Site Skills Training to plug resources workforce shortage with new LNG training facility

Published On : 21 Sep 2018

Paul Syvret from The Courier Mail on October 01, 2014 wrote, QB Monthly: Site Group plans to plug resources workforce shortages with new training facility. This article can be read below:


AS debate continues to rage in Australia about skills shortages in key sectors and importing foreign workers, training – or some would argue the lack thereof – consistently emerges as a primary area of need.

While the investment phase of the mining boom winds down, and thousands of engineering and construction workers face finding work elsewhere, the production phase of the cycle brings with it new workforce challenges.

In Queensland alone some $70 billion worth of Liquefied Natural Gas plants are due to come on stream in the next 12-18 months, bringing with them a need for a whole new set of skills and expertise that is fairly thin on the ground in Australia right now.

As one gas industry veteran puts it: "These plants are highly complex, and not the sort of things you have being operated by a bloke with a spanner and a wrench in his overalls and a few weeks training".

To put it into context, Australia currently has about 200 LNG process operators but the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency estimates as many as 3000 will be needed in the next few years.

In a late 2013 report, the AWPA notes that most resources companies have a general awareness of the skills needs of other resources-related companies operating in the same region, but adds the following caveat:

"Despite similar skills needs, enduring skills shortages (particularly for highly skilled occupations) and high labour costs, attraction and retention of skilled workers has become a source of competitive advantage, leading to a competitive rather than collaborative approach to skills challenges.''

In Queensland, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association eastern region chief Paul Fennelly points not just to the needs of the giant Gladstone operations themselves, but the associated well and plant infrastructure (which will see some 40,000 new wells drilled over the next 40 years).

"At the moment we would argue there is no great skills shortage, but as we move to the production phase things change.''

He also stresses that as LNG export production comes on stream from lower cost competitors "skills and training is critical to driving down our cost curves''.

One company trying to plug this gap and offer a training template for the resources sector – one more intensive, sophisticated and tailor-made than certificate level courses offered by the likes of TAFE – is Site Group, headed by Brisbane businessman Vern Wills.

Site operates across the Asia pacific region with operations in the Philippines, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where it provides training for resource and energy sectors.

The key now, especially for Australia, is project focused training for what are the very specific skill sets required here.

In the LNG sector, for example, Wills points out that we simply don't have an established industry with plants where trainees can learn on the job, but rather a largely greenfields equation.

"It's like learning to drive – you can't just expect to know how to drive on a road, you need real experience in a real environment,'' Wills says.

The solution Site is proposing is basically giant, industrial-size simulators, one of which is planned for each of Darwin and Gladstone at this stage.

The $3 million dollar units – which a Site Group offshoot has already established in Myanmar – replicate a live working hydrocarbons plant, simulating all levels of operation from maintenance to crisis management.

Already the Australian Centre for Energy and Process Training in WA operates a similar system, but it will not be enough to cater for expected demand.

And according to Wills, at present big LNG players are sending staff offshore for training which he claims is more expensive than the $60,000 Site can offer an 18 month course for with a full Diploma in Process Plant Technology.

Already he says there have been requests from Australian industry players to fly offshore for training in the group's Myanmar facility.

"We're already doing this sort of high-level training – and have been for some years – in other parts of the region, but there is huge need here right now.''

Waiting for any co-ordinated response from various levels of government and an industry as competitive as it is co-operative, however, is not likely to see anything happen very fast.

"Where we are at now in Australia is having really to take the plunge,'' he says.

"Build it,'' Wills the entrepreneur adds, "and they should come.''


The original article can be viewed here: LNG Skills Shortages in Australia

For more information on Process Plant Operator training please contact Phil Costello on +65 9181 1956 or via email at: