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inside the UK’s latest drilling training facility Analysis


The global energy sector is extremely buoyant,” says Emma Howorth, the manager of a new AIS Survivex centre for well control training in Newcastle, England. The company is a training and skills provider, and part of the 3T Energy Group, and its work has left Howorth in an optimistic mood, who says that “all of our centres are very, very busy”. 

This uptick in activity must be a relief, given that during the first year of the pandemic, it’s estimated that almost 34,000 fewer direct and indirect jobs were supported by the oil and gas sector than before it.  

Conversely, today, Howorth says headcount in the industry is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels by more than 10% over the next year alone.  

In response, AIS Survivex decided to invest in a new dedicated training facility, which it says is the only UK centre offering regularly scheduled IWCF-approved drilling and well control training outside of Aberdeen.  

The five-day course is aimed at equipment operators who perform well control or respond to related accidents, and their supervisors. The certificate is mandatory for drilling and associated personnel working in the oil and gas industry and needs to be renewed every two years.  

Attracting talent with technology  

A key feature of the course is its use of the latest cloud-based drilling simulation technology, the iDrillSIM, which was developed by Drilling Systems, another 3T Energy Group company. The technology allows students to practice as if they were drilling a well in real life with realistic modelling for so-called ‘live learning’.  

The simulations mirror all the elements of drilling operations from well control to drilling, lifting, and crane control, and can be configured to replicate different types of rigs including drillships, semi-submersibles, jack-ups, and land rigs.  

“Because the graphics are extremely realistic, the simulator training experience is highly immersive; it looks and feels like you are on the drilling floor,” says Howorth. “But because it’s virtual, trainees can face situations they may never encounter in the real world that help train them to become fully competent.”  

The software can be accessed online from anywhere in the world and allows multiple candidates to join at once for a virtual classroom experience.  An instructor can send scenarios and remotely review responses. Howorth says this is the main difference between a traditional classroom using a physical simulator and the iDrillSIM technology.  

“Previously people had to wait in turn to use the simulator, whereas the iDrillSIM can be accessed online by the entire class [a maximum eight people], ensuring hands-on simulator training,” she explains.  

The well control course also features a mobile app, with access to various quizzes to boost knowledge retention before and after the course, as well as to identify areas of weakness for more targeted training. 

“Our clients and the industry itself are very open to efficiencies; offering that virtual and blended option enables us to improve the learner experience to potentially deliver better trained employees,” says Howorth. 

“Additionally, we are finding, especially with the ongoing skill shortage, that technology can help attract new people into the industry, as well as create better engagement, enabling a more compliant and competent personnel.”  

A focus on innovation 

AIS Survivex, whose clients include BP, TotalEnergies, and Shell, uses technology across all areas of training, such as lifeboat simulators and virtual reality (VR). 

In 2021 the company worked with BP to deliver a bespoke four-week course for around 100 operational personnel on the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim development project offshore Mauritania and Senegal. 

The training programme included creating a digital twin of a floating production system in use at the project with AIS Survivex’s sister company 3T Transform.  The course was delivered via VR headsets using a range of technologies, including the digital twin augmented reality to teach technicians about the layout of the vessel and the safety critical operating systems and procedures before they stepped foot on the vessel. 

AIS Survivex is looking to embed virtual training across most of its courses, says Howorth, though not all incorporate digitisation presently. 

“Innovation has been very much at the heart of our strategy since the business began as we realised it could play a major part in improving the training experience,” she explains.  “We take a consultative approach to industry challenges, listening to what the clients want and then building technology driven solutions around that.”  

However, the core of the business is face-to-face training, particularly for safety critical courses, she adds.  

Into the future 

AIS Survivex’s mainly caters to the oil and gas sector, but can deliver competency training for wind, maritime, construction, and other industries. 

In particular, it has an eye on offshore wind, in which jobs in the UK are set to grow by approximately 70,000 by 2030. A ramp-up of this sector, and the energy transition more generally, is seeing merit training spread across industries, says Howorth. 

This means that personnel that have are competent in one area, such as oil and gas, can then do what she calls ”gap analysis” training across end-to-end courses so they aren’t required to do a full course where they don’t need to.  

“That is very much in its early days, however, as courses are currently under different approval bodies for different sectors,” she says, adding that the company are seeing more demand for specific technical training for the renewables industry, as opposed to only generic safety training. 

During the pandemic, as a safety critical factor in oil and gas training, the centre was allowed to keep operating for some of the time, meaning training of personnel didn’t fall as far behind as in some other sectors.  

Nevertheless, as the industry ramps up in response to the global energy crisis, many AIS Survivex centres in the UK are already seeing pre-pandemic demand levels for training according to Howorth. 

“We’ve seen a massive uptick in initial courses; these are people who either haven’t worked in the sector before, or who maybe let qualifications expire during the pandemic and are now taking them again,” she says. “This is an indication of how the industry is going; people are expecting jobs at the end of it.” 

The new centre, which opened its doors in June, will cater to this increase in demand while also significantly reducing travel times for delegates, many of whom are based in the north-east. The company already has two other centres in the UK and is affiliated to more globally, but the firm, which is valued at £15m ($17.7m), has plans to add more in the ”not too distant future”. 

“We’re going to continue the rollout of technology across the business for the foreseeable future, and drive that digitalisation of the training course portfolio,” says Howorth. “And we’ll be looking to diversify into new markets and more training centres in the UK and possibly beyond.” 

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