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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training

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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes



Before you read these few pages, make sure you have first read the introductory pages, Integrity job roles; so what’s new? setting the scene of the industry from the employees’ point of view. In this following article we learn about a strange uneasy version of the status quo, a discussion of something called sensitivity, and the problem of millennial job-hoppers, and how to keep them happy.

The freelance /gig economy and millennial job-hoppers

Like it or not, the freelance/gig economy is a rapidly growing part of the economy today and will increase into the future. Older systems of work are just about dead and buried. The general view is that across the economy as a whole, approximately 25% of employees will be employed on a freelance ‘contingent’ basis by 2020.In the Integrity Industry, the figure probably exceeds that already and so will rise to be much higher. This trend is not without cause; the nature of the project work in the integrity industry fits naturally with most NDT and inspection tasks being carried out by a loosely-connected physically spread-out workforce, used only when required. It’s been working like that for a while; it’s just amazing everyone didn’t realise it earlier.

Getting people to work for you; ALL CHANGE

Back in the ‘good old days’ employers were in charge and employees were grateful. You recruited them using a series of interviews, familiarised them with the dusty procedures of head office then sent them off on site or other office assignments to do what they were being paid to do. In general, they were happy to have got a job and anxious to keep it. Frequent periods back in the office were scheduled in, to help you keep an eye on them and see what they were suitable for next.

It’s different now; the workforce is increasingly mobile and most office-based work can increasingly be done from anywhere, so that job and location are decoupled. Freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while you can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than was available in your area before.

Actually, they’re sort of not actually ‘your’ employees any more. They’re just workers in the industry. If you occasionally feel that they are not particularly devoted to your cause, then you can be assured that they are feeling exactly the same about you. That’s the new rules of the game.

Who holds the balance of POWER?

It is shared, as always. Your employees (at least on a temporary basis) would like to feel they have a job next week and you, by and large, want them to stay because you are relying on them making you income. The difference now is however that fact that no-one is in charge, because the deal between the two sides has changed. It is now a bargain of interdependence; an order of magnitude more than it ever was before; both sides needing the other on a more-or-less equal basis. An uneasy truce settles on the deal whilst, hopefully, day-to-day work continues.

How SENSITIVE is this status quo?

Let’s look at this question of how sensitive this status quo actually is. Is it easy to disturb, or difficult? Owing to their multi-person make-up, employers will always be more stable entities than individual workers. Your varying internal viewpoint, tempered by your procedures, legal constraints and a bit of natural indecision, gives your workers a safety net. If they ask for a 10% rise in salary or more holidays, they know you might give it to them to keep them working for you tomorrow. If they make a mistake in their job, they’d expect to be forgiven. An employer is therefore a bit insensitive to change, or putting it another way, rather sensitive to having their boat rocked. You’d prefer to sacrifice a bit of something in the hope of keeping things as they are. That’s what makes you an employer.

Now the bad news; your gig economy employees don’t share your characteristics. As a group of individuals, they don’t see you every day, if at all. This means they talk amongst themselves and chat to others online, where one-line opinions prevail and are believed. There is no need for more reasoned arguments about the merits or otherwise of you, their employer, because they only have themselves and their one-line online e-buddies to convince. The result is heightened sensitivity to the stability of the status quo between them and you. Freelancer discussions involve salary rates, payment reliability, expenses, qualifications, who does what, who speaks to who, and everything else. It starts every morning, rolls on throughout the working day and gathers momentum, courtesy of the world of instant communications and social media, into the night. The opinion, the responses and the identification of dissatisfaction and better opportunities elsewhere are lightning-fast.

The problem is you don’t have control over ANY of this. The end result is that the status quo, of your millennial job-hoppers still being there working for you tomorrow, is always at threat.

Read the previous couple of paragraphs again. If as an employer you accept this as the natural way that things unfortunately are, then the problem is no big deal; you just have to find a way of managing it.

How to solve this problem

It’s not an insurmountable problem, as long as you just look carefully at it. The main barrier in your way is the fact that your long-established staffing practices that you have used before probably won’t work very well with a workforce dominated by freelancers. Some companies have hardly changed the way that they see their employees for the past 40-50 years; their systems and attitudes are built on an old ‘command and control’ concept. These worked fine in their day but relied on regular face-to-face contacts ‘in the office’ to function. With this missing, they are as likely to foster suspicion and lack of trust as they are any positive feelings.

Consider SHARED thinking

You can think of the situation as one in which it is necessary for employers and employees to share thinking on both sides. It’s not that difficult; it’s simply what used to happen during face-to-face communications back in the bad old days when everyone was a company employee. The purpose of this thinking-sharing is no secret; it’s just to build up trust between the two sides. Freelancers want TRUST, that’s for sure. Give it to them, and they will stay with you.

The second thing job-hoppers need to be given is PURPOSE. Salary gives most people a partial purpose for working for an employer but it is by far not the only thing (we are not even discussing it here). Purpose is what your job-hoppers see as a reason for being there, working for you, instead of someone else. It comes in several varieties; recognition, praise, involvement, engagement, responsibility and other things. Whatever the individual formula you use, it is not enough for you to just tell your employees you will provide it. They won’t believe you, so save your breath. They have to see it, sense it and feel it, that’s what will make the difference.

Let’s look quickly at these two aspects of the problem; giving purpose and gaining trust using replacements for face-to-face interactions.

Giving your job-hoppers PURPOSE

Sorry, I’ll continue to refer to them as job-hoppers, just to keep your attention. If you have lots of company money to spend, you can go on courses that will tell you about the benefits of the following three things (your lecturer will be a freelancer, by the way)

  • Employee empowerment
  • Delegation
  • Job enrichment

These are old ideas, not necessarily bad ones, but share the characteristic that they were thought up long before anyone foresaw the current world dominated by freelancers, so probably not the answer to everything. The principles sound good, but you will find them easily forgotten. They’re also very general as they are meant to apply to all jobs, which can’t really be true, can it?

