Training & Services – Anton Greeff, Director – Singapore
Anton Greeff, Director of Sphere Training and Services explains the original approach his company has taken to training adults, delivering courses in subsea capabilities and well control engineering. He talks about the strict selection process he has for Sphere staff and the relationship his business has with key clients around the world.
What was the original niche in the market you perceived was open for the creation of Sphere- and what gave you the confidence to start up as an entrepreneur?
Prior to starting Sphere I had been working in a business providing training services. However, it had some issues with regard to the quality of the courses it was providing. I wanted to create something people focused. Within the training sector, there was a clear need to provide more subsea engineering courses, and in particular well control services. There was a shortage of good people providing these services.
Sphere was created to offer training more valuable than ‘tick in the box’ courses. To underline this, the company has received IADC accreditation for all five of the standard courses the business offers. This is a notable accolade.
It is important for any company providing services and courses like those Sphere offers to ensure that there is a learning environment for course attendees that sees them leave each session feeling like they have engaged with the course and material provided.
Sphere’s main focus point was not commercially driven – it was formed to deliver a quality product, on the assumption that clients would be attracted to this quality.
Training adults is not the easiest task in the world- but it is so rewarding that founding Sphere was an attractive choice. This desire to provide educational courses to adults – and ensure they engage with the syllabus- is why Sphere is so client and student driven.
What is the appetite for Sphere’s courses today?
Demand is high in spite of the cost of providing these courses. Within oil and gas, unfortunately, training is often the first area which is cut during any cost management exercise- yet demand for our courses has held.
Sphere is still constantly developing courses. Today for example, the business is running a course tailored to our client at Keppel FELS Shipyard. This company has already requested further courses too- we are constantly moving forward to meet the requirements of our customers.
The constant demand for training has enabled us to diversify, to provide courses in a wider array of learning formats. This includes the development of distance learning formats, which I expect to be a major growth driver in future. There are so many people who are seeking this training, who may not be able to access regular courses because of logistics or budget constraints that this mode of delivering training is an excellent alternative that Sphere can provide and have been providing for the last 4 years with hundreds of successful candidates.
Your business addresses an urgent need in the human resources industry, providing scarce skills. How does your business cope with procuring individuals competent to share these skills, which are in such demand already?
Finding someone with the technical ability to teach is not a problem. Finding an individual with the capacity to educate adults is also not difficult. What is a challenge is procuring staff with both of these skills- this is extremely difficult and important to our company and for our customers.
Our new hires go through a minimum of a six month probation period to make sure they are wholly suited to the position. It is very difficult to source the right people for this job, even though teaching positions are very attractive- people want this type of role but our company must make sure that only the appropriate staff are brought on board.
The way we deliver our courses is very important to the business, which is why it is very important to ensure that our staff are engaging- teachers must be able to excite and communicate in an interesting manner with our students. They must also be willing to work as required to help students that need that extra assistance; connecting with students to allow them to fulfil their potential is a vital part of our staff’s responsibilities.
In short, it is difficult. At one point, it took two years to find one candidate who was ‘right.’ Fortunately, our human-focused company culture means we have excellent staff retention rates. When we find the right individual, we hold on to them.
What are the courses most in demand and what new areas might your business expand into teaching?
In Asia in particular, our course on BOP equipment for surface jack-up rigs – this form of rig being utilised heavily at the moment is under heavy demand. Other courses that are particularly sought after include downtime prevention courses- downtime being so costly, it is easy to recognise the commercial imperative companies have to ensure their staff are equipped minimise and pre-empt problems arising. The downtime prevention courses mainly focuses on the subsea well control systems, however we have drillers, maintenance supervisors, toolpushers and OIMs that attend. This allows these inviduals not only to aid in the downtime prevention of well control equipment, but can transfer the knowledge as discussed in the class to drilling related equipment.
