Chapter 13

No Prior Offshore Experience - The Catch 22 Squirrel Cage

Usually the first question any offshore recruiter will ask you is "Do you have previous offshore experience?"

This will probably be he most vital bit of information you can provide. Even if you are at the top of your game in your particular trade, with years of industry experience, (such as a pipe welder, industrial / commercial electrician, crane operator, diesel mechanic, warehousemen, medic, etc.) recruiters will more than likely be reluctant to hire you directly into that position. Here's why:

  • Working offshore is vastly different than working a similar land based job
     
  • You have to be familiar with offshore emergency procedures and what to do if the need arises
     
  • Even if you are at the top of your game in your particular vocation (pipe welder / mechanic / crane operator / warehouseman, etc.) you will be lost when you first get on a rig. While such terms as forward and aft or port and starboard are easy to figure out (port has four letters in it just like left), other terms, such as the moonpool, the V door, the monkey board, the shale shaker, the #3 caisson, the mud pits, etc. will take a bit of getting used to.
     
  • In some cases it might take you (if you have to go by boat) 12-14 hours in rough seas just to get to the rig, at which time you could be expected to work a 12 hour shift. Even the most physically fit of people get sea sick. It's a tough gig trying to pull a 12 hour shift after having been on a 14 hour boat ride. There have numerous occasions when a new hire was told he had to work 12 hours after being sea sick from a 14 hour boat ride and he said "TO HELL WITH THIS CRAP,  I QUIT." Recruiters need to know you are going to hang in there when things get tough. And believe me they get tough.

In times past, having previous offshore experience was not near the requirement it is today, but times have changed. Currently, most offshore recruiters require that an applicant have a minimum of six months experience offshore before they will hire you. Some recruiters want as much as 2 years experience. There are exceptions, which I will talk about later.

It takes anywhere from two to six months for a new hand to get even basically familiar with basic offshore procedures. Usually after you're worn out your first pair of boots, you're pretty much a hand if you've got any merit about you at all. AND, once  you've gotten your first six months experience you will satisfy the question of "do you have any previous offshore experience?"

  • NOTE: If you are looking at a job with a particular company you feel you can do, and, after having contacted the recruiter they say something like "We are really seeking someone with at least two year's experience" don't become discouraged. Check in with that recruiter every week or two. If the job is still there, let him (or her) know you are immediately available and, if given a chance to prove yourself, you will make a good hand.
     
  • Don't let the BS about 2 years experience being a requirement dismay you. 2 years experience might be what they say they want, but what they really want is someone who can fill that empty slot on the rig. With all the baby boomers retiring by the thousands, there is currently a mass exodus going on of experienced offshore hands. This has created a severe personnel shortage they are having a hard time filling. Personally, I believe recruiters are DESPERATE for personnel. Oh, they will tell you they are not, because that is the way the corporate mentality works. If it were true (that they are not desperate for people) there would not be thousands of job advertisements all over the web.

Here's the catch 22 squirrel cage: How does one get the experience if no one will hire you because you have no experience?

The most important thing you need to understand is the situation the industry is in. Because of the mass exodus of the "baby boomer generation" (see chapter 2), thousands of seasoned oil field hands are leaving the oil rig job industry in record numbers. This has created an enormous shortage of personnel, all the way from entry level to top management.

Once you do get some basic offshore experience, you will have the key which will open many doors for you. Regardless of the position they hold today, everyone in the industry had to start somewhere. But it's getting that initial bit of experience which presents the biggest problem. Again, let me stress a big part of this site is to show you how to get hired (with no prior experience) and get that all important first six months under your belt.

You will not find many job advertisements that specifically say "Entry Level". The reason for that is because most of the people who work offshore have friends and/or relatives they are trying to get on. Personnel departments have no end of entry level applicants.

HOWEVER, by no means do I want to imply you should NOT apply for an entry level position. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If you have no prior offshore, oilfield or maritime experience and no transferable skills (such as welder, electrician, medic, mechanic, crane operator, warehouseman, cook, etc.) you will want to post your application that you are applying for an "Offshore Entry Level Position".

Other entry level positions are roustabout, cleaner / painter, scaffolder, rigger, utility hand, deckhand, ordinary seaman and oiler. When you are searching ads and see one of these listed, change your resumé  from "Offshore Entry Level Position" and post whatever position you are applying for. For example, if you see an opening for Roustabout, that is what you will put in your objective. The same goes for Rigger, Utility Hand, Deckhand, etc.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

Training Positions: Many of the companies have training positions available. These positions are for personnel who have a specific set of skills that are required for a particular job but just don't have any prior offshore experience. Examples would be rig welder trainee, crane operator trainee, motorman trainee, rig electrician / mechanic trainee, storekeeper trainee, ballast controlman trainee, etc. Normally what happens in these situations is that you will be placed with an experienced hand for a couple of hitches to learn the ins and outs of offshore drilling along with your particular trade. Then, when management decides you know your stuff, they will turn you lose in a position of your own.

