Global Energy Talent Index: Middle East becomes top destination

Things are rosy for the petrochemicals sector. Business is booming. Recruitment efforts have paid off. Excitement is high. So, what have companies done right and how can they keep the momentum going?

Petrochemical companies have been very successful in building a steady pipeline of new talent.
Petrochemical companies have been very successful in building a steady pipeline of new talent.

The third annual Global Energy Talent Index (GETI), the world’s largest energy recruitment and employment trends report, was recently released. The report was developed by Airswift, the global workforce solutions provider for the energy, process and infrastructure sectors, and Energy Jobline, the world’s leading jobsite for the energy and engineering industries.

Janette Marx, CEO at Airswift, says: “In recent years, GETI has proven hugely successful at providing hiring managers with the insights they need to manage the expectations of the energy workforce. This year is no different, as we respond to what they told us was their biggest concern: the energy skills gap.”

Airswift and Energy Jobline surveyed more than 17,000 energy professionals and hiring managers in 162 countries across five industry sub-sectors: oil and gas, renewables, power, nuclear and petrochemicals.

Global mobility – searching for opportunity

In the previous edition of GETI, remuneration was among the leading motivators for relocation. This time, compensation did not make the top three.

“Employees are happy with their pay, but that does not mean they would not consider a move,” said Hannah Peet, managing director at Energy Jobline. “This is especially true for younger professionals, who may look elsewhere for career advancement, especially if they feel unable to move into new roles.”

“Our data confirms this sentiment, with career progression replacing compensation as the top motivation for a potential move. Respondents were more than twice as likely to cite advancement over any other reason.”

“In terms of popular regions for relocation, the Middle East shot to the top of the list. As we have chronicled in other chapters, the pace of new projects in the Middle East has exploded. Many of these projects offer the chance to work with innovative technologies, affording professionals with experience they may find difficult to acquire elsewhere.”

Thirty-one percent of respondents stated their preference for a move to the Middle East. In contrast, only 13% favoured the two regions that topped the list in last year’s report, North America and Asia.

As Marx noted: “People do not move as frequently in petrochemicals. So, when companies in the Middle East are eager to attract expat talent, ambitious professionals are going to take notice.”

A looming crisis?

Even as the petrochemicals sector thrives, it is still vulnerable to the threat of a talent shortfall. In recent years, the sector has benefitted from an influx of oil and gas professionals fleeing the downturn. It is likely that this will slow as the oil price recovers. On top of this, petrochemical companies have struggled historically to satisfy their blue-collar skills needs.

Many companies may be feeling the pinch. Fifty-two percent of professionals said that their company has been impacted by a skills shortage, one of the highest rates across all sectors. And nearly half said that they were worried about an impending talent crunch.

Similarly, close to one-third of the workforce feels that a skills shortage has already hit the sector. Professionals in North America and Africa were most likely to say that their regions are being impacted at the moment, while those in Asia feel that the issue is less acute.

In spite of the figures, the sector’s younger professionals are not so worried. Just 37% of individuals aged 24 and under said they were concerned about a skills shortage, a rate that was nearly half that of their peers in oil and gas.

Why are younger professionals feeling so relaxed? Petrochemical companies have been very successful in building a steady pipeline of new talent. Indeed, the workforce is quite fresh – a quarter have just under five years’ experience and 59% less than 15 years’ experience.

The petrochemical sector has embraced the importance of young talent,” says Peet. “Companies have created a vibrant culture that graduates are getting excited about.”

Skills – digitalisation to the rescue?

In addition to the need for more blue-collar professionals, engineers will be in demand. Fifty-five percent of respondents said that engineering – namely process engineering – would be impacted the most if the talent crunch worsens. Younger professionals seem to be at odds with their older peers with regard to the skills that will be affected. Workers in their prime and nearing retirement said that leadership skills will be impacted, whereas those under the age of 25 were almost twice as likely to emphasise interpersonal and analytical skills.

The importance of analytical skills continues a theme seen in last year’s GETI, where younger professionals were highly optimistic about the power of technology to enhance their decision-making capabilities.

“Digitalisation and robust company culture are hallmarks of this new generation,” says Marx. “The desire for strong analytical and interpersonal skills reflects these qualities. We will be curious to see how this reshapes the make-up of the typical engineer in the years ahead.”

Digitalisation and automation will be essential in counteracting the potential impacts of a skills shortage. Respondents said that a failure to close the talent gap would hurt efficiency and raise costs. Last year, many of these same professionals acknowledged that operational efficiency and reduced costs would be the top benefits of digitalisation.

When asked about catalysts for a potential skills shortage, younger respondents were more likely to point towards reductions in graduate schemes and apprenticeships, acknowledging the critical roles that these programmes have played. In contrast, other professionals were more concerned with the impact of retirements.

The way forward

Having developed a working culture that thrives on innovation, youthful vigour and community, petrochemical companies must ensure that this momentum continues. Pouring more resources into professional development is crucial, as is bolstering efforts to bring more women into the sector. The opportunity is there for petrochemicals to set the standard for how the energy industry cultivates talent.

The strong sense of community has elevated the quality and satisfaction of the petrochemicals workforce,” says Peet. “As young people enter the sector, grow in their careers and communicate these benefits to the next wave of graduates, the calibre of new candidates gets even better. If this momentum continues, petrochemicals will be an exciting sector for years to come.”

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