How an evolving industry is driving change in the workforce

By Andy McDaid, Alexander Mann Solutions

The energy and resources landscape has changed dramatically in Australia over the past few years, with an influx of new technologies and business practices.

With the Internet of Things interconnecting devices and machines throughout the entire industry, massive amounts of data are now being fed back to companies, providing deep insights about operations right throughout the corporate spectrum.

The transition to a lower emissions mix of energy continues to garner much attention, with a reduction in the use of coal, and a rise on the use of renewables.

With these changes and the influx of new technologies comes a certain amount of change in the workplace as well, and it will lead to much debate and action around the changing dynamic of our workforces in Australia.

This article will explore some of the ways that the energy and resources sector will face changes to their workforce, and how companies can adapt for an easy transition through these turbulent times.

As the changing market dynamic forces enterprise to adjust to new operating conditions, companies are finding a need to adapt their internal strategies to keep pace with this change.

In many cases this means a tightening of fiscal policy, which has a direct effect on staffing and human resources.

While HR, along with procurement and finance departments, may seem like “quick wins” for companies intent on tightening their proverbial belts, there are other means by which operations can be run more efficiently, without costing a company their most precious asset – an experienced and dedicated team.

Adversity has the power to drive positive change in an organisation, and one area of potential is the influx of new technology.

With machine-to-machine learning, automation, big data analytics and predictive maintenance, the resources sector is faced with a huge array of new forces.

This of course will have a flow-on effect to jobs and education, with enterprise looking for people with new data, analytical and technical skills.

This changing dynamic in the workplace opens up opportunities for younger Australians to fulfil a wide range of technical roles, which in turn further changes the human resources landscape.

With more millennials in the energy sector workforce, there will be a shift towards more flexible working conditions, and possibly more transient workers.

Companies will see the need to adjust their policies to accommodate a generation that has grown up with the concept of the gig economy, whereby workers are happy to accept temporary work, or more commonly to work as an independent contractor.

In order to maintain the integrity of a company, it will become more important to focus on achieving a balance between permanent employees and contingent workers, given that there will be an ongoing need for agility in the workforce.

Initially, as resources companies slowed down, there was a drop in the number of contingent workers in our industry.

However, as skills and technical expertise become more sought after, we are seeing an influx of these “agile workers” who choose when they will work and tend to have more flexible working conditions afforded to them.

Young, skilled itinerant workers also tend to have less concern about perceived risk than previous generations had, which will be an area of ongoing concern for the energy sector in Australia, which is a manifestly high-risk industry.

Therefore, safety and policies will have to transcend the shifting attitudes of the gig economy in order to maintain the ultra-high standards Australian companies impose on their staff.

Talent acquisition functions within the sector are being asked to respond to both the different programs of work that companies are introducing as they adapt to the future economic opportunities, and the shifting dynamic of the way people want to work.

This is certainly creating new opportunity for TA teams to leverage the global talent market, investing in greater insight and analytics including industry benchmarks and looking at how and where traditional head office talent activities take place.

Recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) can have a role to play to accelerate how quickly companies can take advantage of these opportunities, as they bring established people and technology infrastructure, scalability to adapt to a project lifecycle, the ability to reduce the fixed costs of central TA functions and the capability to source talent globally using advance sourcing, technology and brand knowhow.

As well as hiring new professionals with technical skills, the energy sector in Australia is, and will continue to, reskill and upskill existing employees. Nurturing existing talent has always been on the agenda for Australian companies, but is now a strong area of focus.

It is generally desirable not to lose a dedicated professional who has been with the company for years and has “bought in” to the corporate culture, so upskilling is a useful and necessary expense.

Investing in an employee’s education also engenders goodwill towards the company, and often results in a reliable, devoted staff member who has learned about the industry and their role in the company from the ground up, before being armed with the tools to project their career into a new phase of development.

As technical advances continue to gain pace in the industry, companies are becoming more active on social channels as well.

Shell, for example, has a very high employee value proposition (EVP) presence on social media, with some very impressive profiling of employees – women in senior roles, flexible working conditions and so forth.

Woodside is also very strong in this space, as is Origin Energy.

Many of our large resources companies invest heavily in branding and advertising towards female and indigenous workers, often despite low recruiting numbers.

The use of social media technology to promote a company’s ethos is still not universal however, with some still nervous about the risks of having a high social media presence.

It does seem inevitable more and more will start to develop a social presence though, in order to harness the marketing power of social, and project the company’s corporate culture both inwardly to their staff, as well as outward to potential partners and customers.

While the industry is definitely undergoing a period of evolution, hiring practices have not changed right across the board.

Companies are still hiring workers with hands-on skills, and experience, qualifications and safety are still a major focus.

Many are still hiring staff to fulfil traditional roles in the energy sector, and this will certainly continue for the foreseeable future.

Any shift towards a more automated working environment will happen slowly, and the changes will certainly allow scope for the reskilling and upskilling mentioned earlier.

So, as the industry evolves in Australia, employers will continue to adapt their hiring and workplace strategies to include more technical skills, find ways to adopt an integrated solution and policies for a mix of contract and permanent employees, and look at educating existing employees to fulfil new, more technical roles.

However, changes are taking place at a pace that will allow long-term employees at many companies to find a new niche, and adapt their experience to suit an evolving role, rather than being replaced by contract workers and new, technical-skilled staff.

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