Andrew Speers discusses why the oil and gas sector needs to target transferable skills with sideways recruitment, and where it should ago on the hunt.
This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
Much writers ink has been spilled on the severity of the skills shortage facing an otherwise resurgent global oil and gas sector. The figures are stark, and speak for themselves. The average age of oil and gas workers – at 56 – is astonishingly high relative to almost all other industries on the planet. Nearly half the industry workforce is now over 45. And the shortage is most severe where the industry can least afford it to be – highly skilled, technical roles out in the field, crucial to any project. Of the total pool of experienced engineers within the industry, over half will be eligible for retirement in the next five to ten years; a sobering statistic for anyone with an interest in the future of the industry (which, to be frank, is everyone).
This shortage – predominantly of mid-tier employees in the 35-50 age range, with around a decade’s worth of experience – is in part the price the industry is paying for the shutdown of recruitment and training programmes during the oil price slump in the 80s. Until now, companies have largely muddled through regardless, buoyed by a return in demand. But the demographic conveyer belt will come to an end sooner rather than later. What’s more, the industry will soon need a major influx of people if it is to cope with ballooning demand from emerging markets (not to mention the potential impact of shale gas extraction taking off outside of the US). It is estimated that the global oil and gas industry will need over 120,000 new workers to plug the gap over the next decade.
Fast-tracking younger employees and graduates through training schemes will play a big part in the solution. Making effective use of industry veterans in a mentoring capacity will also play a vital role at the other end of the spectrum. But given the scale and immediacy of the crisis, these solutions alone will not suffice. In order to adequately rise to the skills challenge, the industry needs to look sideways, and recruit candidates with the relevant transferable skills from other sectors.
So far, so simple – after all, sideways recruitment is an everyday fact of life in many other industries. However, the oil and gas sector has historically – and understandably – been reluctant to do so. This is an industry where multi-million pound projects reliant on multi-million pound pieces of very sensitive, technical equipment are routinely placed under the responsibility of a relatively small number of highly specialised employees. So the oil and gas industry has more incentive than most to want to ensure its workers are ‘proven assets’, with mountains of previous hands-on experience in that precise field.
Now the time is fast approaching – if it isn’t here already – when relying solely on candidates with direct experience simply isn’t an option. There are sectors out there that the oil and gas industry would do well to tap more thoroughly for talent. So where should companies be looking?
Where to Look for Talent
The main priority for oil and gas businesses when it comes to these skilled roles is usually practical experience as opposed to pure technical know-how. Firms want ‘field-tested’ candidates, who have used the equipment, run successful projects, and have encountered and overcome the thousands of pragmatic and logistical niggles, set-backs and malfunctions that can plague such projects. So the key for successful, cost-effective sideways recruitment is to find such ‘field tested’ candidates from sectors where the jump across in terms of retraining for a new environment or new equipment is minimal.
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