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Editorial comment

After a tortuous 2020, I’d like to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year, and welcome you to Hydrocarbon Engineering’s first issue of 2021. I think we can all agree that fresh hope and optimism are required for the year ahead, and I’d like to pledge that I will endeavour to ensure that I don’t kick off every issue this year with a comment about the COVID-19 pandemic and/or political turmoil…

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However, it’s fair to say that 2021 has got off to a rocky start, and it’s probably necessary to address some of the giant elephants in the room. The recent violence in Washington DC (and attempts to oust President Trump before Joe Biden’s inauguration) and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have dominated the headlines in early January, wiping away much of the initial enthusiasm that many of us had for a brighter year ahead.

New, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 are now rampant throughout much of the world, and lockdown orders have been reintroduced in many countries, including here in the UK. Although the approval of vaccines offers a glimpse of a brighter future on the horizon, it’s clear that many tough weeks and months lie ahead. At the time of writing, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty recently warned that the UK will go through the most dangerous time of the pandemic in the next few weeks before the rollout of vaccines in the country has had an effect. Experts are also keen to stress that the virus will not suddenly disappear when the northern hemisphere transitions into spring. Professor Whitty has even suggested that it may be necessary to reintroduce some restrictions later in 2021, particularly in the winter months, if the virus should take hold once more.

It seems that this is the ‘new normal’ that we will all have to learn to adapt to, even when vaccinations begin to win their battle against the virus. The latest ‘Global Energy Talent Index’ (GETI) report from Airswift and Energy Jobline suggests that the petrochemicals workforce is already braced for the new normal. According to the report, 86% of those working in petrochemicals believe that working in the sector will be permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers anticipate that social distancing (61%), workspace flexibility (54%), and reduced headcounts (52%) will be the most likely features of the new normal. Interestingly, while respondents suggested that they would most like to see companies adopt increased training or mentorship as a resilience-building tactic, just 21% expect to see a long-term shift towards such measures.

Janette Marx, Chief Executive Officer at Airswift, believes that it is essential that businesses in the petrochemicals sector provide as many opportunities as possible for individual workers to develop and grow their careers as they transition to new ways of working. Marx said: “Training and mentorship are big parts of that, but so is digitalisation. It is no coincidence that the adoption of automation and digital technologies is professionals’ next most requested resilience-building measure.”

The Hydrocarbon Engineering team is also adapting to new ways of working, and we will continue to offer our readers a range of innovative opportunities to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the downstream sector. Stay tuned for exciting new announcements throughout 2021.

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