A Brave New World for Oil and Gas

By Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director

Iman Hill, IOGP Executive Director

When I think back to my first assignment on a North Sea platform, I remember being impressed by the incredible technology that ran these huge feats of engineering (we might consider them dinosaurs in today’s technological terms). As I spun around in awe trying to take in the huge bits of kit around me, I also happened to notice that I was the only woman 😊. Our industry has changed since that time 30 years ago, but not fast or radically enough. If we are to progress and accelerate an energy transition that is safe, equitable, technology-led and in keeping with the Glasgow Pact, the pace of progress needs a step change! My belief is that we must think and operate differently if our industry is to deliver the energy the world requires for socio-economic prosperity in an ever-cleaner way.

And so… what needs to be done? Let’s start by looking at the industry’s greatest asset – our people. Regardless of advances in technology people will remain at the core, but the industry faces the challenge of seeing tens of thousands retire over the next five years while we also struggle to attract and retain new talent. Nothing will be achieved if we don’t have the right people working for us, who believe in our societal role and want to be a part of it. This will require, not only a culture that accepts, diversity, equity and inclusivity, but one that will embrace new ways of working, including organisational policies and processes that cater to a multi-generational workforce and that actively adopts collaboration as a differentiating attribute for advancement.

The oil and gas industry has always been globally distributed, but what we’re all beginning to realise now is that we can bring in great talent from anywhere in the world without moving anyone. You don’t have to be living in Houston to be working on a project in the Gulf of Mexico, you could be in Cairo, Karachi or even Colombo. Geographic location and the complications of work permits need never hamper an individual’s desire to work with the best companies in the world. This global workforce will need to be digitally connected in ways we had never considered before. We are all familiar with Teams, Sharepoint and Zoom, but newer and more powerful forms of cloud computing will emerge that will allow business the ability to adapt to changing circumstances quicker- to foster faster innovation, flex resources and leverage economies of scale.

We’ve all heard about the numerous studies that state how diverse teams lead to more successful outcomes, but our industry still lags in making this a reality. The truth is, despite great efforts there is much more to do. In many respects the ‘diverse’ component is the easy part, whereas working towards inclusivity and a sense of belonging requires authentic leadership. And let’s not forget that our industry is not popular with generation Y – those who should be running our operations when many of us will have long retired. In a recent IOGP review, we came across a study that found that in the US, women make up almost half the workforce but represent just 15% of the oil and gas sector. A study in the UK found that whereas 35% of engineering students were of colour, only 9% were employed as professional engineers. We are clearly missing a huge opportunity – our talent pipeline is impeded as a result.

We also need to be flexible and agile in the way we work, acknowledging that the workload can be completed if we accommodate the lifestyle of those who will deliver it. Empowering employees to make decisions so that they can work quicker, test their work early and course-correct if necessary, will not only increase productivity and build value, but will create ownership and pride.  This is why IOGP has set a vision for 2025, where our member companies will have a more diverse and inclusive workforce, confident in their capabilities and ambitions to tackle our world’s energy challenges. Our aim is to enable and accelerate a just energy transition.

And to do all this well, we will need to embrace and encourage innovation. For our industry in particular, a successful energy transition depends on it. Considerable technology is already in place, but much of the engineering required to get us to net zero carbon has yet to be developed. It’s a sobering thought, but one that can be resolved if we nurture the expertise of those we employ and invest in their ideas.

But although we need to embrace the new, we’re not starting from scratch. We have solid foundations based on deep expertise, built upon many years of experience and learning. That’s why when IOGP revised its strategy earlier this year, it framed it around 3 pillars:

  1. Building on a strong foundation
  2. Engineering our way through the energy transition
  3. Leading through agility, vision and collaboration

New technologies, changes in work habits and the impact of Covid-19 on the workforce has transformed how we conduct business and the type of skills required to ensure success for the future of work. This has created both challenge and opportunity for business, which needs to drive transformation if it is to be successful in the future. I welcome your thoughts and ideas on future operating models and ways of working and look forward to reading them.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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