The Evolving Landscape of Drilling and Wells Recruitment

Our Lead Drilling Consultant, Andrew Fenning, provides a review of the current drilling and wells market.

man in suit in front of yellow background

February 27, 2024


As we delve into 2024, the drilling and wells industry within the upstream sector is undergoing some interesting changes. This blog offers an insightful perspective on the recent developments, emerging trends, and specific challenges in this field. Our Lead Drilling Consultant, Andrew Fenning, provides a review of the market and current recruitment landscape.

My brief recap of 2023

Reflecting on 2023, there was a notable shift in the recruitment landscape for drilling, wells and HSE disciplines. This shift was characterised by a rising demand for professionals skilled in advanced drilling techniques, particularly in unconventional and deep-water drilling projects. For instance, major global E&P operators such as Shell and BP, have been actively seeking experts in deep-sea exploration and onshore unconventional drilling as evidenced by their recruitment campaigns and project announcements.  

Confidence within the sector remains high, our Drilling & Wells Salary Survey (page 36), highlighted this sentiment amongst the respondents. 70% of them stating that the job market is more secure now, than 2021, and only 12% interested in changing jobs in the coming year.

Additionally, as reported by World Oil, there was strong growth in the global oil industry in 2023, with many regions experiencing an upswing in drilling operations. Last year witnessed a substantial increase in worldwide oil production, and expectations are set for continued growth this year. Notably, offshore drilling activities are thriving in various areas, some worth highlighting include:

Canada: The country is expected to see an increase in drilling by 10.2%, despite challenges such as wildfires and maintenance in oil sands mines. Canadian oil production increased by 1.4%.

Mexico: Forecasts suggest an 18.4% increase in drilling in Mexico, bolstered by significant discoveries and production enhancements. Mexican oil production saw a rise of 1.6%.

Brazil: Brazil's drilling activity is expected to jump by 28%, driven by multiple offshore developments. The country's oil production increased by 4%.

Argentina: Anticipated to experience an 8.3% increase in drilling, Argentina's oil production also jumped 12.3% higher.

Saudi Arabia: The Kingdom is expected to boost its drilling activity by 14.9%, with a significant 16.9% increase in oil production.

My takeaway from these statistics is that they clearly show that there is still a push for growth within the global oil & gas industry, despite challenges and opposition closer to home in the UK and across Europe, there will still be opportunities for drilling & wells professionals.  

oil rig in norway
North Sea, Norway

Technological Advancements:

The industry is rapidly adopting technologies such as automated drilling, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and IoT (Internet of Things) for enhanced efficiency and safety. However, there is a shortage of professionals who are adept in both these cutting-edge technologies and traditional drilling practices. This disparity can lead to inefficiencies and safety concerns, as well as a disconnect between different levels of the workforce. When looking at opportunities within global technical excellence centers in particular, operators are pushing for this unique and desirable experience, in order to improve these skills across the wider organisation.  

This embrace of technology has been ongoing and consistently promoted, for example,  McKinsey highlights the critical need for oil and gas companies to approach digital transformation with a focus on value creation, which can lead to cost savings increase asset availability, and enhance profitability. Both Offshore Magazine and FutureIoT deep dive into the major tech advances and their potential impact on the workforce and industry advancements which are highlighted below.

Predictive Maintenance and Automated Drilling

AI technologies are being employed for predictive maintenance, helping to reduce downtime and increase efficiency by analysing sensor data from drilling equipment in real-time. Automated drilling systems, which use AI algorithms and machine learning technologies, are optimising the drilling process by automatically adjusting drilling parameters based on changing conditions. This automation not only eliminates human error but also improves drilling accuracy, further enhancing efficiency and reducing costs.

Optimised Well Planning and Improved Safety

AI is also revolutionising well planning by enabling the generation of detailed 3D models of the subsurface from geological data and drilling parameters, leading to more efficient drilling paths. Additionally, AI-powered sensors for real-time monitoring and analysis of drilling operations are improving safety in the industry, as they can detect potential hazards and suggest corrective actions.

Sustainability through Predictive Automation

The oil and gas industry is increasingly recognising the role of predictive automation in achieving sustainability goals. By optimising drilling schedules and reducing downtime, companies can minimise their carbon footprint and reduce waste. This technology is essential for staying ahead in a constantly evolving industry and in meeting the demands of both consumers and investors.

