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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Can Digital Tech Solve Oil’s Talent Crisis?

The oil industry isn’t just struggling to maintain a modicum of positive reputation under the growing anti-fossil fuel pressure from multiple sides--it’s also struggling to render itself attractive to the next-gen workforce, according to the most recent study sounding the hydrocarbon employment alarm bells. 

Younger generations aren’t hearing the calling to an oil industry that is gearing up for a dramatic talent shortage as mature experts begin to retire. 

So how do you make people want to work in the oil business again?

The answer appears to be simpler than some may believe: change the industry. Make it more about technology than oil.

It’s not just a change in the narrative or window-dressing. Oil field service majors, for one, are genuinely shifting away from just extracting oil and gas from the ground. They are betting big on digital technology, and this includes technology that can be used outside the oil industry.

Baker Hughes, for instance, recently showcased among a host of other solutions a software product called Phantom View that the company describes as an enhanced extended reality platform. The platform aims to overcome the limitations of hardware by virtualizing various activities and connecting employees to facilitate collaboration and, ultimately, cut costs without compromising the quality of the activities they perform, according to the project leader for Phantom View, Jeff Potts, who is Baker Hughes’ leader for what the company calls cyber-physical systems.

Superaccurate visualisation technology is at the heart of Phantom View, and this is what makes it applicable in other industries besides oil. The tech is already being tested by medical professionals, Potts told Oilprice, and it can also be used successfully in architecture, real estate, and renewable energy, too, facilitating and improving maintenance, which, like in oil and gas, is one of the areas that lends itself most readily to cost cuts through the application of digital tech.

Schlumberger, for its part, has developed what it calls Technology 4.0 that, according to the company’s website, focuses on automation and continuous optimization. Cloud, big data, and high-performance computing are among the keywords in Schlumberger’s Technology 4.0, which it describes as a holistic approach to the challenges of the oil and gas industry. Related: Russia And Saudi Arabia Fight For Market Share In This Huge Oil Market

Halliburton has also gone digital, pushed in that direction largely by GE’s acquisition of Baker Hughes three years ago. Its DecisionSpace360 platform is a multi-app, multipurpose solution aimed at improving pretty much every aspect of oil and gas exploration and production.

The New Workforce

Last year, the Houston Chronicle’s Sergio Chapa wrote an overview of the new sort of workforce the oil industry is hiring. Positions included scrum master, agile coach, data scientist, cloud architect, and even user experience designer. These were jobs that, according to the industry, could lure in young talent by taking away some of oil’s bad rep with the focus on digital tech. The software push of oil field service majors suggests the shift is working, making work in the energy industry more appealing to the new generations of professionals that are coming to the job market.

This same shift to technology, however, does more than lure in new talent. It also helps retain talent. This could, over the long term, cushion any potential blow from oil price drops that have in the past invariably resulted in job losses. The job loss cycle no longer has to be the standard scenario thanks to technology.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the rise of digital tech, all that automation and machine learning, will not displace human workers, Baker Hughes’ VP of Ventures and Growth told Oilprice in an interview. It will simply complement their work. Indeed, software solutions in the field seem to aim to make human work easier and more efficient, with more accurate results, up to and including drone maintenance surveys and methane leak detection that both need a human operator behind the machine.

What’s more, however, technology makes the workforce more flexible. Retraining is much easier than it has ever been in the digital environment and could significantly enhance job security: an important factor driving educational and career decisions among young people and a factor that has been pushing many away from oil and gas in the post-2014 years. Related: Asia’s Demand For Middle East Oil Plunges On Coronavirus Outbreak

Naturally, this shift is not altruistic. Digitalization is helping to keep costs low and, it seems, it is already paying off. Halliburton, for example, said at the release of its Q4 and full-2019 financial figures that it will be shifting its focus from loss-making shale oil and gas to more profitable ventures including digital technology. Schlumberger is doing the same, and according to a Deloitte survey cited by the Houston Chronicle’s Chapa, so should other oil field services companies.

Indeed, a recently released Fortune Business Insights study says the digital oil field market could expand to a size of $34.58 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual rate of almost 5 percent. There is a clear goal behind the digital shift in oil field services and the consumers of these services: the world is going digital and no industry should lag behind.

Besides sounding a lot less controversial than oil, energy technology actually reflects a changing reality, a well calculated investment in a transformation that could make the oil and gas industry a more desirable workplace for the next generation of talent.

If the company you work for doesn’t just make drillbits for Shell or Chevron but also diagnostic and planning software for surgeons, it can’t be that bad, can it?

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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