Enable Your Workforce To Maximize New Technology Investments

By Robert Alexander, Associate Partner, People Advisory Services at EY Canada

Focusing on the here and now is an understandable knee-jerk strategy to mitigate immediate risks, but it comes with a cost for Canadian oil and gas companies. Delaying action and investment in key initiatives — such as automation, the future of work and the energy transition — could create profound disadvantages when the economic recovery kicks in.

While every new demand seems to come with a sense of urgency in today’s landscape, the sector largely recognizes the importance of technology implementation. Ninety percent of global oil and gas executives in EY's Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey either agree or strongly agree that their company needs to invest in technology and the workforce right now.

Workforce needs to be emphasized in that equation. As organizations start to dedicate more resources to technology and automation to help reduce operating costs, investments in new tools won’t pay off if they don’t have the right people or skills to use and scale them. In fact, having a workforce skills gap can actually limit adoption and value realization in many technologies seen as strategic differentiators. For instance, among executives surveyed who have or are planning to put money toward remote asset monitoring, about one-third say they don’t have the right capabilities to realize the full value of their investment.

Digital firepower relies on brainpower. And in the digital enablement lifecycle, people come first. While technology and automation are disrupting traditional job competencies (such as managing finances, operations monitoring or quality control analysis), they’re also relying on skills like negotiation and conflict management that only humans know how to deliver. That’s why, to achieve and sustain a competitive advantage, companies need intentional, human-centered programs to address their skills needs and gaps so they can become agile enough to rapidly deploy digital technologies.

With tighter budgets and smaller workforces as a result of the pandemic — in tandem with a growing war for talent with new in-demand competencies — stabilizing the workforce may be a challenge. It will require oil and gas executives to action four key considerations in order to power digital integration and invigorate value creation.

  • Understand cultural impacts. Overcome cultural and organizational barriers, including resistance to change; values and mindset; and governance and organizational design elements that hinder flexible, rapid decision-making.
  • Enable skills development. Solve for reskilling fundamentals such as developing badge programs and building curricula that curate open-source learning material and align to intentionally applied, on-the-job learning experiences.
  • Realize the urgency. Proceed quickly despite the impulse to sacrifice these efforts to other priorities in the worst market many of us have ever experienced. If companies wait to come out of the downturn to invest, they may not come out of the downturn. Skills will be the competitive advantage.
  • Involve your employees. Put rigorous processes in place to ensure new tools deliver real value and involve key end-users in development. Companies can’t cut corners in design and implementation. Employees will embrace new technology if it works correctly, enhances their ability to do their jobs and if they feel they had a hand in its development.

To navigate the uncertainty and disruption brought by changing market conditions, companies will need to secure a competitive advantage through a well-skilled workforce capable of delivering digital transformation. Taking steps to expand infrastructure in a human-centric way will not only allow for better employee recruitment and retention of skilled talent, but also aid in delivering other key initiatives more effectively and securing better financial performance. Integrating and deploying digital technology across company — while equipping people with the skills to collaborate with and manage new tools — can allow companies to reduce costs and drive efficiencies, which are both critical to navigating the immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis and the long-term implications of the energy transition.

Robert Alexander is an Associate Partner with EY Canada’s People Advisory Services practice, based in Calgary. For more oil and gas sector insights, visit www.ey.com/en_ca/oil-gas.

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