Immersive competency

Ensuring skills gaps don’t scupper growth

Skills gaps continue to be the key problem for businesses in the oil and gas industry. Recent research by DNV GL shows confidence in the global oil and industry is high. Three quarters of the senior oil and gas professionals surveyed expect growth in the year ahead, and overall confidence is at levels last seen in 2011.

As growth returns, however, concerns over skills gaps loom large, coming second only to competitive pressures in professionals’ lists of the barriers to growth. As the report noted, “For 2019, skills pressures are now firmly back on the agenda…”

On the one hand, this is unsurprising. Over a decade ago, the World Petroleum Council Director General Dr Pierce Riemer warned that the industry was on “the edge of a demographic cliff”. In the intervening years, the retiring baby boomers about which he worried have not got any younger. The eldest are now in their seventies.

On the other hand, we do not live in a world with fewer people – far from it. In the US, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in history. Together with the Generation Z workers following them, they will soon account for more than half the global workforce. It’s not primarily a question of people, but of skills.

And it’s also a question of competing. As DNV GL’s research noted, skills gaps may be exacerbated by fewer young people joining the industry. Some are opting for green energy industries; others, particularly with the skills the digital oil field needs, are drawn to technology firms. Oil and gas has to work harder than ever to make itself an attractive proposition.

The oil and gas industry does not have long to address the challenge. The Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) survey earlier this year found 40 per cent of oil and gas professionals felt they the industry was already in the midst of a skills crisis. A further 28 per cent expect a crisis to hit in the next five years.

If businesses are to meet this challenge, immersive competency solutions are likely to be an increasing part of the answer. Augmented or virtual reality (AR or VR) training provides a powerful solution for capturing the expertise of the aging workforce and passing it on effectively and efficiently to younger workers.

Practice makes perfect
We’ve long recognised that hands-on learning is usually the most effective form of training. This is particularly true for millennials, who have a strong preference for active learning and experience, rather than typical classbased lectures, according to research. At the same time, oil and gas operators are, understandably, reluctant to let inexperienced trainees practice in live plants, where mistakes can cost lives.

AR and VR training is an effective answer to this quandary. Headsets can either immerse users in a completely digital world (VR), such as a plant, or overlay graphics, such as an image of a device or equipment, on the real world (AR). Both provide opportunities for realistic practice of key and complex tasks, without any risks to safety. Crucially, immersive competency delivers on key requirements to meet the demands the change of generations in the workplace is placing on the industry.

Most importantly, it’s a fast, effective training method. Honeywell estimates the technology can reduce typical times to competency by a third: from six months to two.

That’s important in three respects. First, it is efficient and enables businesses to make the most of the experienced workforce. Centrally located or remote experts can oversee the training of younger workers across the organisation with VR and AR learning modules delivered on demand, online.

Second, it enables oil and gas businesses to cope with the speed of demographic transformation they face. According to a study by consultants Accenture Strategy, in 2015 baby boomers accounted for 19 per cent of the oil and gas workforce; by 2025 the figure is expected to be just seven per cent.

Third, it also helps firms cope with the above average turnover in younger workers. Surveys show many millennials moving quickly from job to job. In one survey, close to half (44 per cent) were looking to leave their employer within two years. Reducing the time to competency, businesses can increase the period of productive work.

In fact, though, the technology may not only help businesses cope with high staff turnover among younger workers; it may actually help reverse it, as well as enabling oil and gas businesses to compete for talent with other industries more effectively.

The affinity of the younger generation for digital technologies is as well proven as it is obvious. These ‘digital natives’ rely on and enjoy technology in every aspect of their lives. This makes the barriers to adoption among younger workers to immersive competency extremely low; a generation raised on 3D video gaming and basic AR apps and games such as the Pokémon Go has little problem getting to grips with these solutions. AR headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens just offer more sophisticated versions of technology they are already familiar with.

More than this, however, these solutions – and others such as intelligent wearables that bring connectivity to the field – help to build the sort of digital workplaces that are attractive to millennials, and which they increasingly demand. If we can build these workplaces in the oil and gas industry, we will find the pool of available talent is more than enough to support the most optimistic expectations of for the future.

Honeywell is a Fortune 100 software-industrial company that delivers industry specific solutions that include aerospace and automotive products and services; control technologies for buildings, homes, and industry; and performance materials globally. Its technologies help everything from aircraft, cars, homes and buildings, manufacturing plants, supply chains, and workers become more connected to make our world smarter, safer, and more sustainable.
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