of professional competence.’ This General Manager can then go to a secure system and demand a learning course on ‘making presentations’ – in complete confidentiality.
Global e-learning Solutions Providers
There are several competent e-learning solutions providers in the World. NETg and Accenture appear to lead the front. While NETg has bagged several prestigious clients like Petronas, Malaysia, Accenture operates across 20 countries and has over 90 clients that include major international, independent and national oil companies. In the upstream segment, Accenture has several well-known brands as clients from across the world, including those in the United States, Europe, Russia, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Accenture’s e-learning initiatives focus on reducing operating costs, decreasing cycle time for key operational processes, focusing key personnel on core value-added activities, providing real-time, accurate information to facilitate decision-making, providing flexible, high-quality support services at low cost, and increasing operational outcome probability while decreasing risk.