Organisations are reliant on their ability to embrace expertise and achieve competitive differentiation. However, the process industries are sitting on a ‘demographic time bomb’. Veterans with comprehensive knowledge and vital skills either in engineering, project planning, scheduling or operations management are soon to disappear from the workplace through retirement. So, what steps can companies take to mitigate skills shortages and help sustain their long-term future?
It is time for businesses to go back to basics and adopt the skills lifecycle methodology. This is an integrated system of T.A.L.E.N.T. (Training, Academia, Legacy, Evaluation, Networking, Tools), whereby companies can implement best practice to mitigate the loss of important skills and ensure the talent pipeline remains robust for the long-term. While some organisations are good at certain aspects of human resourcing, there is still disconnection between all the vital areas of the business. This is not a linear process – it is an on-going dynamic practice that helps improve operational efficiencies and maximise profitability.
Best practice for talent development, retention and utilisation:
- Implement continuous Training
- Build relations with Academia
- Safeguard the skills Legacy
- Enforce the disciplines of Evaluation
- Encourage the art of Networking
- Provide cutting-edge Tools
The T.A.L.E.N.T. methodology revolves around core integrated disciplines, which companies can simultaneously manage and easily apply to their business, either regionally or internationally.
In order to address the skills shortage, several companies are taking greater measures to conduct their own in-house training and graduate programmes. For example, MOL PIMS Academy makes it possible for young graduates to quickly acquire the key technical competences and practical experience necessary to become effective supply chain professionals in the petroleum industry. Other examples include, Exxon Mobil who set up the Sakhalin Technical Training Centre, running internationally accredited training programmes to allow it to raise the share of Russian nationals working on the Sakhalin-1 project to 90% by 2012.
The cost of training new or existing engineering talent is often a point of contention. On the one hand, this requires time and investment, which comes with high employer expectations for immediate business returns. On the other hand, the loss of expertise due to the inability to develop skills has far wider implications. Companies need to keep pace with new techniques, product upgrades to systems and demonstrate market understanding in order to meet customer expectations. Training is a crucial part of nurturing and retaining talent. This needs to be an on-going process – if you don’t train, there’s no gain.
Developing close links between industry and academia is a vital pipeline to ‘turning on the talent tap’. Many companies have successfully sponsored graduate programmes or initiatives to encourage engineering talent. For example, TOTAL created its own university in 2005 followed by an education department in 2010. In the United Arab Emirates, where it is a requirement to employ 75% local nationals by 2014, the company created the Total Academy and the first group of students graduated in 2012.
AspenTech, a leading provider of optimisation software, recently established the AspenTech Academy, a corporate advisory group of world-renowned university professors. Its charter is to advise and guide AspenTech on the development of future aspenONE software products and is a catalyst for interaction between the world's leading process industry software company and top researchers and educators in the chemical engineering academic community.
Helping university professors educate students to better understand engineering technology and gain insights to overall operational challenges and market trends will make the transition from academia to industry much easier for graduates. If companies take the lead to work with academia more closely then the next generation of engineers will be prepared for key roles and have a head-start when entering the workplace.
A crucial strategy for process industry companies is to establish effective ways of capturing and retaining knowledge with the ability to pass it on to the next generation. The market has for some time recognised the growing issues of a skills gap where veteran engineers have retired or on the verge of leaving the profession.
According to international trade body the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the average age of a petroleum worker is 51. Nearly 60% are 45 or older. This represents a peak in the profile of existing workers and indicates that approximately 40% of the workforce will be lost over the next decade. In the E&C market, larger companies are growing either organically or via acquisition. The combination of experienced engineers retiring and younger talent being poached means the stronger are becoming stronger – the weaker are becoming weaker.
Employers continually drive organisational performance to deliver high return on investment, but it is remarkable how little is done to legislate for the loss of expertise due these retiring personnel. Handing down skills efficiently allows younger engineers to learn quickly and avoids ‘the wisdom walking out of the door’. It’s time to legislate for a better system of talent legacy. Therefore, make plans to retain the knowledge, secure the expertise and maximise business growth potential.
Written by Paul Taylor, AspenTech. Edited by Katie Woodward
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