The world of asset integrity, being predominantly based on technical jobs, allows us to get a better focus on what is required to help you. The fragmented nature of the offshore integrity industry provides a good example to look at. In most offshore management companies, the activities of plant monitoring NDT and inspections (offshore) are separate from the (mainly onshore) activities of assessing inspection results evaluations, updating the inspection plans, RBI assessments and similar. It is not uncommon for four or five different people to be involved over the scope of a simple inspection, evaluation and repair involving a bit of simple corrosion and a 10-minute wall-thinning assessment.

Now give this situation a mark from 1 (awful) to 10 (superb) in terms of job PURPOSE, seen from the viewpoint of the offshore inspector that recorded the results. How many did you give it?  If you gave it more than 3, then the inspector may disagree with you, but of course they won’t tell you. After recording the technical results of the inspection this inspector feels out of the chain, that the decisions are in the hands of someone else and that no value is placed on his or her further input. After a while being faced with this situation every day of the week, they feel isolated, they that they are of little value, and off they go to scour the job adverts. Goodbye one millennial job-hopper and all the expense they cost you.

You may claim this sounds like a contrived case, but you’d be surprised how many offshore companies work like this. Onshore downstream plants are often better, with staff much more involved in more aspects of a job, and therefore feel more purpose. Onshore plants also tend to employ a smaller percentage of freelancers however, so it’s not a straight comparison.

One way to give job purpose then, is to fragment your technical roles less, giving people more and better involvement at several stages of a job. Some will need encouragement to better themselves technically to do this. If they don’t like it (and some won’t) then let them hop. Freelancing carries risks for both sides remember.

Replacing face-to-face INTERACTION

For remote-working freelancers, the lack of face-to-face interaction with their employer matters so much more than they think it does. People have a certain level of requirement for interaction wired into them. If this is taken away, even with the consent of both parties, which is how freelancing operates, then the consequences are likely to be more negative than positive.   Inactivity and suspicion have a tendency to increase as interaction decreases. If you hang around listening to freelancers’ discussions, it can be difficult sometimes to identify any truly positive comments amongst the rafts of negativity, justified or not, which is bounded around.

But we use E-MAIL

Allow me to introduce a cry from the heart here. Sure, e-mail is fine for the mechanics of transferring data, and technical information. As an interaction-replacement device however it doesn’t score many marks out of ten. It is far too easy to send, respond to, misinterpret, forward or ignore. It is intrusive, impersonal, requires little effort in its use and doesn’t hide that characteristic too well. In short, if someone really doesn’t care about their interaction with you, guess what medium they would use? Yes, you’ve got it…. e-mail, with a few other people copied in to the messages, just to make you feel particularly un-special.

If your task is managing freelancers then please have a good think about the negative aspects of interacting and trying to communicate a purpose by e-mail. To help you get how your freelancers might see it, simply put yourself in their position (take a decade or two off you age first) and ask yourself, when was the last time that the content of today’s e-mail shower actually made me feel good? Your answer may surprise you.

The problem is, you can’t replace face-to-face interaction and e-mail with a vacuum. Vacuums suck in anything; negativity and suspicion being amongst the first in line. Skype or video conferencing are better but have a strange theatrical-type ritual to them, rather like being at an interview or an audit, so you have to be careful. Neither interviews nor audits are heavily invested in reality, they are better at concealing real feelings and views than they are at putting them on the table for the ‘shared-thinking’ we spoke about.

Deciding WHAT TO DO

Using the points above, you can help yourself by developing a short plan of how you can maybe improve things. There’s no single solution, because all employers are different, particularly between industry sectors, but the general principles hold good.

Before you start, have a go at a couple of really quick preparation exercises (1 and 2). These are just to check whether you think you are already doing everything that is necessary, a common misconception that affects us all.

Exercise 1. Just answer the question below, as honestly as you can.  It's about PURPOSE.

Looking at the last three years, how have we actually changed the way in which we deal with out freelance employees, in order to provide them with a real purpose in their job that will encourage them to work for us rather than someone else?

Answer* is what we have done

1. We have...............................................................................
2. We have...............................................................................
3. We have...............................................................................

*By the way you are not allowed to mention money in any of your answers

Exercise 2. Now answer this, about REPLACING FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTIONS

Again, over the last three years, what are three measures that we have specifically put in place to replace regular face-to-face interactions with our freelance employees, and so stop them becoming suspicious of us?

Answer*....Here is what we have done

1. We have...............................................................................
2. We have...............................................................................
3. We have...............................................................................

*Sorry, using regular email communications is not a valid answer

If you’re not doing enough already, then the better you can define your answers, the easier you should find it to make a plan to improve things. If you are left staring at six blank answer lines, then think positively; it should be easier to make some improvements that will have a real effect.

Don’t forget the view from the other side of the employment fence, take a look at INTEGRITY JOB ROLES; WHAT’S NEW? to see the freelance/gig economy in the asset integrity industry from the freelance employees’ point of view


If you want to check your knowledge for a specific job role in the integrity industry then try our trial technical interview.  Its purpose is to test you on the technical aspects of the job you are thinking of applying for.  There's no time limit on it but expect it to last at least 20 minutes.  After the discussion we'll give you honest feedback on how you did.  Just let us know the type of position you are going for; we'll do the rest and respond with at time slot for you to call us.

There's no charge, but we will expect you to call us at the allocated time and be ready to answer technical questions.

Remember your trial interview is on a purely technical subjects.  We are not interested in you personality traits, do-gooding activities or any wonderful extra-curricular interests you may have.

Technical Interview


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