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Workforce Development Interview with Scott Marshall, Senior Group Director People Operations for the Americas, Worley

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background in the industry and your role at Worley?

A: In my current role I lead the People Team in the Americas region for Worley. I have been with Worley for almost 11 years. Prior to coming to work with Worley, I worked with Brown & Root, which became KBR. In 2013 I joined Jacobs to lead the Global Field Services HR team, in April of 2019 the division of Jacobs that I worked for was acquired by Worley Parsons and Worley was formed.  Prior to joining this industry, I spent 8 years in the United States Marine Corps. I started my early career as an Electrician, prior to joining the Marines. I have spent a large portion of my career supporting projects across the United States and travelling to the Middle East, Africa, Australia, Canada and South America.

Outside of Worley, I'm the chairman of the board for NCCER this year and last year and have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Board for many years.  I'm the co-chair of Building Responsibly, which is an international organization focused on worker welfare and rights in the building construction space. I serve as the co-chair for the construction council with Upskill Houston  and volunteer as a member of the Industrial Craft Committee for the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show.  

Q: Craft labor has been constrained in the US Gulf Coast for some years now. In your view what factors which have led to this challenge?

A: In my opinion this issue has 2 causal factors, one is the attractiveness of the sector itself and how we market it. I think a lot of people grew up and saw their parents in the energy industry, going through ups and downs. When times were good then times were good, and then when times were not good and the markets went down, they lost their jobs. If you're a kid watching that, you're like, "I'm not doing that". So, I think, just the normal ups and downs that we've experienced haven't been overly helpful.

I think that the industry overall hasn't done a good job of articulating that you can have a career. There's the STEM route, there are those careers in engineering, project management, procurement, supply chain and all the things that are associated with the with the energy industry and the EPC sector that a lot of people don't even think about. We hire IT people, we hire HR people, we hire supply chain people, we hire people who focus on digital solutions, all to support and help grow the EPC business. And then there are the construction trades themselves, where there actually is an opportunity for a career and not just a job as well.  You know the old saying that the minute you start working, you're working yourself out of a job? It doesn't have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I think the whole “earn while you learn” philosophy that's in place in this industry hasn't been advertised, where you have an option to learn a trade, get industry-recognized training – whether it's through a formal apprenticeship, or whether it's through, the NCCER curriculum standalone – and get an industry-recognized certification that and make more money as you advance you knowledge and skill. We haven't done a good job of marketing the sector to the job applicants or the candidate pool that's out there. Then if you look at the demographics of the US labor force – depending on the day and depending on your search engine – you're going to see that anywhere between 46% and 52% of the labor pool are women. And it's a much smaller percentage than that that's in the EPC space, whether you're looking at the professional ranks, engineering, project management, procurement, etc., or in the craft trade ranks. So, there's a lot of work to do on what we need to do differently, how we need to be set up and structured and messaging differently, to encourage more people to want to have careers in the EPC space.

 

Q: From your view, what does the current craft professional availability actually look like today (and are craft labor shortages universal to all trades)?

A: In the United States we find ourselves in a tight craft labor market, as we stack more large-scale projects into the pipeline this exacerbates the problem. We’ve got to be bringing more and more youth, more and more diversity into our industry, both in the Professional Services ranks and the Craft Professional ranks. We need to focus on continually bringing people into the industry at all levels, and developing, mentoring and coaching them to success to drive retention and advancement.

We've got to make sure that people understand there's a viable steady career here for them in the EPC sector, and the energy sector overall.

I think if you ask what crafts specifically there are shortages in, some people will say all crafts, and tongue-in-cheek that's somewhat accurate But where does it actually impact? The impact's probably in your specialty welding areas: precision millwrights – true millwrights that can do reverse alignment, precision alignment, those types of things – heavy crane operators, instrumentation technicians, high-voltage electricians, true fabricators, field fabricators.

We also see impacts at the lower levels, entry level helpers and laborers are hard to find and even harder to retain. We have not adjusted how we're messaging and how we're recruiting and onboarding that younger generation coming in and the massive skill gap between what they've experienced, how they're used to working and how they work versus our industry norms.

