As a reaction to global oil price halving, companies such as BP and Shell are announcing hundreds of jobs losses. However, it’s thought to plug the skills gap industry will need to recruit 15,000 people in the next 4 – 5 years .
In order to do this, quicker adoption of new technologies to better transfer knowledge from veterans to less experienced staff and to attract a digitally focused younger workforce, will be key.
As John Wishart, group energy director of Lloyd’s Register Energy, says: "As technology change accelerates exponentially and new digital platforms and devices are emerging, the expectations of the new ‘Generation Y’ – 21-35 years-old – mean that companies must keep up with the pace of change or lose relevance."
What can technology offer?
While in the short term there is uncertainty, for Paul de Leeuw, the director of the Oil and Gas Institute at Robert Gordon University in Scotland, the long-term is crystal clear: "In the next 15-20 years the world will consume more oil and gas and we will need more people."
In a technologically advanced world, where five-year-olds have iPads, attractive technology is the key to recruiting.
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"I think there are definitely technological changes coming into play to attract younger people," agrees President of Schnitger Corporation, Monica Schnitger, who has over twenty-five-years’ experience in engineering.
Schnitger says the industry is already bringing new workers into the workforce by "making technology more approachable, visual and more like what today’s people entering the workforce are used to." For example, mobile technologies, such as tablets, are now uniform across the offshore industry. However, their sophistication varies as it’s not always an easy take to take a big piece of engineering designed software and make it into an app.
But there are sophisticated technologies already available that enable staff to learn and work faster.
For example, Schnitger says there is software that allows virtual reality whereby a tablet will have a split screen environment and a designer can see a drawing and then use the camera of the device to overlay the drawing with the realty.
"Those kinds of things are not just cool they are making it possible to do more work when you are out in the field," Schnitger laments.
In the future de Leeuw says technology will be conducive to creating a far more diverse workforce, allowing employees’ skills to be utilised better. Operations will be run worldwide without having workers in offshore locations "but actually in different locations serving multiple basins," he says.
Increased adoption of this remote-working technology and the flexibility it provides will not only free up the availability of talent, but it will prove appealing to experienced workers with families, who may prefer to spend less time offshore.
It will also be appealing to a new generation of workers, or the ‘Generation Y,’ who are accustomed to being "digitally, globally and constantly connected" as Wishart says.
Transferring of skills
Technology can also be used for the transferring of knowledge from veteran workers to those less experienced. For example, workflow technology software, such as that available from SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, enables veteran employees to document how they do their job so its available for less experienced staff. And for design, there are software technologies that set ‘rules’ so a less experienced member of staff cannot design something that is physically impossible, enabling them to learn faster without as much supervision.
This doesn’t replace a more experienced worker mentoring someone "but it certainly gets them get to a point where they can start building some confidence more quickly," Schnitger says.
Wishart adds that Cloud technology offers a good solution to the knowledge transfer dilemma by providing collaborative and flexible access to critical busi¬ness processes.
"Supported by knowledge retention specialists and the creation of knowledge maps during exit meetings for experienced employees, companies can capture and retain the specialist knowledge of outgoing employees," he says.
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In terms of implementing these technologies Schnitger warns that industry "definitely has a way to go."
While de Leeuw adds that although many of the majors are "quite good" at implementing new technologies smaller companies are not. He warns: "there is going to be a major adaptation required of this technology in years to come."
Wishart believes there is already a growing trend for oil and gas companies, challenged by the need to attract and retain key staff, to look for new software solutions and place them in the hands of line managers and employees.
Taking the long-term view
Becoming more technologically advanced isn’t enough, however. Industry needs to shout about it. It needs to change its image as a ‘dirty, old fashioned’ industry to that of a modern innovator embarking on complex engineering feats.
"Oil and gas has a negative image in the eyes of many younger workers; it is no longer seen as a leading source of stable, high-reward career opportunities," says Wishart.
But mostly, companies need to think long-term. "If this is a prolonged low-price scenario you have risk there will be another gap of skills for the future," says de Leeuw.
This is already happening, as can be seen with Shell and BPP, with recruitment halted and non-essential staff being shed.
A scale back in recruitment and training investment now will only see the skills shortage worsen in the future.