How do refiners address today’s skills gap?

January 9, 2018 Tim Shire, New Solution Strategy and Launch

With the continued development of cloud technologies in the refining industry, the skills required to ensure sustained high performance are changing. Current demographic trends are causing attrition of highly skilled, experienced engineers and operators in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. For example, new facilities in the Middle East and Asia are often staffed by relatively junior engineers, and technical graduates are gravitating from “dirty” heavy industries to the sexier and more lucrative high tech.

To capitalize on these innovative technologies, you must collaborate. There’s a new wave of cloud-based collaborative solutions that deliver the next step change in division of labor and engineering productivity. The cloud makes a common set of reliable data, with accurate and always calibrated models and analytics to experts beyond the plant. Smaller operators don’t have to have the resources they thought they needed on-premise. They can simply harness and target specialized skills and knowledge where it can add value from outside the organization.

In addition, cloud-based data sharing is a key enabler to the next generation of collaboration and analytics. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is not available on-premise yet, but a world of collaboration awaits those who can share their data securely. It’s important to have a specialist on board who is adept at embracing the full value of cloud technology. We find that once refiners start using the cloud, a cascade of potential opens and the value grows exponentially.

From our own research, when it comes to hiring, traditional engineering still ranks as the refiners’ top imperative skills development. New skills like IT and data science are coming to the fore but refineries are typically not the first choice of career for the top talent. However, the way skills can be accessed is also changing. Instead of hiring people, with the attendant risks and challenges of trying to access someone whose skills are unfamiliar, the focus is instead on the outcomes of the skillset.

We’re all hearing scaremongering stories about how robots will take over the world. For the refining industry, humans will still be imperative in the analysis process to make results much more robust and ensure implementation is thorough and effective. Machines will simply assist in the process.

Read the full version of Tim's digital technologies article featured in Hydrocarbon Engineering magazine

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