Industry Interview: Preparing the Next Generation of Offshore Workers in Canada

There are growing concerns that future subsea projects may not come to fruition, due to a projected shortage of suitably trained and technically apt personnel. Notwithstanding, America’s University of Houston which offers a subsea engineering degree—will be key in producing a workforce to offset such projected stagnation. This too applies to Canada’s Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland (FMI) which offers a bachelor’s degree in technology via its Underwater Vehicles program. FMI, however, differs from U of H, as it offers a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Pilot/Technician diploma (Obtaining a diploma requires taking the first two years of the bachelor's in technology degree).

        For this reason we—at Reaching Ultra (RU)—are interviewing Brandon King, who is currently enrolled in FMI’s program. The intent of this interview: to demonstrate how this program develops future and existing subsea professionals; to provide a first-hand experience of FMI’s program; and to create a reference point for future students who must choose between a diploma or a degree—after completing the first two years—when enrolled at FMI: a critical choice that King recently made.

Figure 1: King moving a hydraulic work frame at FMI's workshop

RU: At present you have finished the first two years of FMI’s curriculum, which brings you to the 8 week work program that must be taken prior to obtaining your ROV pilot/technician diploma. That said, can you expand on what each year of the program consists of.

King: The first year’s semesters consists of studying/researching general science, with the inclusion of math and electro-technology theory. The second semester expands on this, as we get more involved with electronics and the inner workings of ROV technology. Moreover, we undergo a technical session, or mini-mester—where we use a practical and hands on approach, in regards to soldering and fabricating motors and oceanography instrumentation. The curriculum’s second year differs from the first, due to it it being electrically and hydraulically intensive. It is here that we also learn: digital logic, as well as power electronics and industrial controls; the manner by which to safely operate high voltage equipment; and the fundamentals of metal fabrication, welding and machining.

It is at the last semester of the second year that we are taught how to interface with microcontrollers, and how to troubleshoot marine based electrical equipment. We also learn the fundamentals of ocean mapping, and courses that are specific to the maintenance of ROVs and Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS). Our final technical session—prior to completing the two year curriculum—is very intense. This is due to the fact this session places a high emphasis on piloting Observation ROVs (OROV), as well as offshore preparation instruction. Additionally, it is at this juncture that we are enrolled in offshore training courses, so as to obtain the required offshore certifications. Having these certifications is of great benefit, as it makes it possible for us to immediately pursue a maritime profession after completing the 8 week work program. 

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Figure 2: Part of the curriculum equally includes being trained on how to safely perform hot work

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Figure 3: An OROV being put back together prior to being submerged at Conception Bay

RU: Do you plan on getting a bachelor's in technology after the 8 week work program, or do you plan to enter the work force?

King: If you would have asked me this question two weeks ago I would have said that I was undecided. However, Oceaneering Canada has given me the opportunity to work for them—as an ROV pilot/technician.  My original plan was to have my final decision made by September 2014 but having this opportunity is beyond ideal, as Oceaneering was always of high interest to me as a student. I must note that this opportunity was a result of FMI’s placement office, which is in constant contact with external companies/organizations to find us—students of the program—internships and employment opportunities.

RU: Did you ever consider taking a job that offered a company specific training, which would have allowed you to enter the work force in the absence of training/education by way of FMI?

Embarking on company specific training was not of great interest to me; ROV training via a University based curriculum was much more appealing, which is due to the fact that I was pursuing a degree in biology prior at FMI. Furthermore, I believe that attending a post-secondary institution—such as FMI’s—is key as it shows a person’s commitment to a career in the maritime industry, as this requires committing to a 2 to 4 year program prior to entering the work force.  Carrying this forward, the program’s length is of equal benefit in preparing future ROV personnel to safely carry out field operations, as the training is measured in years and not months.

RU: Can you explain what led you to forego a degree in biology, and instead pursue FMI’s curriculum? 