Sphere’s subsea engineering course sees a steady uptake- this is to do with the high cost of providing the course, which consists of four tiers, or units of learning. To give an idea of how expensive it is to provide this course, Sphere has a high charge per candidate, per course. However, the consistency of demand for this course underscores its value.
Even in Norway, one of the larger drilling contractors is a client with a particular interest in this subsea engineering course- we have captured this contract successfully, which represents clear recognition of our high quality service. Many of our courses are tailored to specific companies- this is necessary as many companies have standardised internal procedures and equipment lay-outs.
What sets your courses apart from your competitors; how do you scope them to individual clients?
We continually update our courses, and do spend time offshore and with the vendors to ensure material we provide is up-to-date and relevant. Despite Sphere being a relatively new entity, some of our course books stand in their fifth or sixth edition already.
Our delivery and capability to work with the client, providing tailored training is a great strength of Sphere. We can bring a client’s own systems and maintenance policies into our syllabus.
We seek to ensure that we approach the client face-to-face- this means we have the best connection with our customers and is a primary motivation for our internationalisation strategy- being physically close to the client ensures we can best comprehend their needs.
Our entire company ethos is founded on this client and student orientated approach.
You serve a global clientele; what does Singapore as a city mean to Sphere and why locate the business’ HQ here?
Besides having a personal affinity with the region, the city is important to the business because most of the major players in oil and gas do have a base here in Singapore. There are strong local actors too, demanding a high number of courses from us- including Keppel shipyards as mentioned previously. There are so many vessels which are arriving into the shipyards here from all over the world which means international clients are funnelled towards us. Ships built in Korea stop in Singapore on their route west.
From an oil and gas industry perspective, Singapore is a central hub.
Last year you entered a partnership with Pioneer Dragon in Myanmar. What is the regional balance of demand for your services and what particular benefits has this partnership created for Sphere?
The partnership with Pioneer Dragon is strategically useful for Sphere because whilst the industry has not started to grow rapidly in Myanmar yet, it will in the near future. We are trying to enter this market at an early stage to capitalize on this growth as it occurs. Sphere now has an office in Myanmar as a result of the partnership which places feet on the ground with staff that was previously engaged with the Ministry of Energy (MOGE).
Pioneer Dragon is made up of a consortium of twelve companies. Sphere offers them a ‘one stop shop’ of training services. As Myanmar opens up to the oil and gas industry to a greater extent, skills, education and training will all be in greater demand. For this reason, both the local authorities and potential clients of Sphere clearly have reason to welcome our services.
Key to developing Myanmar’s resources will be practical skills and abilities. Sphere can foster the growth of these very effectively.
What do you think private sector businesses can add to the existing framework of educational institutions here in Singapore; universities, colleges and the like?
A great deal.
By the end of this year, there will be a shortage of a minimum of 120,000 personnel- only in the area of exploration activity! There are such a vast array of Singaporeans and international individuals who can contribute to satisfying this undersupply. Sphere has considered taking further steps forward with local universities to enhance existing marine industry courses, with a particular emphasis on offering drilling and operational capabilities, and as a start forcusing on well control equipment as it is our strength.
Sphere is trying to add to the workforce’s employable skills- and see them delivered to companies who can utilise these skills. One route by which Sphere has tried to connect education and implementation of these skills has been the creation of the website www.oilandgasmatch.com. The days of looking for personnel with experience has come and gone, which means we will have to look elsewhere.
Bringing competent individuals from outwith the industry to work within it is a significant objective for Sphere. Our business provides education for adults and can assist people in bringing their skillsets forward and into alignment with industry requirements. Some major drilling companies for example seeks to source some of its staff from ex-military backgrounds, but these individuals still need training.
On Oil and Gas Match (OGM) we also provide a course known as a ‘green hat’ course. Newcomers to an oil rig are initially given a green hat to mark them out –usually so more experienced hands can make sure they unknowingly do not step into danger. This gives them the basics of where oil comes from, its production and gives a start into health and safety in the industry as well. Passing this course gives recruiters a clear understanding that a candidate understands oil and gas basics.