Impact of COVID-19 increases urgency of digital technology investments for oil and gas; workforce skills gaps hinder ROI

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Ninety percent of oil and gas executives agree that investments 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% of respondents 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.

Andy Brogan, EY Global Oil & Gas Leader, says: “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated the timeline for digital technology adoption from five years to three months. The cost savings digital can deliver for organizations 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 big-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%.

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.

Mihai Draghici, Senior Manager, Business Consulting, EY Romania: “92% of the global executives we surveyed recognize the ability to reskill quickly is crucial. Remote working adoption is yet another factor that creates an opportunity for local companies to attract back-office operations from their regional peers with higher workforce cost – provided that we reskill faster.”

When asked about their current workforce, respondents 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 surveyed raised the time needed to reskill (97%), competing priorities (95%) and difficulty in assessing employee progress (95%) as primary impediments to effective and timely reskilling. Furthermore, two-thirds expressed a belief their organization’s structure hinders its ability to innovate, making solving these challenges as well as others, 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, which will help alleviate the current talent and skills 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), respectively.

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