EY makes the case for people and culture amid historical oil and gas disruption

The pandemic can be an opportunity to accelerate a workforce transformation. Photo by Sarote Pruksachat/Getty

When considering the future of energy, you might see a world powered by cleaner energy sources and guided by bots and algorithms in the workplace. But digitalization and decarbonization are complex transitions. The road ahead will mix human talent with cutting-edge technologies, fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives, next-generation renewables and energy storage.

These trends present a potentially dizzying array of challenges for the oil and gas industry. Today's strategies for tomorrow's reality require skills that are continuing to evolve and jobs that haven't been defined yet — all against a backdrop of unprecedented uncertainty and disruption.

This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption while reducing energy demand and prices, causing companies to focus on survival. Now more than ever, the industry must find an investment balance between addressing current market pressures and positioning for the future.

EY's 2020 Oil and Gas Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey shows that 58% of oil and gas executive respondents agree that COVID-19 has made investing in digital technology more urgent, with 80% planning to invest at least a moderate amount relative to their total budget in digital technology today. The most popular targets of that money include remote monitoring, mobile platforms or apps, cloud computing, and operational technology.

However, digital technologies alone are not a panacea. Digital integration is a process that requires human and organizational investment. Nearly all respondents in the EY survey said that too few workers with the right skills in the current workforce is a major or minor challenge to technology adoption, with executives identifying nearly 60% of the workforce as needing to be reskilled or upskilled.

The need to incorporate an intentional skills strategy into digital implementation is crucial. It will require change management and leadership commitment to address human and organizational challenges alongside digital investments. Looked at positively, the pandemic can be an opportunity to reset the agenda and accelerate a workforce transformation in which rig workers, data scientists, internet of things, and remote monitoring sensors are all co-workers building toward a new future.

Organizational challenges hindering technology adoption
Challenges to digital adoption and workforce reskilling can be embedded deep in a company's structure, processes, and culture. Over half of oil and gas executives in the EY survey say that their culture and organizational structure limit how well skills are developed. Companies can often struggle with reskilling efforts when there is no unifying program to organize around.

The tone and commitment from the top of an organization can convey the importance of reskilling. To cultivate a digital mindset, company leadership must develop a deeper understanding of how digital can enhance business operations. Executives can complete a data-driven assessment of their organizations and current workforces to diagnose skill gaps and set tangible benchmarks to measure progress. Addressing skill gaps will require a mix of techniques from online and in-person training curriculums and on-the-job experiences, to mentorship and coaching.

Building learning programs can take significant investment. Oil and gas can collaborate with other organizations to leverage platforms and courses tailored to develop specific skills. Similarly, oil and gas companies can look to partners to fill talent and skill gaps. Companies must assess which skills and functions need to be owned and which ones can be performed better by a partner.

Importance of trust and transparency
Transparency is going to be very important for the industry to remain resilient through the energy transition. With the global population expected to reach 10 billion within a few decades, eliminating fossil fuels — while keeping energy affordable and reliable — is not feasible based on the technology available.

It might seem like a paradox, but the oil and gas sector can draw on its skills in meeting the energy needs of the planet to advance decarbonization in broader areas, such as the circular economy, hydrogen, and better batteries that rely less on rare-earth minerals.

This is an opportunity for oil and gas companies to lead with purpose and tell the story behind their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics.

In order to have that transparency, the industry will need to embrace a standard way to measure, track, and share data that is reliable. In doing so, oil and gas companies can attract strong, diverse talent that wants to work for companies with a sense of purpose. Nearly three-fourths of Gen Z agree that business has a responsibility to create a better world, and current employees are three times as likely to remain with a purpose-driven organization, according to the Global Energy Talent Index Report 2019.

The future of work for oil and gas requires different capabilities and mindsets, not just technical expertise. Critical thinking, creativity, innovation, problem solving, and ideation are needed to adapt to a new technology, consider how it can be applied to the business and extract every bit of value possible.

There's a growing acceptance that a return to the pre-pandemic "normal" is not an option; that's doubly true for oil and gas companies. Yet that desire for normality is in itself misplaced: proactive organizations should always think about what is possible. New talent strategies are at the heart of what a business wants to be and the world it wants to build in the process.

The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.


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