This year’s Underwater Technology Conference was an unconditional success. According to Henning Bødtker, Chairman of the UTF, the organisers have found the key to a successful conference.
– We now have a format that works in terms of presentations, panel discussions, exhibition and networking. That is not to say that this year’s conference was perfect. There is always room for improvement, and this event was no exception. However, looking at the big picture, I believe that the current conference structure is the format for the future, says Bødtker
Strong professional profile
This year’s Underwater Technology Conference (UTC) was the 18th in line, and saw its highest-ever attendance figures. A total of 852 participants from 18 different countries, as well as 54 national and international exhibitors, took part.
– The feedback from participants has also been very positive. An impressive 91% of the attendees asked have indicated that they would like to return to next year’s conference, says Bødtker.
Furthermore, 73% of the exhibitors intend to return, whereas 27% are undecided.
– The overall response from those to whom we talked directly is also good. Everyone is very positive, and many feel that the conference is in the process of developing a strong reputation internationally, says Bødtker.
The major strength of the UTC is its mix of participants. 65% are either top company executives, managers or head engineers. The remaining group of attendees is largely made up of “operative” engineers. In other words, this is not a sales event – it is a conference where professional fields are represented and the principal theme is presentation of specialist expertise.
– Hence, we are pleased that the feedback on the professional content is very good, says Bødtker.
95.5% of conference participants have, on a scale from 1 to 6, rated the conference as 4 or higher. Almost 50% have awarded a very strong 5. In terms of professional content, the opinions are much the same.
– This is the profile we will continue to develop in years to come, says Bødtker.
The actual conference ran over two days, but several events were available the day before the opening. Among them were two excursions – a trip to Statoil’s visualisation environment at Sandsli, and a trip to Framo Engineering’s new facilities at Horsøy. Both excursions were well attended and highly popular. A golf tournament and welcome reception were held in the evening.
Both conference days featured joint sessions where all participants were gathered, and the topic was “Subsea future – how to make it happen”. The conference was then split into three parallel sessions with strong technical/professional content, and the participants were able to choose the areas of most interest to them.
A panel discussion was held during the joint sessions on both days. These were among the highlights of the conference. On the first day, the operating companies addressed the key topic of the conference – how to realise further growth in the subsea sector. Among the issues discussed was realisation of the vision of complete production facilities on the seabed (subsea factories).
The manpower challenge
On day two, the panel discussion was led by the supply industry. Personnel featured as a central theme in the debate, and one of the major challenges for the sector in years to come is sufficient access to trained staff. No one was able to provide clear advice as to how to rectify the situation, but options such as bringing in new personnel from e.g. Southern Europe and India, as well as more focus on education, were widely discussed.
Another issue raised in this context was the operating companies’ wage policy when bringing in new personnel. Some claimed that operating companies offer wages that the supply industry cannot match. This was dismissed by companies such as Statoil, claiming that their wage level did not exceed that of the supply industry – it was rather the opposite. It is, however, beyond dispute that the sector is experiencing an upward wage spiral that may have a negative impact in the long term. Not only for the industry, but also for competing sectors and the society as a whole. Increased wage differentiation in the oil and gas sector and other industries may drain competing sectors of personnel. This may also lead to an unreasonably high level of cost. It is a development the sector has to take seriously.
A third issue raised during the debate was the level of standardisation implemented by operating companies.
– This was also an item on last year’s agenda, and was carried over from the 2011 conference, says Bødtker.
Standardisation is a complex issue, and no clear conclusion was reached. It was generally agreed that that an overall standard covering most applications in terms of equipment will be difficult to implement. However, an idea was put forward to make use of as many uniform international standards as possible, and through this improve coherence in terms of requirement specifications and products.
The Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy
Engaging panel discussions were not the only highlights of the conference. Oil analyst Jarand Rystad’s talk on the outlook for the subsea industry was another outstanding feature. The future looks very bright indeed. Within five years the subsea sector will have doubled in size, and within twenty years the subsea production will be on par with traditional oil and gas production offshore.
– The international subsea market is on the brink of immense growth. In five years, the subsea market is anticipated to grow from around $30 billion to between $60 and $70 billion annually, said Jarand Rystad.
A third highlight was the visit by Ola Borten Moe, the Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy. His visit to Bergen solely to attend the UTC is a clear indication of the importance of the conference. In his talk, also he focused on the recruitment challenges facing the sector.
– We are 16 000 engineers short. The number of students choosing scientific subjects is far to low, and if Norway is to maintain its position in the subsea market we have to do something about this. We have to convince more people that studying mathematics is smart, Borten Moe said during the UTC.
He encouraged the industry to do their part of the work.
– We all have a job to do in terms of communicating the opportunities as well as how important this is for the Norwegian society. It is not only a question of keeping the welfare state going, it is also about developing new solutions that will move the world forward, said Borten Moe.
Henning Bødtker, who has served as a board member/chairman of the Underwater Technology Foundation for nine years, will leave at the end of 2012. His replacement has not yet been appointed, but Bødtker guarantees that the positive development of the UTC over the past few years will continue.
– It is this development that makes the work fun and interesting. Year by year the conference has progressed in terms of participant numbers and interest, and this has been, and still is, highly motivating says Bødtker.
Preparations for next year’s conference are already underway. The dates are 19 to 20 June, and the event will be held in Grieghallen, Bergen.
– Our aim is of course for next year’s conference to be even better, with increased participant numbers and even more public awareness of the event and its significance. Hence, we would like to welcome old as well as new participants to the most important subsea conference in the world, says Bødtker.