 

Q: From your work at Worley and in your previous role as chairman of the NCCER, you’ve talked a lot about the importance of supporting the next generation of craft talent. In your view, how long does it take to build out a robust craft labor pool? Should LNG operating companies be partnering with local community colleges to ensure skilled labor?

A: I think how long it takes someone to develop is a personal deal, every individual learns at a different pace and in a different manner. Some people learn by sitting in a classroom and have someone instructing them. Other people learn better by modularizing the content and learning to do self-study. The individual and how dedicated they are to the learning side of it will really dictate from a knowledge standpoint, how fast their knowledge progresses. The one thing that I think people get confused by is, when you go and recruit from the universities, and you're hiring a construction manager that just graduated from the construction management program, or just graduated from electrical engineering, you're not hiring them and saying, “Okay, here's a $2 billion project, go run it”. You're putting them in a program that's bringing them along, trying to match their knowledge level, and catch them up from an experience standpoint. And you would think that that's a very logical way to think and we do that with everything but what tends to happen at the craft level is we'll send them to vocational school, or we'll do the training as a contractor. What we're doing is giving them the knowledge, and yes, there's a piece of it that’s in the classroom, but then you have to be able to show that you can take that knowledge and do the work safely in the field in order to pass the course and be certified. So, there has to be an education component and a performance component. t. It doesn't mean that when you go through a two-year vocational program, that you've got 25 years’ experience behind that as well. We have to have programs that bring these people into the right level of helper, apprentice, journey level – wherever they actually sit – understand the gaps in their experience, understand the gaps in their skills, and then fill in those gaps with real job experience, work experience, and targeted training specified to that individual.

When we get really good at doing that consistently, we'll be better off. Now, we should be – whether it's the contracting community, whether it's the LNG owner community, whether it's all of us together – trying to figure out what the best avenue is. Whether it's a combination of community colleges, vocational schools, contractor- or industry-led training programs, and leveraging things that are already there, like the NCCER curriculum at the craft level. And then how we get them linked to jobs, so we show the link between the training programs and actual careers. Then, once we've got them a job, how do we translate that job into a career and the continuing education and the continually gaining real job experience? It's the combination of the two that make a very skilled craftsperson.

 

Q: Productivity is another ongoing issue in the industry. What are we doing to improve the productivity of our craft professional labor workforce?

A: I think there are a couple of areas. One: how productive the craft workforce is normally related to how successful the planning on the project is. Do you have available work fronts for the craft work from start to finish? Do you have the material? Do you have the tools? Do you have the equipment? Do you have whatever support is needed? And the answer should always be yes.

Have we set up the project to be successful from a people perspective? Are we creating skilled Frontline leadership. Your foreman, your general foreman, your superintendents have to be visible in the field, knowledgeable, have to have people skills, the ability to communicate, and really set those crews up for success. From there, it gets to the individual craftsperson. Do they have the skills and knowledge and experience to do the task efficiently and safely? And that answer should be yes and if it's no, then we should know that, then we should be mixing the crews such that we understand what each member of the crew is capable of doing and that combined, they can do that task successfully and safely and deliver quality work. Then, behind the scenes, we have to be doing both craft training and task training so that we're filling in those gaps in knowledge and experience. As this work and training continues we are now building greater skills and engagement that drive greater productivity and retention and safety performance.

 

Q: On development and retainment, what can we do to attract the talent (engineering, operations, HSSE, etc.) needed?

A: We need to do all of the actions that we have discussed above. We have to change the messaging from jobs to careers. We have to show that we're very inclusive, that we have diversity in our organizations, both in terms of the employees we bring in and ways of working. We have to be more flexible than we have been in the past. Used to be 20 years ago, you did a survey and pay and benefits were one and two. Well pay and benefits are still at the top, but they're not always one and two. It's, “What are my career opportunities? How are you going to develop me? What's my relationship with my supervisor?” Those types of things are now in the top five, and sometimes they're the top three with pay and benefits being four and five, understanding this is very important. It's the commitment to ongoing training. It's the commitment to keeping people working so that they can have a career. Doing all of these things consistently will help us continue to grow as an industry.