Overcoming Technological Hesitation

There is a recognised need for oil and gas companies to overcome hesitation around technology adoption. This includes addressing concerns about cybersecurity and the time required for migration to new technologies. The industry is expected to become more digitised soon, with AI dominating the technology agenda. This transition, however, requires companies to have the necessary technical expertise and leadership for successful digital transformation.

Robotics and IoT Integration

The integration of robotics and IoT in the oil and gas sector is also facilitating a shift towards more automated and efficient operations. This shift is driven by environmental regulations and the need for higher process efficiencies. Robotics and IoT technologies are being used to reduce human exposure in hazardous environments and perform tasks that were previously done manually, highlighting the demand for professionals skilled in these technologies.

I find the advancements in technology and the resulting demand for new skills and knowledge in the workforce quite intriguing. From a career development perspective, our latest Salary Survey revealed that only 4% of respondents plan to develop their careers through academic pathways, while a significant 21% prioritise technical excellence. This suggests a strong preference for on-the-job or in-house training over formal academic education. An important question arising from this trend is the extent to which companies will emphasise technological training in their internal development programs and what weight will hiring teams assign to those who possess these skills.  

Attracting and Retaining a Younger Workforce

Continuing from the last section, another critical and ongoing challenge is attracting and retaining a younger generation of workers in a sector known for its demanding work conditions.

I am a strong proponent of this area and believe in its potential and its absolute necessity, to foster positive growth within the field. It has been clear for some time that one of the greatest challenges faced is an industry wide lack of investment in recruitment. This is leading to a talent shortage that we may see for several years to come. With a limited numbers of new people entering the industry and growing competition from other sectors, the image of working in oil and gas as a sustainable and attractive career option is being continuously eroded.  

The lack of new talent was reflected in the responses we received in our Drilling Salary, with only 4% of respondents under the age of 30. With that, there are several factors that contribute to this issue:

Work-Life Balance Concerns

Whilst not specific to young professionals, today, many people place a high-value on work-life balance, which can be hard to achieve in roles that require long offshore stints or remote deployments. Companies need to find ways to make these roles more appealing, possibly through rotational work schedules, enhanced connectivity with families while offshore, and better on-site amenities.

Changing Perceptions of the Industry

The oil and gas sector often battles the perception of being an 'old-school' industry, not in tune with modern environmental and technological trends. To attract younger talent, the industry needs to actively showcase its innovations, sustainability efforts, and the technological advancements it is making. Heavy promotion of the positive initiatives and steps being taken within the industry, such as the BDA’s Sustainability Working Group, and should be linked to job roles or general industry promotion where possible.  

Career Development and Progression

For many young professionals, clear pathways for career development and progression are key motivators. The industry needs to offer structured career paths, mentorship programs, and opportunities for professional growth to retain young talent. This includes not just technical roles but also positions in management, strategy, and sustainability.

Engaging with Educational Institutions

Building partnerships with universities and educational institutions can be a strategic way to engage with potential future employees. Offering internships, scholarships, and guest lectures can help in cultivating an interest in the sector from an early stage. Though it is worth noting that funding and investment in educational bodies, might be met with a level of scepticism and unease by some groups within these universities, as some larger companies in this field have experienced first-hand.  

"Adaptability and technological proficiency are the hallmarks of success in today's drilling and wells recruitment landscape."
man smiling in a plus shaped frame

Final Remarks

The landscape of drilling and wells recruitment is dynamic, with 2024 bringing forth exciting opportunities and challenges. Staying informed about these changes is crucial for both job seekers aiming to start a career in the oil and gas industry and for employers looking to attract top talent.  

If you are interested in some more reading material around this topic area, why not check out the results of the WeConnect Energy’s Salary Survey 2023, offering in-depth insights into salaries, career goals, and the key issues currently influencing the industry.  

I’ll be attending many industry events this year and will be actively networking on LinkedIn so you can expect some more blogs from me in the coming months. I am also supported by Holly Smith, who is helping us to grow the Drilling, Wells and HSE desk at WeConnect Energy. Please feel free to reach out and connect with me if there is anything I can help you with.

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