Our Aberdeen based TRACS Training Manager shares the experience of delivering "fit for purpose" solutions in new geographies.
Low oil prices, redundancies and perhaps the decline of the industry as a whole – the topic has been hanging around us like a dark cloud for over two years now. One of the most persistent discussions has been whether this is just ‘the cycle’ or whether there is something structurally different about this down-turn. This has been particularly poignant for high-cost offshore regions such as the North Sea.
Most people are concluding the downturn is a little different this time around. Longer, deeper and with less inevitability that the high-cost arenas will simply return to their previous ways of life.
(Mark Bentley, photo: AGR)
The idea of ‘internationalising’ is a simple and obvious one – the tougher question is how to do it well when there are plenty of highly skilled local providers.
Questions we might ask ourselves are:
- Why should any emerging region wish to call on our services? What do we have that’s so special?
- Even if interested in (1) why pay the premium associated with importing expatriate skills?
- Even if interested in (1) and tolerant of (2), why not use local talent, especially if that talent has already been trained up on University Masters programmes run by those expatriates?
In summary: even if we believe we’ve done a good job in the past in our main regions, what causes us to expect the world is waiting eagerly to be exposed in our personal technical histories and biases? The expectation almost seems a little arrogant.
The key would seem to be to avoid simply "copy-paste" of expertise but instead package the skills in a more tailored way or offer unique bespoke products which others simply don’t, or can’t do so well.
In our world of training this is readily apparent. AGR’s TRACS Training
brand has always worked globally, and the brand distinction is the delivery of tailored courses, rather than off-the-shelf products. These take more time and effort to build and maintain than standard commodity products but they are internationally portable and no one comments on where we’re based.
This is not franchising – our skill pool of tutors is made up of staff or close associates who are mostly North Sea-based and the IP for the courses are generally shared between tutors and the company. It is instead the export of tailored products and the concept of putting manpower-intensive bespoke tailoring first, in preference to the more traditional option of commoditising and generating volume products.
(Recent in-country skills development project)
Isn’t this what everyone does? Well, no, not really. We would argue that truly tailored training products are not the norm, principally because of the additional care, attention and effort involved. Non-tailoring is the norm.
An extreme example of non-tailoring was recently described to us concerning a training organisation who designed a course based around the North Sea environment and exported it wholesale to the Middle East. The fact that the case study material embedded in the course was based on offshore projects didn’t seem to faze the course deliverers – driven by a belief in consistency (and a wish for highly profitable volume delivery) the lack of relevance of offshore technology for desert countries was neatly overlooked.
The simple tailored alternative to the above is to drop the marine aspects. The more subtle but necessary effort is the complete deconstruction of the course to pick out the generic aspects relevant to the Middle East client group, add in the locally specific content which would not have been in the North Sea version of the course and rebuild the event around the interests of the new group. This all requires effort, and goes far beyond simply ‘cutting out the bits about the North Sea’ and changing the date and location on the first PowerPoint slide (a dangerous business in itself, and scope for much embarrassment if done hastily and carelessly).
We believe that effort is necessary to transfer the skills and knowledge of experts in areas like the North Sea to a new region. What to do when the business dries up at home? Export, but with effort; tailor, and tailor mindfully.
A case in point
A recently delivered in-country skills development project in an emerging region offers a case in point. The principal commodity providers are in the region, and providing a range of standard but useful off-the-shelf training products in nearby countries. This provision, however, is not wholly in line with the wishes of the Oil and Gas Ministry in the country in question.
After discussions with the relevant seniors in the Ministry, it emerged their prime concern was the loss of talent out of the country, partly associated with out-of-country training itself, which is provided on an individual basis (generally the simplest and most profitable way of delivering commodity products). Talented individuals were given the opportunity to travel for training, which was used as an opportunity to pick up generic skills, network and apply their augmented CVs and their new learnt skills, well …. generically, i.e. not at home. An element of this is inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing, but from the Ministry’s perspective was not the intended use of finite training funds.
The request from the Ministry was therefore to provide in-country training. We met this request by offering a tailored in-country programme – training teams together, using in-country data and adjusting content to fit the specific issues in that region. Retaining talent also requires a career path and attractive remuneration – out of scope for a training provider (and stretching the definition of ‘tailoring’ a little too far) - but this can be gainfully supported by a tailored development programme and this was something we could help with directly.
Providing such a programme on a one-off basis is highly unappealing to a commodity training provider – the time, effort and overall investment of resources are disproportionate compared to the profitability of running a high-volume, repeating, un-tailored programme from a centralised training centre.
However, for a company that is structured around the delivery of tailored training, not anchored to a physically fixed training centre, the opportunity is a good fit. The time and effort involved in deconstructing existing material, re-writing to fit a new data set and researching the historical needs of a region such that new content can be generated is intellectually stimulating. It is also highly rewarding to see the material ‘land’ when delivered in the new location to a new group of people who are keen to learn as teams alongside their colleagues. Not as profitable as high volume provision perhaps, but good business nevertheless, and in our (OK, admittedly biased) view, a high value product.
In this way, the ethos and skills developed by a group of tutors founded in Aberdeen are readily exportable to a new area. The key is not any individual genius (there are plenty of talented tutors working on commodity provision in training centres); the exportable product is the approach – the tailoring itself.
Life outside the North Sea
The tailoring ethos is applicable generally. It is our belief that exporting skills and experience from anywhere requires this type of approach, yet few companies are truly doing it. It is easier to simply try to export standard products and activities, and see if that works.
The question for each of us in our respective businesses is therefore to open up the anatomy of our skills and products – literally take them apart and consider what is special or useful about each piece. Some things we have done and learnt really were for local use only – the North Sea in our region’s case. Other things are of global benefit and therein lies the value. Rather than simply package up the same products and offer them optimistically to ‘interested others’ elsewhere, we are required to critically think though and isolate the components which carry value internationally.
The result may be surprising. The value may lie in just part of an existing product but equally may not be a product at all. The value may simply be the thought processes of the people who had the flair to the build the product in the first place.
For sure, the surviving useful products are likely to be different, and for us ‘different’ can still be based in North Sea or Middle East (or anywhere).
For more information about our tailored training courses, click here
For In-Country Skills Development brochure, click here