 

Q: What does the pipeline look like for new resources, out of high school/college?

A: Out of college, I think we're seeing more and more people starting to get into the engineering disciplines. We are seeing more interest in the Energy Industry as a whole.  I think there's a lot more to do in that space to continue to drive students that want to go to university, that want to focus on that STEM education, into the engineering, into the construction management and some of the support services that go with the energy business. I think on the high schools, the big disconnect is getting into the high schools, making sure they have a CTE program, but not just a CTE program and check the box if they have one but one that's actually preparing students for what a job and a career would be like in the energy sector, supported by the client and the contractor community. And linking those CTE programs to the employers in the specific areas because you hear repeatedly, “I don't know how to go get a job in the energy sector.” We need to connect the student population with the industry.

Q: How important is work/life balance (integration) and benefits such as flex time?

A: I think that depends on the individual and where they're at. I think if you're looking at how we grow employment in this industry and how we bring more people into this industry, I think that becomes more and more important, because if you look at the survey data, the survey data tells us that if you're talking about recent high school graduates, if you're talking about recent college graduates, then flexibility and work-life balance are the top two things that they're concerned about outside of the normal stuff of a good relationship with their supervisor, good pay, good benefits and those types of things. We need to ensure that we have competitive pay and benefits. We have to  work on that softer side, the training and development, the coaching, that mentoring and career development. And at the same time, we have to be listening to what they're telling us – that work-life balance and flexibility in terms of how that work is delivered is very important too.

 

Q: How can the industry effectively compete against the tech industry / Silicon Valley to increase the attractiveness of the construction industry to graduates?

A: I think it's what we just talked about: we have to change the messaging. You're not working yourself out of a job. This is a career, we've got very competitive pay, we’ve got very competitive benefits. We've got training, we've got development, we've got continuity of work. You're not going to experience five years of unemployment or things like that – there's continuity of work out in front of us, there's an opportunity for you to grow.

And then I think we've got to listen to what the candidates are telling us: there is a concern about work life balance, there is a concern about flexibility. Obviously, we're not tech companies, and where the projects are being built is where the work is, so there has to be some flexibility to actually go there and do that work. We need to be some flexibility into shifts, start times and end times, do we need transportation options in the local communities, are there other issues in specific communities that we need to be aware of and address to have success.

Q: How do you see the craft professional labor shortage impacting the current wave of major LNG export projects on the Gulf Coast? Are you confident in the ability of major EPCs like yourselves to manage this challenge?

A: I think we need to do all things from the top. We have to we have to adjust the messaging on how we attract people, we have to be flexible in how we're onboarding people, how we're assigning work, we have to have good quality training programs both before they get to our employment and after. Those training programs can't just be on skills and craft-related training, they have to be task-specific as well, to expedite the training and the gaining of experience. I think we have to offer competitive pay; we have to offer competitive benefits. We have to be constantly looking at that pay, those benefits and all of the rules surrounding the project and making sure that they're fit for purpose and they aren't hindering the staffing and the retention of the project. The industry has a large focus on this. I'm probably biased but I can tell you that Worley has a very laser focus on it. And we truly believe that we can be confident in delivering the scopes of work that we've committed to our clients, including the delivery of the craft trades that need to be on the project, to get the work done in a safe and productive manner.

Q: What key advice would you give to other workforce professionals looking to help address the craft labor challenge?

A: I think two things: think outside the box, don't let your current experience or any biases you have say, “Oh, we can never do that”. I think we have to think outside the box and come up with different ways to market ourselves, different ways to onboard and attract people, different ways to retain and train people. So that would be one area. And then the other area would be to stay focused on it. If the market changes, and we don't have some of these mega-projects in 3-5 years, we've still got the same problem. And three years from then, when we do have 2-3 of these mega-projects again, we're going to have the same conversation. So, it's: stay focused, and think outside the box.

Scott with be a speaker on our craft labor development panel at the LNG Export North America Conference & Expo this June 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency, Downtown, Houston.

More info on the event here - www.lngexport.us 

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