This is a great way to get on and is how I started my offshore career as a crane operator. I had worked offshore before as a rig welder. But the company recruiter I was talking to said he didn't need any welders at the time but wanted to know if I could run a crane if someone trained me. To which I replied "Most Certainty" I trained two weeks with another crane operator and was then turned lose with my own crew. This was when semi submersibles were first coming out and I was fortunate enough to get on one coming right out of the shipyard, so I got to participate in the break in and commissioning procedures as well as normal drilling operations.

NOTE: If the recruiter says they do not have trainee positions, ask them if they would consider starting a trainee program for people with transferable skills!

What I Recommend: If you have any type of transferrable experience that could be used on the rig (welder, crane or forklift operator, electrician, mechanic, warehouseman, medic, etc.) I suggest you make up two resumés - one for "Any Entry Level" and one for "_______________ Trainee", with your particular skills and background listed in the blank. This works! Use it if it applies!

I stress through out this book the utmost importance in establishing personal relationships with offshore recruiters and other hiring personnel. This is absolutely essential and will get you hired faster than anything else. There are people behind these job advertisements, e-mails and phones and they are constantly looking for people who are honest, dependable and who want to work. When you establish personal contact with a recruiter, he or she is no longer dealing with electronic files and word documents, but a real person - you.

Work For Free: No, that's not a typo, that's exactly what I said. The catch is no one is going to take you up on it because for you to be an employee working on a rig and not getting paid would be a violation of labor laws. HOWEVER, the point of offering this is to show the employer you are really interested in working and not just "getting a check" like so many are these days. What you can tell them is you will be willing to work for a week or two, without pay, so you can have the opportunity to demonstrate your willingness and abilities in doing the job. Believe me, no one else is going to offer this, so this is a great way to make a lasting impression on recruiters. The key to making it work is to be willing to take them up on it just in case they call your bluff.

Additional Training: Another thing you might consider is to take some vocational courses, like welding, diesel mechanics, EMT or para medic, crane and forklift operations, electrician, etc. Many of these courses can be found through your local college, vocational schools or adult education classes at a reasonable cost. Anything you can learn about hydraulics, pneumatics, control valves, generators, pumps, winches, etc., will be helpful.

Industry Training Classes: Because of the current boom going on, many industry training schools have sprung up over the last couple of years, all over the world. These are excellent schools and offer from the very basic courses like BOSIET (basic offshore safety induction & emergency training), SafeGulf / Rig Pass, basic roustabout / roughneck, etc. to advanced drilling and rig operating courses.

While these courses are not a requirement in getting hired, taking and completing them and getting an industry certification will go a long way in persuading potential employers you are the guy (or gal) for the job. However, taking them is not a guarantee you will be hired. Do keep this in mind. When you do get hired, you can ask to be reimbursed for any money you had to put out in taking the course.

  • DO NOT mention anything about a reimbursement before you are hired
  • Wait until you've been on the job a couple of hitches and then talk to your personnel recruiter
    or rig supervisor about the possibility of getting reimbursed
  • This is not an unreasonable request, the worst they can say is "no".

Back in the day, taking courses before getting hired was unheard of. When a company hired you, they sent you to get the training they wanted you to have, at their expense. But that was "back in the day". Things have changed considerably since then.

Remember, there are tens of thousands of unemployed people wanting to get one of these high paying offshore oil rig jobs who, in better times, would never have considered working offshore. Anything and everything you can possibly do to make yourself more "sellable" you want to do. Taking industry courses is a major way in getting ahead of the competition, because most of your job hunting competition is not going to do it.

MORE ADDITIONAL TIPS

In "Cpt Ron's Contacts" of some 700 plus companies that are currently engaged in the offshore oil and gas industry. Many are HOW HIRING for present and future needs, for both US and overseas positions. There are 13 major categories, broken down as follows:

  1.  Catering Companies
  2.  Corrosion Control
  3.  Computer Services
  4.  Offshore Drilling Contractors
  5.  Mud Loggers
  6.  Well Services Companies
  7.  Diving Companies

 

  8.   Offshore Engineering / Construction
  9.   Oil Companies
 10.  Offshore Oil & Gas Employment Agencies
 11.  Special Service Companies
 12.  Air & Maritime Transportation Companies
 13.  Onshore Drilling Contractors

You will want to go through each one of these web sites, individually. You will want to go through them and not be in a hurry. If you get in a rush you will miss out on some wonderful opportunities. Go to their web site. View all their pages. Learn as much as you can about each company before you apply.

Some of the web sites have videos about their operations. Watch them, maybe even a couple of times. some are animated, some are real time videos. Here is a link to one such site, Flour, an offshore engineering, construction and maintenance company, employing some 41,000 personnel worldwide. As you can see there are several videos about their operations. The more you watch, the more you learn. The more you learn about the operations of a particular company, the better you will be able to communicate what you know about that company to the recruiter.

