Skip to main content

COVID-19 causes rapid digitalisation of petrochemicals sector

Published by , Senior Editor
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The sixth annual ‘Global Energy Talent Index (GETI)’ has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated revolution in ways of working and associated digital transformation in the petrochemicals industry.

Advances in engineering techniques and technologies and changing ways of working were hailed as the greatest opportunities over the next three years as lockdown policies accelerated the introduction of new technologies from remote plant operation to engineering simulations. Digitally enabled skills and competences are also now cited by 33% as an opportunity for the sector over the next three years. The digitalisation of working is illustrated by the fact 29% of professionals now receive remote working/flexible hours in their employment package.

This high-speed transformation has also created a skills shortage, with petrochemical companies more likely to seek digital skills and competencies from outside the industry than in-house or from other energy sectors. The rapid digitalisation of legacy plants and platforms has also opened the sector up to new threats, with cybersecurity now the most in-demand digital skill alongside AI and robotics.

Digital transformation has even affected recruitment and HR with hiring managers more likely to deploy AI and automation than mentorship or recruitment to create the skills to cope with a changing energy landscape. COVID-19 is also cited as the biggest challenge for the sector over the next three years and changing ways of working is joint third biggest, as a legacy industry scrambles to adapt to fast-tracked digitalisation. A more digitally savvy workforce is also more at risk of moving with 73% considering leaving for another industry in the next three years, and technology is the top choice.

Pandemic-related demand for consumer packaging for home deliveries and PPE has also helped the industry rebound from lockdown and raised salary expectations. The proportion of professionals expecting a pay rise in the next 12 months has risen to 63% from 56% last year, while the proportion projecting a pay cut plummeted from 15% to 5%.

Janette Marx, Chief Executive Officer at Airswift, said: “Lockdowns fast-forwarded the digital development of petrochemicals, creating rising demand for talent from outside industries such as technology. The sector is competing for a young, tech-savvy generation that values innovation and sustainability and this will require employers to embrace new green tech innovations. Lockdowns also drove greater demand for e-commerce related consumer packaging and PPE, which buoyed the sector’s recovery and boosted salaries which could help attract a fresh wave of skills. The pandemic also ushered in the modernisation of working practices, making it more appealing to a generation of talent that values remote and flexible work schedules.”

Further key findings within petrochemicals include:

  • Salaries have rebounded from lockdown with 40% receiving a pay rise and the proportion receiving pay cuts falling from 24 %to 13% in a year
  • 62% of hiring managers cite engineering as the most in-demand technical skill for outside hires and the most transferrable skill on the CV for 57% of professionals
  • Europe was the top destination for overseas transfers for 24% of workers, followed by the Middle East and the US

Leon de Bruyn, CEO at Lummus Technologies, said: “Work-from-home policies accelerated the introduction of new engineering technologies from remote plant operation to design simulations, and this was a challenge for a sector that lags others on digital technology.

“Digitalisation provides our industry with the opportunity to make up for talent shortages that date back to the 1990s. By leveraging digitalisation, our industry can attract a new, tech-savvy generation often from outside sectors such as IT. And to attract the next generation of industry leaders, we should promote exciting innovations like biochemistry, sustainable aviation fuels and AI-optimised plant operations.”

Airswift and Energy Jobline interviewed sector experts and surveyed 10 000 energy professionals and hiring managers in 161 countries across five industry sub-sectors: oil and gas, renewables, power, nuclear and petrochemicals. The report is available to download at

Read the article online at:

You might also like

Hydrocarbon Engineering Spotlight with Sulzer

Virginie Bellière-Baca, Global Head of Technology and Innovation at Sulzer Chemtech, joins us to discuss the importance of customer partnerships, innovation, and the endless evolution of technology.


Embed article link: (copy the HTML code below):


This article has been tagged under the following:

Downstream petrochemical news