Dive into Norway's Subsea Valley

By William Stoichevski

It took three years for Subsea Valley to carve out a tradeshow and conference in a crowded market and then to proudly declare the existence of a powerful industrial grouping along the highway corridor between Kongsberg — home to the subsea juggernaut of the same name — and Oslo, the forgotten Norwegian capital. Driven mostly by the needs of its larger members, Subsea Valley the multidisciplinary cluster is addressing stated industry needs while growing its member list to 90.


The corridor, or “valley”, controls much of the world’s offshore cable production and a goodly slice of offshore rubber hose production. The world’s fastest-growing classification society is here. Most of all, the Subsea Valley industrial cluster could be the world’s most dominant collection of subsea suppliers. For the first time, they aim to collaborate and share to stay competitive.
They’ve moved quickly and opened an industrial park “for small companies”. Statoil, Oslo and Kongsberg have helped purchase commercial property for the enterprise. Already, certain “programs” (or seminar streams) — in offshore safety, quality assurance and “competence” — are making a name for the organization beyond focused subsea conferences.
Preben Stroem, managing director of Subsea Valley, says Subsea Valley found its impetus when it was realized there was no vehicle for technology transfer akin to what the European Space Agency program (or Boston’s medical cluster or Silicon Valley have). Well-connected to Houston’s large Norwegian community, Stroem reveals a U.S. government grant to the University of Houston for the study of subsea issues will be unveiled at OTC in Houston.
Another unsavory realization, although few talk about it, is a brain train — real and perceived — to other sectors. The perennial worry about the offshore oil and gas industry’s average engineer age has helped make the need to develop “competence” a Subsea Valley driver.
“We think you’ll see a high number of early pensioned people because the average age in the industry is so high,” says Stroem, adding that recruitment, too, has become challenging.
“We will not have the best and brightest in five years’ time,” he says, pointing to a 35-percent drop in sciences enrollment over the past five years in and around oil town Stavanger. Then there’s recent layoffs and other worrying company moves: GE Oil & Gas recently shunted its headquarters out of Norway and across the North Sea to the U.K. The GE departure removed 250 jobs to an oil province in a more advanced state of decline. 
Stroem says the industry isn’t too concerned but it knows its strengths. He points to a survey by engineer advocacy Tekna which suggests 75 percent of engineers in the energy sector say they’re confident their skills transfer well to other industries.

Kongsberg Cluster Project

Cluster champ Kongsberg is also at the focus of efforts to build skills, reverse or stop any brain drain and become a vehicle for technology transfer between Oslo and this tiny ski-center town. Already called “the industrial capital of Norway”, the Kongsberg Cluster Project is seemingly at odds with Subsea Valley but is instead a major member.
While, Subsea Valley anchor Oslo might boast Aker Solutions, Nexans Norway, ABB (not a member) and other big names, Kongsberg’s dynamic positioning, subsea, power-generation and autonomous vehicles have earned it accolades as a Norwegian Centre of Excellence (NCE) in Systems Engineering.
Speaking to journalists, NCE director, Torkil Bjornson, links “regional cooperation” with bringing in talent. It becomes apparent Oslo-Kongsberg is competing for skills with Western Norway, home of Norway’s offshore shipping cluster and Stavanger, the oilfield services hub. Bjornson announces a new Norwegian Systems Engineering master’s degree, although it isn’t clear whether he means the “collegial” British fast-track, the “Stanford” type (his words) or the streamlined Norwegian version. One-year “professorship” tenures will also be offered at a Kongsberg campus with an emphasis on those able to teach “lean product development and knowledge management”.
“There’s a lot of mobility between the industries,” Bjornson asserts. He says the cluster will help provide gravity for local, high-level expertise. During the last (oil-price crisis in 2008) crisis, “people moved around”. 
Subsea matchmaker
Although its membership is the Who’s Who of the subsea world, it’s clear Subsea Valley itself aims to be the added value in this cluster. Stroem has already teamed up with classification giant DNV GL by representing sub-suppliers at the table in a Joint Industry Project, or JIP, on subsea documentation. The program seeks standard documents on quality safeguards and supply chain qualification.
Another program on health, safety and environmental leadership has aimed to help suppliers “prequalify” for work with, among others, Statoil. The “Introductory Program” in May 2014 seemed more conference than course, but the focus on realizing Statoil’s subsea factory concept for remote seabed operations apparently brought out the “teacher” in TESS founder Erik Jolberg; a Statoil subsea process engineer; an actor-producer known for live theatre; a Kongsberg digital signature expert and a business college instructor among many others.
Seeing opportunity
To the regular observer, it seems Subsea Valley’s long-out-of-the-spotlight Oslo-to-Kongsberg membership at last have their own forum in a cluster, conference, tradeshow and links to south-Norwegian training facilities. The bonds ought to help local industry turn current trendy thinking into learning and practice.  Stroem’s conference and cluster show the capital region and industrial pockets lining the highway to Kongsberg can get on the same page faster.
“Low oil prices are opportunity,” says Stroem, adding,“We’ve never before seen such momentum to actually change an industry.”  
Stroem has the support of townships from Oslo to Kongsberg, including Baerum, a well-to-do Oslo suburb with the highest high school science grades in the country. Its mayor, Lisbeth Hammer, says they’re also “first in subsea employment”. “We’re famous for our engineering expertise,” she says, adding that there are 20,000 subsea-related jobs in her town alone. They’re a major contributor to the $26-billion-a-year in Norwegian offshore oil and gas exports.
Norway will send three mayors from its Subsea Valley corridor to OTC in Houston.


(As published in the MAY 2015 edition of Marine Technology Reporter - http://www.marinetechnologynews.com/Magazine)

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