If staff are to satisfy customers and deliver quality products and services and the company is to be profitable, safe, and respected, employees need to know what to do and how do it right.

A familiar saying in the oil and gas industry is, “You’re only as good as your last job.” Reputation goes a long way in this global business. A customer that the company has worked for in Aberdeen, Scotland, probably operates in Azerbaijan or Mexico. Failure to deliver in one location can be met with closed doors 10,000 miles away.

When it comes to training, much is at stake. Quality, reputation, profits, and safety are business factors that are easily damaged by a lack of training.

But what about the individual? Can an employee be positively or negatively affected? According to a recent survey of 773 professionals conducted by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and sponsored by BP, 53% would consider leaving their employer if training and development were not up to their expectations. Clearly, quality training is critical to employee satisfaction.

Improving performance enhances competence

To appreciate why training and development are so highly valued, it is important to define them. There are several ways to improve employees’ performance so that they are more competent. Key areas are knowledge or learning, experience, coaching and mentoring, and skills development.

Employees should have a broad understanding of the industry in addition to specific knowledge about their business area and customer requirements. General and specific knowledge about the product or service they are to perform is, of course, key to performance and will involve a number of tasks.

Examples include:

  • How to perform calculations to design a subsea pipeline;
  • How to operate a separator or LNG train; and
  • What to do when situations change during drilling – a key safety and quality issue.

Then there’s hands-on training. Once employees have learned the theory, how is a task actually performed? For example, they might need to know how to monitor levels in a separator or interpret geophysical data. The next step lies in practice and mentoring: being shown how to perform these various tasks. How does it feel – physically – to open a drain valve or operate a compressor?

Repetition is key. Whether reinforcing knowledge, practicing a skill, or mentoring, repetition is important if employees are to eventually work unsupervised and become competent, independent professionals. This is not about checking boxes to be “shown to be competent.” It means actually being competent to complete the task successfully, just as one expects a doctor to be when performing medical procedures.

Training and the individual

What does training mean to the individual, and why does it matter? Consider the employer/employee relationship. Employees spend a considerable percentage of their lives at work, so employers have a certain moral duty to make their work fulfilling and enjoyable. In today’s oil and gas industry, a far more serious business issue has arisen: Younger workers are far more likely to seek employment elsewhere, as highlighted by Deloitte in its September 2012 “Talent 2020” report. In fact, a whopping 40% of those under the age of 31 indicated that they planned to leave their current employment within one year.

But reports and surveys differ, and drivers in one part of the world and one sector are not necessarily the same for another. In Australia, for example, there is such an employment boom that money and promotions are the most likely reasons for an employee to change employers. For these employees, staying with an employer for a training opportunity could mean missing out on a far bigger paycheck. With the global boom in the oil and gas job market showing no signs of slowing, job security might be less of a motivation than it was in the past.

Job satisfaction leads to higher profits

If training and development are so important to employees and are of a high enough caliber to improve overall employee job satisfaction rates, what effect can this have on company performance?

It seems only logical that a well-trained, carefully developed work force should enhance any company’s performance. If a job is performed more efficiently, is more in line with customer expectations, and is carried out safely, this should lead to better overall performance. But because there are so many variables to consider, studies are not conclusive on this subject.

However, a recent article published by the Academy of Management Perspectives in November 2012 takes these variables into account. The article reports a potential 3.8% increase in long-term returns for companies that feature in Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in the US. Given that employee satisfaction is the key criteria of this well-known annual report, it is a strong indication that companies that invest in employee training and career development are more likely to enjoy positive returns in the long run.

What is quality training?

If all of the above is true, company executives would do well to ensure that employees are trained and have opportunities for development. But beware – sending an employee on a training course, whether internal or external, can be demotivating if it fails to inspire and engage.

For training to succeed, it must be effective. Everyone has experienced presentations during which the instructor speaks in monotone for hours and uses bullet points that “whiz” across the screen. Learners struggle to stay engaged, even awake, and learning is poor.

Good training is a world apart. The onscreen presentation is engaging, and the instructor interacts with learners. Questions are posed, and team activities take place. Everyone is energized, and learning is fun. This is truly motivational. Relationships forged during these lively events can last a lifetime. Bonds are formed and can thrive via email to support one another in – and out of – the workplace.

What about other methods of learning and training? E-learning is now a well-established part of the “blended learning model,” where optimum learning is derived from a combination of classroom, on-the-job, and E-learning methods. The technique can motivate and engage by using voice-overs, animations, and videos. E-learning can deliver quality learning that can be repeated (at no additional cost), thus enhancing employee knowledge. It can even serve as a point of reference long after classroom experiences are over. Used in conjunction with classroom courses, E-learning can enhance employee performance even further. And because the technique is cost-effective, thousands can be trained economically.

A win-win situation

Given the positive effect that quality training has on employee morale, productivity, and loyalty, employers can only benefit from its implementation. When employees are motivated and deliver quality services, the job is successful and the customer is satisfied. Customer praise travels fast, the employer’s reputation grows, more work is awarded, and the cycle repeats. Long-term profitable growth can be the end result.

What if you train your employees and they stay? You have happy employees, satisfied customers, and sustainable long-term growth.