Stolt Offshore designs and installs subsea systems for the oil & gas industry. Established in 1973, Stolt Offshore is a full-service subsea contractor, providing a range of deep water services in both harsh and conventional marine environments. It provides its customers with expertise in offshore engineering, procurement, installation, construction, and maintenance.
Deep Water Services in the Gulf of Mexico
Although it’s headquartered in the U.K., Stolt Offshore operates wherever there is offshore oil and gas activity. The company’s North America and Mexico (NAMEX) headquarters is located in Houston, and it has several operational sites in Louisiana. In the NAMEX region, Stolt Offshore’s customers are located primarily in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dave DeCourt, ROV manager for Stolt Offshore’s NAMEX region, says that ROV and diving are the primary services offered through his office, which is located in New Iberia, Louisiana. “There’s a big push in the region right now for deep water services, and the growth is in the ROV market,” says DeCourt.
"ou have to be mechanically inclined, and we like new technicians to have some hands-on experience"
Another growing market for Stolt Offshore – and the rest of the offshore oil and gas industry – is maintenance and repair. “A lot of offshore structures and pipelines are at the age where maintenance and repair is increasing in importance,” explains DeCourt. “Over the next five to ten years the market for subsea maintenance and repair will fully develop.”
DeCourt expects that his office will hire between five and ten new technicians within the next year to help customers meet the market’s changing needs.
Wanted: Hard-Working, Mechanically-Inclined, Personable Technicians
Entry-level technicians at Stolt Offshore’s NAMEX region are usually electrical or mechanical technicians. A typical entry-level employee has completed high school and has additional experience in electrical, electronic, or hydraulic engineering – received in two- or four-year degree programs or through the equivalent work experience. “You have to be mechanically inclined, and we like new technicians to have some hands-on experience,” says DeCourt. “But work ethic and personality are as important as experience and skills.”
A new ROV technician would typically begin by learning essential skills such as basic ROV maintenance, dive preparation, launch and recovery, and how to co-pilot the system. “After they’ve mastered the basics, then they get to be the pilot, and of course, that’s what everybody wants to do!” explains DeCourt.
"Kids who will tear up their toys to make an ROV will become the employees that will do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Those are the people who I love to hire"
Stolt Offshore’s technicians typically work a one-month period offshore on a construction vessel, followed by one month onshore. DeCourt says the company tries to accommodate employees’ needs for onshore time during special occasions such as birthdays or weddings. “It’s always busier in the summer, so our employees know that they can usually have planned time off in the winter,” says DeCourt.
A technician’s offshore work consists of twelve hours on duty followed by a twelve-hour off-duty shift. Most shifts are uneventful, but sometimes it can get hectic. “A strong work ethic is really important if something goes wrong with the ROV,” explains DeCourt. “In that case, it can cost fifty to a hundred thousand dollars a day. So I need technicians who will do whatever is needed to fix it.”
Having an affable personality is critical because each technician’s twelve-hour shift is spent in a small control room with two other technicians. “If three technicians are locked in an 8 foot by 20 foot control room for twelve hours, they have to get along!” continues DeCourt.
Challenges and Training
The biggest challenge of the oil and gas industry, says DeCourt, is keeping up with the changing technology. “Keeping up with the technology is a full-time job in itself!” he says. The MATE Center provides a valuable contribution in this area, adds DeCourt, by providing prospective marine technicians with the resources to learn about new technologies and the most appropriate training.
Another challenge for ROV technicians is to understand more about diving, particularly saturation diving, which is a special diving technique that allows divers to work underwater for a nearly unlimited period of time. “Stolt Offshore is one of the few companies in the industry that uses ROVs to support divers,” he adds. “We found that ROVs add an element of safety for the divers and actually help them work faster.”
Other challenges include safety and environmental regulations. “Deep water work by nature can bring risks to the equipment and the environment,” explains DeCourt. “You have to understand the risks when you’re putting subsea equipment together and sending a vessel five thousand feet down.”
On-site training to help employees keep up with technology, gain additional skills, and understand safety challenges is provided on a regular basis. Multi-day classes such as hydraulics, electrical safety, or electronics are common. “We’re really big on safety and we have a very active employee safety education program,” DeCourt says.
Stolt Offshore has been a staunch supporter of the MATE Center’s ROV competitions, usually providing funds for scholarship prizes or team travel expenses. A previous judge of the ROV competitions, DeCourt was impressed by the ingenuity of ROV contestants. He recalls students who took apart their Nintendo to use the parts to build an ROV. “It’s valuable to the industry that MATE provides students with hands-on technology skills,” he says. “Kids who will tear up their toys to make an ROV will become the employees that will do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Those are the people who I love to hire!”
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