Training is a key component of a petrochemical megaproject’s staffing model

The three mega petrochemical projects in Southwest Louisiana are dealing with the challenge of getting 70-80% of the workforce needs to be journey-level, as this is the recommended ratio for a petrochemical construction project to operate optimally.

A successful staffing model for a petrochemical construction project involves establishing the number of staff needed over the course of the project and determining staff ratios for each skill, as well as getting staff to journeyman level over the course of the project. Training and development to improve skills and teach employee interaction are key, industry executives said.

For projects to operate optimally, 70-80% of the workforce needs to be journey-level, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. With a labor shortage for skilled workers still strong even amid lower oil prices, getting 70-80% of the workforce to journey-level can be the biggest challenge.

One solution working for projects already in process is to hire partly trained and fully trained staff and train during the earliest phases of the project, an industry executive said.

It takes about four years to move from entry level to journey level, while petrochemical construction projects typically take between 18 and 24 months. In that scenario, a new hire who is partly trained at the start could likely move to a journeyman level by the end of the project.

“With the petrochemical megaprojects, we anticipate 70-80% journey-level or certificated craft people working and 20-30% helper level,” said RB Smith, vice president for Workforce Development at the Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance.

“Our staffing model is to hire and train as many local people as we can to work their way through the construction phase. By the time the construction phase is over, they will be journey-level or close to it and able to help with maintenance of these new facilities and future capital projects.”

Which petrochemical projects are hiring?

There are three mega petrochemical projects in Southwest Louisiana. The Cheniere project employs 4,000-5,000 workers alone. Sabine Pass Liquefaction, a subsidiary of Cheniere Energy Partners, is developing natural gas liquefaction facilities at the Sabine Pass LNG receiving terminal located in Cameron Parish, Louisiana adjacent to the existing regasification facilities. 

CB&I and Chiyoda are also working with Cameron LNG to construct the Cameron liquefaction project in Hackberry, Louisiana and are currently staffing for it..

Sasol will be constructing a world-scale ethane cracker and derivatives complex and gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility in Westlake, Louisiana. The GTL project is in the front-end engineering and design phase, with the final investment decision scheduled toward the end of 2016 being delayed in response to lower international oil prices.

The Sasol projects, managed by a joint venture between Fluor and Technip, mark the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in US history. Together, the two projects are expected to create more than 1,200 full-time jobs, more than 7,000 jobs at peak construction and thousands of indirect jobs in Louisiana and across the US.

“There is a steady continual announcement of jobs within the areas of the Gulf Coast Regions of Texas and Louisiana,” said Roger Blackburn, an executive with Infinity Construction in Deer Park, Texas. “With the coming of the FLNG build-out, the announcement of a new ammonia plant [BASF and Yara project in Freeport, Texas], and the movement of jobs already within our areas, there is a need to be concerned about labor.”

Complex cocktail of workers mingling together

“We hire as many people as we can locally, but there are only so many people available locally for this many projects,” Smith said. “We’ll work to hire locally first, then move to regional hires. Chances of a few international workers on the projects are a possibility.”

The challenge for project managers is to develop strategies that help the different groups within their workforce -- journeymen, entry-level workers, and local and regional hires of different ages -- work together effectively. 

Smith said the Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance aims to help employers and employees manage diversity and work with the different ages and groups of people on a project.

“There is more complexity in the workforce today. We have as many as five generations on most projects, and that has never happened before in history,” Smith said. “We train our managers that we’re all people with different backgrounds, experiences and views. It is important to listen to others, communicate clearly a common vision, and create an environment of trust.”

From entry level to journey level

Besides the on-the-job training model, some project managers are additionally looking to outside resources to get employees trained for a specific project.

The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), which provides curricula, training, assessment and certification, is one of the most important tools for training, according to industry executives.

“Louisiana was the first state to adopt the NCCER Build Your Future Program,” said Tim Johnson, president of the TJC Group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “We have a heavy reliance on NCCER for recruiting and training.”

NCCER has created curricula for more than 70 craft areas and a complete series of more than 70 assessments offered in over 4,000 NCCER-accredited training and assessment locations across the United States.

The organization develops standardized construction and maintenance curriculum and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s registry, which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires.

The Manufacturing Institute is another major program for growing the talent base within a project.

“When we survey the industry, we find that the greatest pain point for most companies is in middle-skills positions that require some postsecondary training but not necessarily a two-or four-year degree,” said Brent Weil, senior vice president & treasurer at the Manufacturing Institute.

To grow these positions, the institute recommends the ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate, a portable credential that demonstrates achievement in applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information such as reading blueprints and charts.

 By Heather Doyle