Upskilling And Reskilling The Way Forward In Oil & Gas Sector

Diversity and inclusion are core to an energy major like Shell and are the founding premises of the company’s global theme ‘Balance means Business’. There is a concerted effort on hiring women across the whole range of skills, be it commercial, technical or corporate functions


In interaction with BW People, Tarun Varma, VP HR, Shell India talks about the employment outlook in the oil and gas sector, women employment in the sector and adapting to the needs of the sector for jobs.

How do you see the outlook of the oil and gas sector in India? What can be expected from an employment perspective: downsizing or hiring?

Demand for primary energy in India is expected to increase threefold by 2035. In parallel, the energy mix itself is going through a transition to more and cleaner sources facilitated by changes in the regulatory, environmental and societal frameworks.

From an employment perspective, companies in the energy sector cannot afford to simply hire their way out. Rather, the key focus areas are converging on up-skilling and re-skilling of the workforce given the nature of disruptions that are foreseen. While digitalisation is opening up a whole new spectrum of opportunities across the value chain, augmentation is helping to push decision making to frontline energy sector roles. This needs to be complemented by a transformation in the quality of future leaders in this sector, with a premium on thinking through end-to-end energy solutions, demonstrating sustainability, customer centricity, and multi-sector collaboration to address the challenges of climate change.

What is the diversity ratio in the company and the sector as a whole? How to make gender equality a reality?

With more than 8700 employees, India is poised to be the “Talent Heartland” for Royal Dutch Shell. The organisation is characterized by a diverse, multicultural, multigenerational workforce comprising of 20 nationalities, representing over 30 skill pools and women forming about 29 percent of the workforce.

Diversity and inclusion are core to an energy major like Shell and are the founding premises of the company’s global theme ‘Balance means Business’. There is a concerted effort on hiring women across the whole range of skills, be it commercial, technical or corporate functions. This focus is balanced across defined entry-level hiring as much as recruitment of experienced professionals to get access to as diverse a set of ideas as possible to navigate the energy transition.

Complementing the hiring efforts are a range of programs aimed at reinforcing inclusive leadership styles, mentoring of women, structured career development, and gender sensitization that engages men in the conversation. A strong employee network with visible sponsorship from leaders enables women from across various businesses and functions to come together and have conversations around topics of interest that enable the attraction, progression, development, and retention of talented women professionals.

Ultimately, the intent is to shape a workplace that promotes a spirit of open innovation, observes equality for all genders, accepts differences, and enables employees to be the most authentic versions of themselves in a culture that’s grounded in Shell’s values and purpose. As a testimony to this commitment, Shell India has been awarded the AON Best Employer twice in a row (2018,2019), LinkedIn top 25 companies – where India wants to work, Avatar & Working Mother Best companies for women in India (2017,2018). Shell has also been recognized for our best innovative practices for women at the workplace by the UNGCNI.

Is it difficult to hire candidates meeting the skill demand in the oil and gas sector? What skills do you hire for?

The traditional skill sets needed for the energy sector include broad discipline engineering as well as deep specialist skills in areas like geology, petroleum engineering, and chemical engineering. Given the award-winning technical development programs that Shell offers, the focus has always been on “growing our own timber” and hiring graduates, masters, and PhDs in these domains.

The emerging challenges of the energy transition lay bare the need to think differently across the technical skill pools, and driving re-skilling given the disruption that digitalization poses. This also enables global businesses to leverage strong capabilities that exist across India within domains like Information Technology, Finance, Tax, and Human Resources as also emerging fields like Data Science. Shell has leveraged the same in building strong Global Competence Centers in India in the form of Shell Business Operations and attracted a strong pool of diverse talent from India working collaboratively across multiple projects in a global environment.

Equally, this sector needs to attract the best commercial skills given the need to think end-to-end energy solutions, being mindful of customer-centricity, and leveraging multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships to solve one of the biggest challenges our world faces i.e. climate change.

How do you think are job roles going to change in this particular sector? How can employees safeguard themselves from the change?

The energy sector will need to incrementally transform jobs across the Upstream, Downstream and Integrated Gas business, given the way customer needs are changing as much as the way work is organized to meet those needs.

Shell has pioneered several offerings making use of technological advances requisite in the energy sector. Our latest Proactive Technical Monitoring (PTM) system is the early detection of threats or opportunities through structured monitoring of this data language. In addition to this, our lubricants business has also unveiled its latest B2B services portfolio which builds on data analysis and new technologies such as AI, machine learning and GPS tracking. With such developments, we ensure that our employees get abundant opportunities to enhance their skill set, receive the requisite training, and undertake complex technology forward projects. 

Hence, in terms of technical skills, an emerging development urging a transformation of roles is the rising importance of digitalisation and further technological integration, be it on immediate term production operations or more longer-term research and development of emerging technologies. Jobs in this sector are thus evolving to match these requirements. With traditional roles, new roles will skew more towards performance management using smart tools and digital specialisations. In totality, workers in this industry should equip themselves with digital knowledge more than anything else.

Where does the role of HR fall during the oil and gas industry’s digital transformation? How is Shell adapting to the changing requirements?

The first role of HR is to prepare existing employees and potential candidates to be open and accepting of the opportunities that digital disruptions can bring, in the context of energy transition and climate change. Business leaders in the energy sector play a crucial role in driving this change along with their HR partners. 

The second role is to help team leaders define how roles need to be shaped across various parts of the organization. In some roles like production operations, maintenance or technical data management, it will be critical to fully appreciate the power of augmentation as much as the value of automation. Equally, there may be a need to build deep computational expertise in high-end research and development roles or in emerging technologies domains such as energy storage, material sciences or carbon sequestration. For functions like Finance and IT, it will be even more critical to build business intimacy so as to enable value creation for global operations even as work gets accomplished in offshore centers. 

The third role HR will need to play is the clear articulation of how capabilities will need to be developed or evolved across commercial, technical and corporate functions. This would call for a very different methodology of learning that is a balance of hyper-personalization with recognition of shorter “half-life” of the skills being imparted.  

This being said, the most critical role that HR will play is to keep the cultural fabric of the organization intact, such that inclusion is valued, and diversity is celebrated.  

What are some major challenges for the HR function in the industry?

In the context of the energy transition, managing change and helping people cope with change are the two biggest challenge that the HR function is dealing within the energy sector. With the disruption in the workforce in this sector through digital transformation, HR will have to accelerate its daily activities and initiatives to adapt to this technological advancement so as to balance value creation, along with value protection. 

Building a strong reputation to be a talent magnet is the other major challenge in this sector since attracting and retaining talent can be a roadblock at a certain point in time. This means an immediate focus on making the sector look attractive to top talent, the jobs within it meaningful for people with learning agility, and the varied set of capabilities needed to meet the challenges of the energy transition and climate change more relatable to those who do not have this sector on their consideration set.

One of the trickiest tasks for an HR executive is to maintain gender balance and enable work-life balance across the workforce. With people working together from diverse nations and cultures, it becomes difficult for the HR department to maintain equilibrium in the workplace while providing satisfaction to all the employees. Lastly, capacity building at new sites too often proves to be a challenge for HR executives across the industry.


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