It’s been called the Big Crew Change.

If BP’s Macondo well blowout and catastrophic oil spill five years ago didn’t scare the oil and gas industry straight, the impending loss of 50 percent of its offshore workforce to retirement by 2018 certainly did.

“We plan on hiring several hundred new people a year for the next five to 10 years,” said Chris Smith, head of Shell Oil’s ever-expanding deepwater training facility in this Tangipahoa Parish town, about an hour north of New Orleans.

Shell, along with BP and several others, has poured millions of dollars into developing new, state-of-the-art facilities to train new offshore workers. Once an on-the-job experience, training on mock platforms and drilling-floor simulators now keeps workers on shore for months on end. Shell even locks the trainees down on campus during eight 14-day “hitches” to simulate a rig’s living conditions.

This kind of dedication to training is heartening to those who were horrified to learn, after the BP disaster, just how ill-prepared the industry and regulators were to prevent a deep-sea blowout and stop an oil gusher.

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