AP NEWS

OTC comment: Big firms must think small to attract digital leaders

May 9, 2019

The digital revolution is well underway in the oil and gas industry. While it began slowly as a means to survive the low oil prices of 2016, the push toward digitization has flourished more recently as oil and gas companies — despite stabilized prices — are increasingly graded on operational efficiency instead of reserves growth. This trend is forecast to continue; nearly 90 percent of oil and gas executives expect their investment in digital tools to increase over the next two years, according to a recent EY survey.

Yet, an obstacle — a lack of talent — stands in the way of companies maximizing the value of their digital investments. Although oil and gas companies recognize the need for digital-savvy employees, like data scientists, many have thus-far struggled to recruit and retain employees with these talents.

Why? In addition to competing with leaders across all industries for these talented employees, oil and gas companies are also navigating how to recruit and retain people very different from those they have historically employed.

Younger generations with the digital skills needed by oil and gas firms have different work preferences than traditional workers. Largely millennials or Generation Z, these employees aren’t typically looking to settle into a standard nine-to-five at the same office for 30 years as their parents before them. They also enjoy unstructured work environments that don’t tie them down to specific projects for long periods of time.

Further, after growing up during the Great Recession, younger employees seem to increasingly value versatility in the workplace over job security. Additionally, younger individuals have the desire to work across the globe.

To staff their digital workforce, oil and gas companies need to adapt their recruiting and retention strategies to account for these preferences. For example, oil and gas companies can offer their new hires rotations to build a variety of skills and keep them both challenged and motivated.

They can highlight their international presence and the opportunity for international assignments to peak potential employees’ interests in working globally. They can also adapt their reward programs, including compensation and alternative benefits, to align with the desires of this population.

Another way to both effectively attract and cater to these workers’ demands is by developing centers of excellence that embrace their wants and needs. These employees are different and oil and gas companies need to treat them differently.

But oil and gas companies — especially larger corporations — may find it difficult to completely shift their culture to account for these differences. Creating centers of excellence enables companies to embrace new recruiting processes and retention methods in a more expedited fashion. These centers can also feature accelerated career tracks, and different learning and development opportunities.

Just as energy firms need to get creative in how they attract this new generation of workers, it is equally important they re-evaluate where they search for candidates. Oil and gas companies should broaden their search pools to account for the skills needed from digital employees. Firms need to be open to a diverse range of educational backgrounds, both in terms of what candidates studied in school and the type of institutions they attended. Specifically, firms should be open to candidates from trade schools and military academies — institutions that have historically produced innovative and adaptable workers.

Oil and gas firms have woken up to the digital age. Now, it’s time to prioritize hiring a new wave of digital leaders to put their innovative technologies to work and push their company to new heights.

Rachel Everaard is the Southwest people advisory services leader at the global accounting and consulting firm Ernst and Young.