Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Where are the Oily People when you need them 

As you may recall, the Oily People (aka Gente de Petroleo) were the almost 20,000 former employees of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA who went on strike in December 2002 in an attempt to bring down the Chavez government. They failed in this attempt and were subsequently fired for job abandonment. Since then they have been doing a lot of whining and crying trying to get their old, highly remunerated, jobs back. So far they haven’t had any luck and still find themselves without jobs.

However, their continued unemployment is certainly not due to lack of demand for qualified oil workers. Witness today’s front page article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Pursuit of New Oil Supplies Runs Into a Bottleneck.” The article laments the fact that despite the boom in investment in the oil industry projects are backlogged due to lack of qualified personnel to carry them out. Some excerpts:

...there is growing concern that there won’t be enough technical expertise available to design these complex projects. The number of petroleum engineers in the U.S.- long the main global supplier of such talent – has fallen by nearly half since the 1980’s.... A shortage of skilled professionals is crimping contractors ability to execute.
Engineering executives say one reason they are having trouble keeping up is that oil companies haven’t invested enough in new production in recent decades to justify big work forces at the service giants. Thus oil-service providers face a shortage of professionals – tens of thousands of whom have been laid off or have retired in the past 20 years or so.

“A lot of skilled people have either been laid off, or have retired from the industry in the last 18 years,” said Schlumberger’s Mr. Gould. “Recruiting and training their replacements takes time and requires a global approach.”

What I found strange about this otherwise interesting article is that no mention was made about the Oily People pitching in and helping boost production all over the world. With such a critical shortage of skilled and experienced workers one would think the Oily People would be a very hot commodity. Apparently not.

What is particularly ironic about this is that the Oily People have never tired of talking about how great they were. They talk endlessly about how “meritorious” PDVSA was with only the best being able to work there. And according them PDVSA was the creme de la creme of oil companies, better than Exxon, Shell, BP or any of them. Given that PDVSA couldn’t even manage to refine unleaded gasoline until the late 1990s I always had trouble believing that. But that is what they always said. And who am I to say – maybe they were right.

But then, if there is such a worldwide shortage of talent why wouldn’t these highly talented Oily People be in high demand? Hmmm. Could it be that maybe they don’t have so many merits after all?


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