Human Performance Experience is the X Factor in 21st Century Operations
There is no greater hedge against uncertainty in the ongoing energy transition than improving the human performance experience at work. While the cyclical nature of the booms and busts within the industry have had a formidable impact on workforce management, the one constant is that human performers remain, and reimagining their work experience matters now more than ever. Research continues to support that those workers who have a good experience on the job are more engaged, productive and willing to stay. On the other hand, it’s a perfect storm for concern if people working in high-risk industries are 1) fearful of automation, 2) hate their jobs, 3) are actively disengaged, 4) don’t feel psychologically safe and 5) have their eye on the door.
Energy Transition Will be led by Humans Doing Work
As wider debates on energy scarcity and energy and climate security continue, many oil and gas companies are still struggling with common workforce management challenges as they fight for their survival. These traditional workforce challenges are now paired with the emerging workforce challenges of the energy transition. During the last bust, oil and gas companies rushed to accelerate the “digitization” of their automation systems. This was a direct means to an end – satisfy investors, reduce costs and enable new avenues for sustainable growth. Digital transformation indeed represents a road paved with good intentions but into unknown territories. Emerging tensions, challenges and dilemmas can be seen as industry juggles transitional portfolios and funds green energy investments in ways that seek to create a “safe haven” for investors.
Expecting a drama-free transition to a clean energy economy is a false hope, as the multi-year journey will indeed have its ebbs and flows. Legacy oil and gas companies seeking to lead the energy transition will need to develop an energy workforce prepared to lead the reduction of emissions, influence paths to net zero and deliver clean energy systems. Meeting these challenges means that the energy industry must deliver a highly engaged and reshaped clean energy workforce. The oil and gas workforce will work to meet these goals while the sector also grapples with additional pressure as progressive companies, such as Google, are spearheading clean energy projects and other more agile industries adopt new technology at faster paces.
Transition Balanced by Upskilling and Reskilling
Oil and gas executives know that today’s workers universally have renewed expectations about their work experience. The task of meeting expectations is even more daunting in high-risk industries where much of the workforce is away from their families for weeks to months on end and faces difficult working conditions such as extreme temperatures and risks due to weather.
Within this context, executives must address the point that change and transition from the traditional hydrocarbon business model will require new levels of human intellect, creativity and behavioral capabilities, especially as executives navigate the necessary structural changes presented by new energy systems and processes. No cyber physical technology or form of automation will lead the transition. Technology only helps to enable a successful transition whether it be in isolation or in working collaboratively with or in support of humans.
As the industry optimizes the relationship between human skills and emerging technologies, it’s important to note that oil and gas employees are not known for their digital skills when compared to more progressive industries. Innovative upskilling capabilities are needed across the oil and gas industry to refine existing skills and build digital dexterity so that tenured workers remain relevant and can perform successfully in their existing jobs as digital innovations are introduced. Advanced technologies and automation will create skill gaps as workers are driven toward collaborative robotics and cyber physical systems that require humans to take on new and higher cognitive challenges to keep pace. Efforts to reskill the energy industry will enable workers to perform new jobs within the traditional oil and gas industry as they transition to green energy roles.
As the energy industry advances to transition, oil and gas companies must position the attainment of advanced skills in ways that appeal to their current and targeted workforce. New skills in areas such as virtual collaboration, cognitive load management, computational thinking, design mindset, social intelligence and adaptive thinking are needed for workers to achieve success in a future where sustainable energy will be their “core” work.
Industry 5.0 is the Era of Improved Human Performance Experience
Human performance experience is an essential component of the Industry 5.0 movement and can serve as a competitive differentiator strengthening the human asset base needed for a successful and sustainable energy transition. The humans within and across oil and gas are the ones who will create and lead the transition to clean energy systems and deliver the scalable capabilities that do not exist today. To meet this challenge, the industry needs a future-focused workforce that has the skills to capitalize on cyber physical technologies in similar ways as their counterparts in tech heavy industries. This means that industry leaders face three interconnected workforce challenges.
First, they need to leverage digital technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) architecture, big data and analytics to improve the human performance experience at work. Second, they need to upskill and reskill their current and future workforce in ways that promote the organization’s social and technical license to operate in a maturing clean energy industry. Lastly, they need to leverage these goals in ways that attract and retain people to create a tenured workforce across a transitioning industry.
Enabling the Industry 5.0 Worker Experience
The fundamental structure of the work cycle is generally finite. Work starts with some type of initiation cue, followed by execution of job tasks, data analysis, decision making, troubleshooting, collaboration, problem solving, escalation, documentation and ends with some type of completion cue or event. The problem is that the human performance experience from initiation cue to completion cue can be riddled with messy middles. In between the beginning and end of work tasks, workers all too often experience the frustration of untimely or inaccurate information, inputs, instruction, feedback or ineffective tools and resources. In worst case scenarios, workers are assigned jobs where they lack sufficient knowledge and skills, or the capacity or motivation required to successfully perform.
The energy industry has been banking on digital investments to meet its targets. However, as the strategic uncertainty of meeting energy transition goals grows, the playing field will become more amorphous as companies leverage digital to innovate thus creating exponential opportunities. This means an ongoing impact on humans as jobs and job performance requirements will quickly change. While many are promoting digital first thinking, industry needs to be thinking people first. Digital or cyber physical capabilities should be embedded within a digital workplace framework that supports work design but doesn’t drive it. The grand idea behind well executed digital strategies is to connect and extend structural designs and changes from an individual asset level to the entire organization, enabled by platforms that promote connectivity, collaboration, innovation and more personalized worker experiences across the work cycle.
There is No Hiding Human Performance Experience Efficiencies
Oil and gas companies can often hide inefficiencies in production and operations within their deep pockets. However, humans can easily see inefficiencies and issues related to their personal work experiences. Given the key role humans will play in enabling the energy transition, the daily job performance dynamics need to change as today’s status quo is failing to meet worker expectations. As technology is introduced, work experiences must be restructured in line with new structural changes and incorporated into digital roadmaps that support business planning. Workers must clearly see the role that their contributions play in decarbonization and be inspired and engaged by their work experiences, not frustrated by them. Digital investments must improve the physical, cultural and technological environments in ways that employees find more adaptive, flexible and personalized. Regardless of the energy transition strategy that companies choose, the amount of anticipated disruption in this space over the next decade as industry seeks to recast itself requires human-centric design thinking. The bottom line is that any path to creating a new energy future will depend on a highly motivated and engaged workforce that enjoys an elevated and sustainable human performance experience at work.
Brent A. Kedzierski is the former head of learning strategy and innovation at Shell. He now focuses exclusively on Industry 5.0 solutions in support of the human aspect of successful and sustainable energy transition.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.