Addressing the energy transition is the greatest challenge of our time, but for those of us who’ve grown up in the oil and gas industry, what does it mean for our skills? As an engineer-turned-people-professional, skills development is high on my list of interests. I see lots of industry talks seemingly expressing concern related to a skills transition, but I’m wondering…. Do we really need to be worried?
I’ve worked in Aberdeen, Europe’s energy capital - and more specifically, Europe’s fossil-fuel capital - for over 10 years now. During that time, I’ve seen a definite move from our energy careers being siloed in one type of fuel source, to a more blended, fluid approach. This aligns with yesterday’s oil companies becoming today’s energy companies, as they responsibly provide today’s hydrocarbon energy needs, whilst fuelling the world’s long term switch to alternative energy sources.
We’re already partway through this transition, and so many energy professionals now straddle oil and “new” energy technologies. I can’t help feeling that we’ll weather this skills transition, like any other industrial transition before us. As a xennial (analogue childhood, digital adulthood), my generation have already made it through one fairly significant skills transition. Change is simply inevitable.
All energy technologies require so many of the skills we’ve always had in the oil and gas industry. We will still need skills-based businesses with all of their associated needs – people management and development, communications, finances, project management. The most significant part of our industry lies in our technical expertise, and these experts are no strangers to solving new problems – it’s almost certainly what drew most of us to our professions in the first place.
So, when we talk about the skills transition related to the energy transition, what are we really talking about?
The energy transition will require us to apply fundamental engineering principles, solve problems we’ve never seen before, and collaborate with multi-discipline teams. It will require us to be open to, and learn about, new technologies. Right now we’re on the brink of a series of world-first commissions of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities, new hydrogen facilities – nobody in the world has decades of expertise in this, so we need proven problem-solvers, with the ability to transfer knowledge and experience from things they’ve seen before, to situations they’ve never before encountered.
To me, this sounds exactly like the career I first signed up to when I chose to become an engineer.
All current HR-trend predictions suggest the skills we need right now are adaptability, and the ability to learn continuously. 20 years as an engineer has already taught me this! The same predictions show that gen Z – the fastest growing generation in the workplace – can expect to hold 17 different jobs across 5 careers over the course of their working lives. Surely what we need to be talking about in place of a transition is skills fluidity – and that sounds exactly like a world an engineer belongs in.