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The Future of Work and the Energy Industry Workforce

Over the past few months, the world as we knew it has radically changed. In fact, we are continuing to undergo major shifts in how we live, work and even how we see and experience our relationships with others. First a global health pandemic, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, and then a massive awakening to the ongoing and widespread consequences of racism, have transformed the underlying structures of our society, here and around the world.

These transformations will – and should – reshape the future of work as well as the energy industry workforce.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

It would be inappropriate to address the future of work and the energy workforce without acknowledging the conversations taking place across the country about systemic racism. These conversations will spark essential action that will shape the workforce of the future. They must. Period. Continued conversations, without deliberative and different action, will not be acceptable.

While most businesses in the energy sector have Diversity and Inclusion programs in place and there are countless examples of companies that have taken impressive steps forward to diversify their workforces, our industry, like many others, is ready and overdue for more meaningful and substantial change.

In fact, Civil Rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and National Urban League President Marc Morial, are calling on the industry leaders to hire more women and people of color.

As we hold these conversations and consider meaningful action, it’s important to make sure we first listen to, and learn from, those who have for too long been left out of the conversation. Collaborate with minority-facing organizations. Review hiring and advancement practices and invite participation from relevant Employee Resource Groups. Talk with and listen to employees. Make change a priority.

CEWD will support members by hosting national Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forums to build a roadmap for change. And we will be here to help with implementation of the identified action steps.

Changing the way we work

Perhaps the most widespread impact of the pandemic has been to reshape the way we think about “going to work.” While just one-fourth of U.S. employers offered a work-from-home option prior to the pandemic, four plus months of all but essential workers living in lockdown has led to a near-universal acceptance of remote work on a flexible, semi-permanent, or permanent basis.

According to Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 63% of Americans believe the way in which Americans work will never be the same again. Over the past four months, tens of millions of Americans demonstrated work could continue from home, with 41% saying they felt they were more productive while doing so. Employers should take note: They will need to continue this option if they wish to attract and retain top talent. According to the Prudential report, one in five people indicate they intend to look for jobs that offers telework in the future. In fact, business giants such as Facebook, Google, and Zillow have already established a precedent by noting most from their teams won’t need to return to an office until 2021.

Not just where we work, but the schedules we work shifted during the pandemic and will likely need to remain more flexible as we move forward. Faced with having to homeschool children while working from home and managing other stresses related to the pandemic, employees demonstrated they could maintain high performance while working flexible hours.

With travel screeching almost to a full stop during the pandemic, we also learned many business trips were simply unnecessary. Zoom and MS Teams meetings quickly replaced in-person meetings and conferences, saving companies enormous sums and demonstrating business can be done and sales made through virtual contact. Online meet ups have also shown that many of the trips that once seemed so essential, probably weren’t.

Innovation will flourish

Over the course of the past few months, we also learned just how quickly we can adapt when necessary. Actions that businesses once believed would take years to accomplish were put in place with lightning speed, as schools shifted all students to remote learning seemingly overnight and companies created structures for telework just as quickly. Faced with a survive-or-die option, restaurants and retailers likewise overhauled the way they delivered goods and services to hold onto – and in some cases even expand – their customer bases by providing greater access to delivery and curbside pickups.

In a post-COVID work world, we’ll look for innovative ways to continue to reduce bureaucracy and complacency and to increase efficiency. Those with the entrepreneurial skills to do this will reign supreme.

Changing the way we train and upskill – an urgent need

With rapid change comes an urgent need to ensure safety and proficiency. But how we do so may also need to change, with a greater reliance on modern technology and frequent upskilling and retraining, as technology, too, changes rapidly.

According to CEWD’s 2019 Gaps in the Energy Workforce report, the energy industry workforce has grown consistently younger over the past decade, as older workers have retired and Millennials and Gen X have stepped into their shoes, particularly in key jobs. The same report shows the industry will likely need to fill 215,000 jobs over the next three years. We’ll be doing so with people who have grown up dependent on technology, and the digital-native generation will expect our training to be supported by real-time information delivery.

We will undoubtedly need to find new ways to train workers in this new world, with a greater reliance on technology such as AI and VR. We’ll also need to meet students where and how they learn. And our ability to do so will impact how well we attract and retain our workforce.

Redefining and recreating workplace culture

Companies that are able to demonstrate a true commitment to their employees throughout these changing times will prosper. Living and working through a pandemic has created strong bonds. But it has not been without challenges. We must recognize the critical role Human Resources has played and will continue to play in meeting these challenges. As we move forward, we’ll need to pay close attention to how we address mental health and other issues affecting workers, and do our best to meet their changing needs. If remote work does indeed become the mainstay it is expected to be, we will need to redefine workplace cultures to ensure employees remain connected in new and meaningful ways.

Securing tomorrow’s talent

There is a deep bench of talented people out there looking for new opportunities. Who will benefit from what they can offer?

How the energy industry portrays itself – and how it differentiates itself from other industries and employers – will play a critical role in how successful we are in attracting and retaining that talent. Now is the time to consider how we can tap into this diverse talent pool to strengthen our workforce and ensure that it better reflects and serves our communities.

Change is inevitable. Whether we merely react to it, or lead the way forward, is up to us.