King: I studied biology for 3 years at FMI looking to become a landscape, or marine conservation ecologist. However, changes in the political climate led to a new austerity budget, leading to many cuts in conservational jobs. As a result of this, I decided to pursue the university’s ROV curriculum. This decision was very organic, as my exposure to ROVs began in the 9th grade when I was selected to participate in the ROV enrichment program at FMI, which gave me the opportunity to design, build and fly small scale ROVs in high school.

RU: We previously discussed an image that illustrated a Subsea Control Module (SCM) on a vessel’s back deck prior to being installed on a subsea XMAS tree in the Gulf of Mexico (Reference Figure 4). You mentioned FMI has simulators that train students on how to interface with SCMs: can you expand on this? 

King: Yes, I recall this discussion. In regards to the aforementioned simulation, a colleague and I were tasked with installing and retrieving an SCM—we were able to install it two or three times: it was definitely a technically and time intensive task that took many non-class hours to complete. I must admit, we were only able to carry out the installation portion, we, however, intend to do a full install and retrieval in the near future.

RU: How much of your training is hands on versus simulation based?

King: This really depends on the student.  For example, we have access to ROV simulators post school hours, and are encouraged to use the simulators on the weekends to further our familiarity with ROV operations.

Figure 4: SCM prior to being installed subsea

In regards to hands on training, we receive approximately 320 hours of hands on training during the first part of the university’s two year program. We are equally encouraged to spend as much time as needed in the ROV work shop. Overall, I truly believe we receive a healthy blend of classroom instruction, hands on experience, as well as theoretical exposure.

Figure 5: Seabotix OROV being piloted at FMI's flume tank

RU: RU: How much interaction—non simulation based—have you had with ROV equipment?

King: I’ve had the opportunity to clean, grease and take manipulators apart, and have equally reassembled them. Additionally, I have built an ROV for the Marine Advanced Technology Education center’s ROV competition. I have also piloted non Work Class ROVs (WROV), such as Video Ray’s OROV—and Seabotix’s LBV-300 which has a small manipulator attached to it. I must add that I have accumulated over 35 piloting hours via FMI’s flume tank, with another 22 hours in an ocean environment at Conception Bay. As it stands, I have not had as many opportunities as I would like to have with WROVs. Notwithstanding, I believe my training will be of key benefit when I begin interfacing with WROVs.

RU: How in depth does your curriculum cover subsea production schemes and assets, such as: subsea XMAS trees, manifolds, umbilical termination assemblies, etc.?

King: Our curriculum touches on many of these items, with the inclusion of subsea operations. Additionally, we are encouraged to learn and study the inner workings of subsea technology by way industry magazines, online material, and subsea specific textbooks. Our instructors are great reference points, when we have any questions in regards to subsea equipment, operations, technology, etc.

RU: Have you had the opportunity to go offshore on a non-sensitive/critical project?

King: In our first technical session we had the opportunity go on a day-trip aboard the Anne Pearce which is a school owned vessel. While aboard the Anne Pearce we deployed oceanographic instruments in open water. Upon recovering the deployed instruments, we then processed the raw data at the university’s computer lab, which allowed us to generate graphs of the following: water currents; temperature; and the salinity which was present at various water depths via MATLAB.

RU: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now, and what is your 10 year goal.

King: In 5 years I see myself building a home or cabin in my hometown of Fox Harbour, Canada, on my time off from offshore projects. In regards to a 10 year goal, I am keen on returning to FMI to further my education. I would also like to engage youth from the less prosperous parts of Newfoundland to become involved with, and interested in ROV technology, so as to spark their technological creativity, and in the process assist them in developing a career in the oil and gas industry.


Brandon King's BIO

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King is a recent graduate of FMI’s ROV pilot/technician program, and is tentatively scheduled to begin ROV training in Morgan City, Louisiana, in preparation for working offshore for Oceaneering Canada. King has also studied Biology, Political Sciences and French prior to receiving his ROV education. Brandon is currently living in St. John's, Newfoundland.