I recently have had the opportunity to conduct a training class in Pennsylvania for people wanting to work on a rig. The Marcellus Shale play is booming, where there are a lot of rigs running, and quite a few of them are short-handed. With the high unemployment rate, this is a golden opportunity for the area. A lot of the rigs here are from Texas and Oklahoma, and came with crews. Some of the hands didn’t like the weather, which I’ve noticed is quite a bit different than the Rio Grande valley, and went home. On the other hand, I don’t think everybody in Pennsylvania appreciated the cultural exchange opportunities that the Texas boys brought for their daughters and girlfriends. The state of Pennsylvania has encouraged the drilling companies to hire as many local hands as they can, and has offered grants and student loans to the guys who want to do it. Seems like a good deal all the way around.

I’ve conducted classes and seminars for various groups for years. I quite often can size up a group, and have an idea of what kind of students they will be. The group I always hope for are “volunteers.” They are in class because they want to be, and they usually pay their own way or have some kind of student loan. They want to learn because they “have a dog in this fight.” These guys take an active interest, and sometimes ask some pretty challenging questions. They usually see through a poor teacher fairly quickly.

On the other side of the coin, are the “prisoners.” They probably really don’t want to be there, but for some reason, they have to be – kinda like DUI school, for which I never saw anybody volunteer; the judge said go to the class or lose your license. I sometimes run into some of these guys when doing continuing education seminars. The majority of people in the drilling industry realize that technology changes, new methods are invented, new technology is available, or just the fact that everything they can learn usually has a benefit somewhere down the line. But there still are a lot of people who figure that they’ve done it one way for years, and they don’t need any ‘new-fangled-book-learnin’. The only reason they are there is to get the points to keep their license. In that case, I figure that I need to make my material interesting enough to keep them awake; maybe something will rub off. I’ve also learned that there are some of these guys I just can’t reach. Their rigs look like something that Fred Sanford abandoned, their safety record is so poor that they can’t even get insurance, and they wonder why their profit margins are so poor. About the only thing I can do in cases like these is provide the information and keep them from disrupting the class.

The third group of student I see are “vacationers.” They are happy to be out of the office, get to go to a trade show, and have to sit through the class to justify their expense account. They are easily distracted by the prisoners, and like to hold side conversations or send text messages. Sometimes they are interested, and sometimes they are not. They are out of the office, they want to play, and they want people to help them play.

The group I’m working with now all definitely fall into the volunteer classification. They have strong reasons to be in class, they don’t miss, they take part in the discussions. Every single one of them is a guy I would hire for an entry-level position if I needed a hand. Whether they will pan out or not remains to be seen, but they’ve got the right attitude when they show up. Quite a few are ex-military, which is a real plus. They understand discipline, chain of command, bad weather, being away from home, and a lot of things that are a shock to a new guy.

One part of the class is the Rig Pass. It is a first-rate safety course that many companies now are requiring before a hand can go to work. Like all safety training, it can be tedious, but it has to be done; our industry is dangerous enough without careless or unsafe work practices making it worse. Sometimes it is pretty repetitive, and people get bored or fall asleep. I would, too, but I need to do it, anyway. When my class has heard the same thing 27 times, and groan and roll their eyes, I know it’s time to bring them back to the real reason for safety training. I have some DVDs of things that can happen, and that usually does the trick. The other day right before lunch, I showed a DVD concerning hand injuries. It was graphic, but these things actually do happen, or they wouldn’t have anybody to film and photograph. I also try to use a little humor, such as: Don’t put your fingers anywhere you wouldn’t put other, ahem, more delicate parts of your anatomy – only I say it in roughneck language.

Hopefully, my guys will come out of the class with a good safety attitude, a Rig Pass certificate, a Red Cross first-aid certificate, and the basic knowledge to let them start a good career in the drilling industry.