Meet the workforce of the future

Meet the workforce of the future

When we talk about the digital transformation of the oil and gas industry, it’s often about big data, artificial intelligence, computing power, software, Blockchain, etc.

But, at the centre of our industry are people and the types of worker the oil and gas industry employs, as well as the equipment and systems they use, are changing.

We’re in a smaller industry than we were five years ago. According to a joint study by Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU) and oil and gas skills body Opito. Between 2014-2017, the UK industry alone lost more than 70,000 direct and indirect jobs, says the RGU/Opito study, called the UKCS Workforce Dynamics Review, which was carried out to draw up a road-map of the future skills the industry will need.

More than 80,000 workers are likely to retire or leave the sector for other reasons by 2035. But, in the same period, some 40,000 people are expected to enter the oil and gas industry and, of those, 10,000 are expected to be in new areas such as data analytics, data science, robotics, material science, change management and remote operations.

The industry is already starting to embrace robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and it has done so for some time already in areas such as seismic interpretation, and is now looking at real-time monitoring, offshore robotics, drones and predictive maintenance.

With the availability of simulation and visualisation tools, augmented reality and real-time information sharing, there’s a potential for significant change, including who does what and where. “Many of the tasks currently done on location will in the future be managed from onshore centres (where the key expertise will be), with the execution happening on site by ‘multi-skilled’ operatives, following clear procedures and instructions from the onshore centres,” says the UKCS Workforce Dynamics Review. “To some extent this is already happening through the application of remote control centres. However, it is expected that this agenda will accelerate significantly, which will present a new set of opportunities for companies operating in the oil and gas sector.”

So, what will the future digital worker look like? Blaine Tookey, who works in BP’s Digital Innovation Office, envisions a symbiotic future between robotics and humans (rather than a dichotomy, where the two are divided). Initially, we’ll have the digitally enabled worker, i.e. they’ll wear sensors. These sensors are likely to shrink in size over time and become “seamless” with the human. Exoskeletons, which augment human capability, could also come, as well as neural interfaces, “ingestibles,” and personal AI advisors, he told an Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) event earlier this year.

While many of these technologies are not what BP is working towards or proposes, Tookey thinks some are an inevitable result of medical technology advances. Indeed, humans are already wearing fitness bands and using mobile technology as a seamless aid and this is likely to come to the offshore worker.

Some of the benefits of these technologies are obvious, i.e. better health and safety control, knowing where staff are in an emergency, increased efficiency, contractor management, enabling workers with more information and guidance in the field, fatigue and stress management, better location of gas detection, etc. Tookey says that in an industry with just 16-20% “time on tools,” the digitally enabled worker is an opportunity to increase productivity.

There’s a looming challenge around how these devices are integrated, however. Could workers end up covered in a whole raft of different but unconnected devices? Tookey wants to the one integrated device: “One platform, one connection, one battery charging,” he says. “Think of synergies you would get: automatic situation awareness, location (where GPS as accurate), smart sensing (a multitude of miniaturised sensors), [information via] a heads-up display. You can use augmented reality and drive information to the workers’ display, such as procedures and instructions.”

The OGTC, a public-funded industry research and knowledge organisation, has been looking at some of these issues. Stephen Ashley. Digital Transformation Solution Centre Manager at the OGTC, says a major challenge will be getting a joined-up approach across the industry, enabling integration and standardisation.

Bringing along the workforce will also be critical, both in terms of upskilling those already in the industry, as well as bringing new people in.

 Author: Elaine Maslin

To read the workforce review, click here

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