Transfer of Technology

By: Keith Lewis  |   January 18th, 2019

After a recently completed job for an oil and gas major in Trinidad, the Drilling Superintendent responsible for the rig said on the morning conference call “This is the best Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) team that I have worked with anywhere in the world throughout my 25-year career offshore.”  This resounding accolade was directed at a team of ROV operators made up primarily of Trinidadians.  The positive recognition could be attributed to a Transfer of Technology process over 12 years by several local industry companies and professionals who intentionally sought to develop the competency of the local
work force.

There are several forces that drive a Technology Transfer to a country or emerging market, perhaps the most significant are government, economics and ethics/social responsibility.  The forces of ethics or social responsibility, which in the case of the oil and gas industry would come from the operators, are generally not considered a priority initially and are often reactive to the forces of government.  Although Corporate Social Responsibility has become a very popular theme recently, the business case for the operator initiating a Transfer of Technology to a new market is traditionally not a popular one.

Transfer of Technology driven by Government is a far more popular occurrence, particularly in emerging oil and gas markets.  The initiative to develop a competent local work force, often referred to as local content, is executed initially through government encouragement of the operator, and eventually, through the implementation of policy and legislation. Government policy and legislation can have varying results, depending on how they are implemented, leading to the term ‘local content’ often having negative connotations.  A well-implemented policy can lead to the development of a robust local energy service industry.  A poorly implemented policy can lead to an incompetent workforce, personnel and environmental risk, and an inefficient, expensive working environment.

Technology Transfer driven by economics is a long-term strategy as the investment is high upfront and the financial benefit is only recognised later.  This strategy requires training of personnel in technical vocations, followed by on-the-job training, often by trainees shadowing existing technical personnel.  The initial training and hosting of additional personnel for a single task translates to extra cost to the operator or contractor.  However, as the training programme evolves, and the local personnel demonstrate their competency, the trainees proceed to fill the ranks as legitimate technical staff throughout the hierarchy of the operation.  The operator or contractor then reaps the financial rewards of reduced personnel mobilisation and accommodation costs, non-expat salaries, and the ability to respond to service requests more quickly.

The process of Technology Transfer manifests a globalised environment in the work place, often producing a good mix of nationalities influencing the development of the candidates and exposing them to many cultures and industry best practices.  The candidates who start out as trainees from emerging markets eventually have their opportunity to influence the workplace and add positively to industry best practice through innovation and a shift in paradigm.   

A great example of this paradigm shift was demonstrated with the Trinidadian ROV team who utilised a non-traditional method of aligning a well conductor through a platform conductor guide for the drill rig, by using rigging equipment designed for humans with the manipulator arms of their robot.  The international supervisors overseeing the operation had never seen this done before and anticipated a high probability of failure.  The team’s effort was successful and everyone gained from exposure to a new method of executing the job.

As the energy market advances in neighbouring Guyana, the Government and Operators are pushing for development at record pace.  A competent workforce must be developed and prepared to meet the imminent demand for their skills.  The Transfer of Technology that was consciously undertaken to bring international best practices to Trinidad over several years must now be accelerated significantly and delivered to Guyana in just a few.