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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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Following Silicon Valley Bank collapse, banking diversification is key for Houston founders

SVB shake up

Last week, Houston founder Emily Cisek was in between meetings with customers and potential investors in Austin while she was in town for SXSW. She was aware of the uncertainty with Silicon Valley Bank, but the significance of what was happening didn't hit her until she got into an Uber on Friday only to find that her payment was declined.

“Being positive in nature as I am, and with the close relationship that I have with SVB and how they’ve truly been a partner, I just thought, ‘OK, they’re going to figure it out. I trust in them,'” Cisek says.

Like many startup founders, Cisek, the CEO of The Postage, a Houston-based tech platform that enables digital legacy planning tools, is a Silicon Valley Bank customer. Within a few hours, she rallied her board and team to figure out what they needed to do, including making plans for payroll. She juggled all this while attending her meetings and SXSW events — which, coincidentally, were mostly related to the banking and fintech industries.

Sandy Guitar had a similar weekend of uncertainty. As managing director of HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital to venture capital firms around the country and connects them to the Houston innovation ecosystem, her first concern was to evaluate the effect on HXVF's network. In this case, that meant the fund's limited partners, its portfolio of venture firms, and, by extension, the firms' portfolios of startup companies.

“We ultimately had no financial impact on venture fund 1 or 2 or on any of our portfolio funds or our underlying companies,” Guitar tells InnovationMap. “But that is thanks to the Sunday night decision to ensure all deposits.”

On Sunday afternoon, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took control of SVB and announced that all accounts would be fully insured, not just up to the $250,000 cap. Customers like Cisek had access to their accounts on Monday.

“In the shorter term, the great news is SVB entity seems to be largely up and functioning in a business as usual manner,” Guitar says. “And they have a new leadership team, but their existing systems and predominantly the existing employee base is working well. And what we're hearing is that business as usual is taking place.”

Time to diversify

In light of the ordeal, Guitar says Houston founders and funders can take away a key lesson learned: The importance of bank diversification.

“We didn't think we needed one last week, but this week we know we need a resilience plan," she says, explaining that bank diversification is going to be added to "the operational due diligence playbook."

"We need to encourage our portfolio funds to maintain at least two banking relationships and make sure they're diversifying their cash exposure," she says.

A valued entity

Guitar says SVB is an integral part of the innovation ecosystem, and she believes it will continue on to be, but factoring in the importance of resilience and diversification.

"Silicon Valley Bank and the function that they have historically provided is is vital to the venture ecosystem," she says. "We do have confidence that either SVB, as it is currently structured or in a new structure to come, will continue to provide this kind of function for founders."

Cisek, who hasn't moved any of her company's money out of SVB, has similar sentiments about the importance of the bank for startups. She says she's grateful to the local Houston and Austin teams for opening doors, making connections, and taking chances for her that other banks don't do.

"I credit them to really being partners with startups — down to the relationships they connect you with," she says. "Some of my best friends who are founders came from introductions from SVB. I've seen them take risks that other banks won't do."

With plans to raise funding this yea, Cisek says she's already started her research on how to diversify her banking situation and is looking into programs that will help her do that.

Staying aware

Guitar's last piece of advice is to remain confident in the system, while staying tuned into what's happening across the spectrum.

“This situation that is central to the venture ecosystem is an evolving one," she says. "We all need to keep calm and confident in business as usual in the short term while keeping an eye to the medium term so that we know what happens next with this important bank and with other associated banks in the in our industry."

Meet the Texas security experts building a framework for safer schools

For the Kids

For a large portion of his career, Mike Matranga worked as a Secret Service agent protecting the President and First Family all over the world.

He then moved to the Department of the Interior, specializing in domestic terrorism, when the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occurred. Only three months later, another school shooting happened in Santa Fe, Texas.

That's when Matranga received a phone call from a Texas superintendent, asking him to take his decades of security experience and training and develop a proactive school safety program — something that didn't yet exist. That comprehensive, holistic plan would go on to be ranked No. 1 in Texas and No. 5 in the nation.M6

Mike Matranga, M6 GlobalM6 Global's Mike Matranga.Photo courtesy of M6 Global

This led Matranga to found M6 Global, which today specializes not only in school safety plans but also programs for industrial and corporate settings and even major sporting events.

The team is comprised of current and former federal agents and security specialists, a psychiatrist, a leading emotional intelligence doctor, a former White House doctor, and emergency management experts. Together, they have more than 100 years combined experience in school safety, law enforcement, and national and global security.

And that's what's made Matranga's initiatives so successful: the people.

“Of all the measures and initiatives we implemented, the absolute most important thing we have are people who have the ability to make real change — which no camera system will provide," he says. "Simply teaching people how to identify pre-attack behavior, self-harm behavior, and a person in crisis will always be what is most important. Secondly, having the resources and courage to intervene once those things are identified will keep individuals off the path to violence. We must never discredit the human element.”

M6 Global also partners with ASAP Security Services in Houston to provide the most up-to-date technology and products, with everything from facial recognition software to cameras to threat detection software. It makes their services fully turn-key, and as Matranga says, "two brains are better than one."

Mike Matranga and President Joe Biden, M6 GlobalMike Matranga (left) with President Joe Biden.Photo courtesy of M6 Global

"At some point we have to realize that the law enforcement response that we adopted in the '80s is not working," he adds. "And it’s not just police — it’s the patterns and behaviors of people that will tell you there is a problem, so we need to shift from a reactive to a proactive mindset. We need to have actionable resources in place and a society that's better informed to recognize the signs before someone becomes a person in crisis."

To learn more about M6 Global and explore its services, visit here.