If there are video's on the site from the CEO or other top management types, watch them. If they have links about their mission statement, corporate strategy, executive management, safety policies, you will want to pay particular attention to these. Here is the reason - these type of pages are great resources for particular key words that are specific to that company and it's mission. When these are strategically placed in your resumé you will have a much better chance of getting a recruiter's attention and interview than if you did not take the time to do this.

Many of the sites have begun writing quarterly and even monthly news letters. If possible, get a copy of them and read it from front to back. Maybe even a couple of times. The more you can learn about each company and their specific industry mission, the better your chances are of getting hired.

Believe Me when I say very, very few (if any) of the tens of thousands of other offshore oil rig job seekers who are trying to get hired offshore will be doing this. In fact, I doubt that the majority of people who are reading this book will even do it. Why? Because it's "too hard", or it "takes up too much time".

If you want to get hired offshore, and you have no prior offshore experience, you have to be willing to do what others are not willing to do. In other words, be willing to accept any position, no matter how menial it might seem. If you have no prior experience, your first goal is to get hired and get six months under your belt. After that has been achieved, you can pretty much go in whatever direction you want to go.

For example, if your goal is to be a roughneck (floorhand / leasehand), crane operator, rig welder, etc., and the only position you can get is washing dishes in the galley, take it! At least you will be on the rig. You get to talk with the other rig hands and ask questions, you get to watch the drill floor operations, you get to watch the crane operator as they load / offload crew and supply boats, participate in emergency abandon ship drills, etc. You get to familiarize yourself with overall rig operations, you get to see a lot of things you would not see if you did not have a job as a galley hand.

Every once in a while, one of the crew members (and sometimes several) will either quit or get fired during the middle of the hitch. This leaves immediate openings that have to be filled. If a floorhand leaves, a roustabout will be moved up to take his place, which leaves an opening in the roustabout crew. If you are working in the galley and see this happen, you can go right to the toolpusher and let him know you want to apply for the open roustabout position. If he thinks you can do it, he will send you in to get a physical. Pass that, and presto, you are a member of the crew. It happens. However, if you are not on the rig because you felt it beneath you to take a job as a galley hand, it won't happen for you ... ever.

So let me emphasize this point again; if you have no prior offshore experience and want to work in the offshore oil rig job industry, it would be in your best interests to consider initially taking whatever you can get. Too many times I've heard someone say "I'm not going to do THAT!" or "That's not enough money."

Here's how things work: Offshore is about work. Depending on what it is, it could be hot, nasty and dangerous; like going into a tank with the temperature at 110 to clean out stinking mud, oil, drilling chemicals, etc. This is not going to be a holiday cruise on the Carnival Princess. It is HARD WORK.

If you are not willing to "give your best" in doing the most menial of tasks, it is doubtful you will "give your best" in higher positions. Entry level positions such as galley hand, cleaner / painter, deckhand, etc. are a test to see if you have what it takes and to train you for advancement. It costs a lot of money to train new hands, make sure you are a good investment!

If you are a green hand entry level with no prior experience, begin with the catering companies and then the marine transportation companies, as these are the easiest to get on with when you have 0 offshore experience. Entry level positions with catering companies would be galley or utility hand; with marine transportation companies - deckhand or ordinary seaman. With all other companies you would put "Offshore Entry Level Position" on your resumé.

Mud Logger Trainee Positions: As I have stated throughout this book and web site, there is a boom going on right now in the oil and gas industry which has created a severe shortage of personnel. One of the key people on any drill site is the mud logger. Because of the personnel shortage crisis, many trainee positions have been created for this slot. Duties of the mud logger include:

  • The making of a comprehensive documentation of a borehole by inspecting the rock or sediment dislodged by the circulating mud through the borehole
  • Drilling activity is monitored in real time through the use of a mobile laboratory
  • Mud loggers provide information on the drilling and pumping parameters, seismic activity and pressure trends
  • Mud loggers use technological devices to gather data, analyze it and send it to the the rig management team
  • Proficiency in computer use / computer software programs is desirable

Just to show you what is available, here is a link to a mud logger trainee position, working in Australia with a beginning salary of $50,000 per year.

Onshore Drilling: Another thing to consider is working a land based oil rig job. With the current oil boom going on as it is, there is plenty of work available crewing land rigs. If you can't get a job offshore right away, there is plenty of work on land rigs. If you can get six months experience on a land rig as a roustabout or roughneck, motorman, operator, etc., it will go a long way in getting you hired for an offshore oil rig job. This is true because:

  • You will be exposed and trained in basic drilling procedures - rig up / rig down, spud ins, running casing, drilling, bit changes, tripping pipe, mud pits & pressure, the V door, shaker screens, what type of chemicals to mix for various drilling operations, emergency blowout procedures, etc.
  • Here is a short video that will give you and idea as to the availability of onshore drilling jobs. This is just in the state of North Dakota. In the US alone, onshore drilling is going on in

 

 



 

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