3 Ways Digital Strengthens the Process Industry Talent Pipeline

3 Ways Digital Strengthens the Process Industry Talent Pipeline
3 Ways Digital Strengthens the Process Industry Talent Pipeline

Before the pandemic sent the chemical processing and oil and gas sectors into shock, U.S.-based companies were already looking at a shortfall of at least 40,000 skilled positions by 2025. It now looks as if the pre-pandemic estimate undervalued the loss at hand. 
More than 100,000 employees in these industrial companies lost their jobs in 2020. Extraction and oilfield services were most impacted. Many experts critical to exploration and production operations, including geoscientists and engineers, have chosen to retire or accept early retirement packages.

Not surprisingly, other oil and gas professionals have made the jump to renewables, looking towards the growth of cleaner forms of energy as demands for decarbonization mount and for greater job stability outside the boom-and-bust cycle. Industry recruiters have seen a downtick in interest from fresh graduates and would-be professionals in the face of environmental, career, and work-life balance concerns, despite high earning potential.
Some commentators have called the overlap of retirements, recruiting troubles, and career switches the “Silver Tsunami” or the  “Great Crew Change.” With many organizations running skeleton crews to keep facilities up, the long-term impact remains to be seen. What is clear—organizations cannot rest on their laurels.
Oil and gas executives agree—the pandemic exacerbated the skills gap. In a 2020 EY survey of industry executives, 92 percent reported that their ability to address the talent shortage would be critical to the success of their business in the near-term. The same survey found that 43 percent of respondents said that Big Data and Analytics was one of the top three industry-wide trends that would improve their company’s business growth in the near-term.

Digital solutions cover the skills gap

The knowledge drain and the related skills gap open up an opportunity to make digital solutions a key part of future operations and learning and development strategies. In the effort to build out more efficient operations, upskill or reskill, and attract and retain new talent, chemical processing and oil and gas operations can leverage innovative solutions to drive near- and long-term business growth.
Especially with many seasoned experts leaving the industry, formal mentorship and informal on-the-job coaching opportunities are harder to come by. There are fewer opportunities for the passing on of specialized knowledge. Digital solutions, including advanced analytics, provide a cost-effective way to digitize specialized domain knowledge while addressing the skills gap.

3 ways to build your digital talent pipeline

Here are 3 ways chemicals, oil and gas companies are using advanced analytics to address challenges with personnel changes and domain expertise.

1. Digitize domain expertise
More experienced personnel at chemical, oil, and gas companies have a significant wealth of knowledge. So much so that organizations, starved of seasoned talent, have taken to poaching leaders from competitors to transfer and codify expertise. While perhaps effective as a short-term talent strategy, many organizations still need to build the pipeline for career learning and development.
Digital asset performance management solutions, remote monitoring, and data science models for critical pieces of equipment, including for emerging asset types and smart sensors, lessen dependence on veteran employees. They also allow companies to maintain control over expertise, all the while supporting newer employees.

2. Make OT data and expertise widely available to the enterprise
Advanced analytics solutions can also filter through all of the data streaming from sensored assets. By sharing access to data, different parts of the organization—in addition to the regular power users of industrial control systems—can take advantage of all the available operational technology (OT) data. Metadata is particularly important here. Without that context in OT data, many of the potential use cases to leverage OT data, like digital twins, enterprise reporting, and asset monitoring, become cost-prohibitive when organizations need to rebuild data models.

In addition to standardized best practices for data management as well as business outcomes through better enterprise monitoring, planning, and reporting, shared access allows stakeholders to measure and evaluate performance across facilities. Tied in with an enterprise staffing strategy, chemical processing and oil and gas companies can marshal shared datasets to identify gaps in performance at individual sites or regions. Advanced analytics can give chemical processing and oil and gas companies the digital solution for incremental improvements in operations without significant enterprise risk or change management.

3. Accelerate on-the-job training with asynchronous coaching
For less experienced personnel, the adoption and use of digital solutions instills best practices, helping to shorten their time to competence on the job. For example, advanced analytics can deliver sufficient lead time on pending failures to advance condition-based maintenance and ensure that the team has the right skills at the right time to make the correct repair. In addition, data-backed visibility into equipment conditions validates inspection and maintenance routines, lessening the demands of mentorship on more experienced employees. That way, high-performers can focus more on high-value tasks while also still being able to coach junior engineers and data scientists.

Making expertise valuable and accessible

 Ahead of chemical, oil and gas companies is a serious challenge and opportunity. The pandemic introduced a new sense of urgency for digital initiatives to address an immediate need to keep facilities up and running. These digital solutions, from remote monitoring to advanced analytics, also uncovered a greater want for productivity improvement, maintenance optimization, and risk mitigation.
As organizations plot out their transformation journeys post-pandemic, making expertise valuable and accessible will be critical to building their talent pipeline.

About The Author

Andrew Soignier is the VP of Global Sales at Uptake, a Chicago-based Industrial AI and Analytics company.

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