New Energy Workforce in Net Zero World: Employees, Contractors and… Bots

By Rauf Fattakh

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Intelligent Automation reinvented collaboration between humans and machines. Bots help humans to be more productive, intelligent and protected. Energy output per employee is an indicator of productivity for energy firms. Are renewable jobs productive enough to make energy transition economical without bots today?

Striking the balance

50% of a worker’s time can be augmented with existing technologies and 20% of core processes can be automated.

And the role of CHRO increases to strike a delicate balance between re-skilling the existing workforce and attracting new talents. Moreover, COVID-19 demonstrated that a digital workforce is needed to ensure a safe environment while enhancing efficiency. A connected ecosystem supports field workers with real-time data to make better decisions better and perform their job safely.

Humans to think, robots to do

The key question to ask is ‘’what requires thinking’’. You should put humans where thinking is required and anything that requires mechanical or repetitive work should be done by a digital worker. But humans might get overwhelmed by thinking job too, so either they need to have enough dull time or given some mechanical tasks to reset their brain to tackle anxiety from mental work.

Key knowledge workers like engineers, whose job is handling data and thinking, are essential to retain and re-skill for the energy firms.

HR’s role in creating buy-in

Automation is not about choosing the right software or technology but getting everyone aligned in the organization, especially management.

Automation needs to start at the management board. It should be on their dashboard as they drive the energy firm especially through times like pandemic. Management needs to see value and impact on the bottom line. How do you capture value from automation?

The point of the energy industry is to produce energy, not jobs. It outputs, not inputs that matter. Output per worker is vital to keep the business afloat.

Reducing headcount is the key bottom-line effect of workforce digital transformation. But the first digital worker is always the most expensive one because it requires a lot of upfront cost and preparation.

Besides the economic impact of saving labor costs, one of the most important factors is the level of agility the digital workforce brings where you make decisions and get the whole organization changing fast. Digital workers work 24/7 and adapt to changes faster than humans.

Establishing new digital value-creating behaviors is the key challenge for CHRO manager. Identifying hotspots where RPA can be used is crucial while implementing a digital workforce in the entire organization.

Reality check: lots of green jobs but not much energy

We hear often politicians make populist declarations about new green jobs to justify the energy transition investments and appeal to climate concerned electorate. But the point of the energy industry is to produce energy, not jobs. It outputs, not inputs that matter. Output per worker is vital to keep the business afloat. Thus, energy firms ought to focus on productivity over quantity.

In the U.S., despite a huge workforce, the solar sector produced an insignificant less than 1% of the electric power. That’s a lot of solar workers, about the combined number of employees working at ExxonMobil, Chevron, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer, Ford Motor Company, and Procter & Gamble. In contrast, around the same number of natural gas, workers produced more than one-third of U.S. electric power, 37 times more than solar’s tiny share. And less than half the number of coal workers generated one-third of U.S. electricity.

Workforce digital transformation is the key to make energy transition economical. Intelligent automation and AI can help to increase megawatt per employee in renewables. Otherwise, it is better to give everyone their hampster wheel to produce their clean electricity.

Utilizing digital workers in value created functions

Many make the mistake that’s digital workforce is applicable only for back-office functions like accounting. But digital workforce can enhance value-created functions, like front office or field operations, where it has the biggest impact on the bottom line. Small changes there can add big value to profitability.

RPA can be implemented in the broader Oil & Gas and Energy functions like:

  • Upstream: Data Analytics, Reporting for Exploration & Production;

  • Midstream: Logistics, Trading, Safety Check-Lists, Supply Chain Management;

  • Downstream: Pricing, Reporting, Monitoring.

Oil & Gas companies have begun to automate and perform oilfield activities remotely, materially reducing the demand for wellsite-related skills found in completion, production, and maintenance engineers and technicians. Such ”human + machine” lens defined the strategy of managing the workforce in COVID-19 conditions.

Evolution of energy workforce

The future workforce of the major energy companies will consist of employees, contractors, and bots to turn energy transition into reality by keeping shareholders happy. In this context, the importance of workforce planning increases to assure adequate impact of automation on human resources tools and programs. In the future, CHRO will be measuring the adoption of the digital workforce by the number of bots used.

When digital transformation projects fail, it is usually due to focus on technology over the impact on employees. CHRO plays a critical role in digital transformation to put people first.

That’s why Prospero Events Group is bringing together HR leaders from leading energy companies for the ”6th HR: Digital Workforce in Energy Sector” virtual conference on 4-5 February 2021. The speaker panel consisting of senior representatives from Gasunie (Netherlands), Repsol (Spain), Baker Hughes (UK), Engie (France), Total (France), MOL Group (Hungary), Equinor (Norway), and Shell (Netherlands) will be prompting discussions about workforce fit for purpose during the energy transition. Connecting machine intelligence and human ingenuity. Using Analytics to solve key HR business challenges.

Join this exclusive meeting to get all your questions answered. All. Because more minutes of net interaction you get at a Prospero event than any other energy conference in Europe.

P.S. :

I can’t put a time frame on when digital workers will become mainstream in the energy industry, but what is certain is that the intelligent automation needed in Net Zero World. So those who begin the journey early will reap the biggest benefits of the Low-Carbon and post-pandemic era.