Securing and sustaining tomorrow’s talent Jul 13 2017 | By David Clark, SPE Offshore Europe 2017 executive committee member and regional president UK and Africa with Aker Solutions

The effects of the most severe downturn since the mid-1980s continue to be felt across the sector and the industry has been left questioning if it has consequently eroded the knowledge and capabilities needed to deliver large and complex projects as it prudently prepares for a much anticipated upturn.

It is not the first time the industry has faced a ‘skills gap’. However, this time it’s different and will take much longer to recover from. There are a number of factors contributing to this deepening void, which must be addressed sooner rather than later.

Is perception reality?

There’s no doubt that the downturn has detrimentally affected the perception of the industry as a first or transitioning career choice. The repetitive and harsh cycles of ‘hiring and firing’ throughout its recessions have created a psychological barrier to entry for tomorrow’s workforce.

The same fears of job insecurity are felt in the existing workforce and there is a risk of losing highly sought-after and curated talent to other more attractive and, conceivably more secure, sectors.

As an industry, managing the profile and reputation of the industry as a whole was given little consideration during more prosperous times, especially with regards to its environmental credentials. Today’s aspiring engineers, technology developers and business leaders have high awareness  of social and environmental responsibility and are asking why they should join an industry with an apparently ambiguous environmental focus.

Combined, these factors raise questions about the industry’s capability to survive and thrive and what will happen when those ‘green shoots’ grow and take flower. This urgent problem needs to be addressed collectively and not in isolation.

A platform that stimulates change

OE17 will bring together a number of different voices in a keynote panel session to debate how the industry can attract, develop and retain a capable and skilled workforce going forward. This will explore in greater detail the exhibition and conference theme of ‘Embracing New Realities: Reinventing our Industry’.

Part of the discussion will be the need to identify the capabilities required in this diversifying sector. While there continues to be an enduring need for traditional engineering and technical roles to build the infrastructure and maintain it, the shift in focus towards an all-encompassing energy arena is already in motion. Much of the workforce now operates in a high-tech, clean environment – radically different to the early days of ‘dirty’ oil and gas.

There is now a requirement to meet the exponentially increasing demand for world-class digital skills and big data analysis as the industry continues to evolve in the digital environment.

Apprentices and graduates fresh out of school or university can bring a new edge to the industry. The appetite for advanced technology and digital enhancement can help drive the sector forward. Combining ‘old and new’ knowledge can realise new ways of digitalising and automating work processes which can increase efficiency and reduce risk and costs.

Solutions required

When it comes to future talent, industry leaders need to adopt a global perspective. In this new world where portfolio careers are much more prevalent and the idea of a ‘job for life’ is long gone, the industry needs to demonstrate to prospective employees that the skills they can develop within oil and gas are absolutely transferable into a host of other sectors.

And, of course, the reverse also applies. There needs to be a flexible approach to recruitment, looking to attract those who have developed transferable skills in other sectors and can add new innovation, ingenuity and capability to the energy industry.

Ultimately, the industry needs to change how it approaches its skills needs. The oil price drop has forced all decision-makers to look hard at delivery structures, cost base and business models. There is now the opportunity to put as much effort and focus into rethinking our approach to finding, developing and retaining tomorrow’s talent for the future sustainability of the sector.

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