EY survey: Impact of COVID-19 increases urgency of digital technology investments for oil and gas; skill gaps within the workforce hinder ROI

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Ninety percent of oil and gas executives agree that investment in technology and workforce are essential to surviving current market conditions, according to a new EY survey: Oil and Gas Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey 2020. In fact, 58% said the COVID-19 pandemic has made investing in digital technology more urgent, with a majority planning to invest a great deal (29%) or moderate amount (51%) relative to their total budget.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the timeline for some digital technology adoption from five years to three months,” said Andy Brogan, EY Global Oil & Gas Leader. “The cost savings digital can deliver is critical for survival in today’s low-price environment, as oil and gas companies look to gain greater operational efficiencies and drive productivity across the value chain. However, to capture the full value of these investments, oil and gas companies need the skills to harness and use the technology to its maximum potential.”

Technology does not use itself, addressing skill gaps linked to future success

According to the survey, nearly half (46%) of companies, on average, do not have the skills within their current workforce to realize the investment on their adopted technologies. Companies recognize a lack of maturity in many skills around digital technologies they have deemed as critical — on average, the gap between importance and maturity is 36%. For instance, the increasing availability of data analytics and insights was cited by 43% of executives as one of the top three trends that will positively impact their company’s business growth in the next three years. Yet, the gap between strategic importance and maturity of key skills was one of the widest on data analytics at 59%.

“The sector is now in a critical period in which the role of technology will only accelerate, the volume of data will only grow and competition for talent will only increase,” said Tim Haskell, US Oil & Gas People Advisory Services Leader, Ernst & Young LLP (EY US). “The challenge for oil and gas is immediate. It’s not enough for companies to simply spend more on technology. Investment in the workforce is needed to scale and integrate technologies and ultimately capture the intended value. Companies must find an investment balance while addressing market pressures. Otherwise, the industry will lose crucial years and potentially a generation of workers.”

Organizational and cultural challenges top the list for barriers to reskilling

Ninety-two percent of executives agree their ability to reskill as a company will determine their success over the next three years. However, only 9% feel strongly that they have a robust plan in place to do so, and just 3% feel strongly their organization is good at teaching in-demand skills, according to the EY survey.

When asked about their current workforce, oil and gas executives said 60% of workers need to be reskilled or upskilled, and it will take an average of 10 months to reskill the average worker, with nearly half of executives (48%) expecting it to take a year or longer. Executives raised the time needed to reskill (97%), competing priorities (95%) and difficulty in assessing employee progress (95%) as primary impediments to reskilling. Furthermore, two-thirds expressed a belief their organization’s structure hinders its ability to innovate, making solving these and other challenges more difficult.

Proceed with caution — executives expect future access to in-demand skills

Oil and gas executives anticipate greater access to workers with digital skills within the next three years, alleviating the current shortage, according to the EY survey. The proportion of executives whose companies have adequate access to workers with cloud computing skills is expected to improve 11 percentage points over current availability along with digital literacy (+18), data science (+26) and artificial intelligence (AI, +24).

“Oil and gas executives may be overly optimistic in their view of improved access to digital skills in the future,” Haskell said. “Demand for digital skills is growing across every industry. Those with AI and data science capabilities will be some of the most sought-after talent in the coming years. Oil and gas will encounter stiff competition for talent and will have to overcome negative perceptions among younger generations who tend to favor careers in technology and other industries. This makes reskilling and upskilling even more critical for oil and gas companies.”

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