Two significant papers from the recent Pipeline Pigging & Integrity Management (PPIM) deserve attention because of their comments on the wider future of the pipeline industry as new generations of engineers take over from the current generation, some of whom can almost claim to be the ‘founding’ generation of the oil and gas pipeline industry.
In the first of these, Eric Lang and Chris Yoxall (of Enbridge Energy Partners and the Rosen Group, respectively, both in Houston) discuss the transfer of the ‘duty of care’ between generations of pipeline engineers. As well as the background of their companies, Messrs Lang and Yoxall have significant roles in the US-based Young Pipeline Professionals organisation, and are able to bring to their paper an appropriately nuanced view of the subject.
As they point out in their introduction, “the oil and gas pipeline industry is at a tipping point with regard to transferring the duty of care from its current leaders to the next generation. If we do nothing, we risk the loss of the knowledge and experience gained within the pipeline industry over the last 20 years.
“However, if the industry aggressively and collectively works toward the retention and development of the next generation, as well as toward the transfer of knowledge from its subject matter experts to those prepared to accept it, instead of a potential loss it could be a step-change opportunity for the industry.”
The generational theme continued with the second paper referred to above in which Jerry Rau, of RCP, in Houston, and Jane Rau, of JTrain, also in Houston, give a detailed analysis of the attitudes, expectations, and characteristics of the current generations employed in the pipeline industry (there may be as many as five), and the ways in which the strengths of each can be harnessed. Knowledge transfer between the generations (as with the transfer of the duty of care) will play a vital role in the future of this industry, as the ‘Grey Tsunami’ of Baby Boomers retiring takes effect.
Introducing the paper, Mr and Mrs Rau write that “the great crew change is upon us. According to the Centre of Energy Workforce Development, the average age of the workforce in the pipeline industry is 49, and the US Department of Labour predicts that up to 50 per cent of the current energy workforce will retire in five to ten years.
“It has been predicted by some industry managers that it takes two to five years to become familiar with the industry and another ten or more years to take on a leadership position. Pipeline operators, who depend on skilled, long-term, workers, are feeling the pinch.
“As valuable people walk out your door, valuable knowledge leaves with them. Often that knowledge isn’t encoded in documentation produced on the job, so how companies transfer and manage this hand-off is critical to their ongoing success.”
We hope both of these papers will be worthy of study: the messages contained in them may not be strictly ‘pipeline engineering’, but they have an influence on every pipeline engineer.
A full event report on PPIM 2017 can be found on in this edition.