The Pengerang Petroleum Complex in Malaysia. The skills gap is becoming a major concern in the oil and gas industry. Image Credit: Reuters

As the energy industry goes through a massive demographic and experience level change in staffing over the next few years, what will change is the nature of how experience and expertise is taught and how technical information can be taught and learnt.

A significant number of workers in the process industries are retiring, taking with them years of knowledge and leaving less experienced operators and engineers to ensure that increasingly sophisticated and complex plants run reliably, safely and profitably. Energy organisations are also facing direct competition from other industries to lure data science savvy digital talent into their own sectors.

This perfect storm means that the skills gap is fast becoming a major concern in the oil and gas industry, and specifically so with more than 40,000 recruits needed across the sector in the UK alone over the next 20 years.

In today’s challenging environment, companies thus need every edge they can get. Using data science is key, while automating work can help reduce the risk of human error and gives time back to engineers to focus on more difficult and strategic analysis within their work. For example, the consultancy McKinsey predicts a current shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists and 1.5 million managers.

Using predictive analytics to drive automation also helps companies react to unforeseen events quickly and improve safety and productivity. As a result, energy firms are increasingly using automation to try and capture the existing knowledge within the industry before it leaves the sector.

That’s why technologies like low-touch machine learning have such enormous implications for future workforce development — it shores up the shrinking talent pool and solves the data scientist problem.

Leading energy firms are hiring chief digital officers to tackle this opportunity. It is becoming clear that the solution requires a confluence between domain expertise (in running these complex systems) and new analytics and AI. This successful combination will do no less than re-invest the industry, making it more sustainable, agile and able to support economic, energy and geopolitical shifts.

— Ron Beck is Marketing Director — Energy Industry, AspenTech