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Automation making inroads into upstream oil and gas due to pandemic and price pressures

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Nearly one-third of oil and gas roles could be fully automated in the next 20 years

Over the next 20 years, technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning could gradually reduce oil and gas workforce jobs by up to 30 percent and automate 50 percent of job competencies in the upstream sector. The EY Preparing for the future now: Rethinking the oil and gas workforce in 2040 report, written in partnership with the Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) Division of Energy Safety Canada, examines the future job landscape.

"Recent black swan events are pushing oil and gas companies to drive down operating costs and transform how work gets done to improve margins — and the unfortunate reality is that these cuts have resulted in job layoffs," says Lance Mortlock, EY Canada Oil & Gas Leader. "As the prospect of a jobless recovery becomes more of a possibility, companies will be looking to fill roles and add capabilities through technology and automation to increase optimization and reduce costs even further. While many companies had already began this digital transformation, the pandemic created a sense of urgency to accelerate technology adoption."

The report outlines the varied impact of automation on organizations. Technical competencies — such as managing finances, operations monitoring or quality control analysis — are more likely to undergo automation, whereas leadership competencies — such as troubleshooting, persuasion or conflict management — continue to require human interaction. Each job encompasses a broad grouping of job competencies, which determine their range of automation potential. 

Human resource and IT departments will play a key role in driving successful adoption and sustainment of new technologies and the optimal workforce mix. Workers will need to develop skills in emotional intelligence, critical thinking, data analysis and managing the interface between human and machine to be competitive in the upstream oil and gas job market. 

"Understanding the impact on different competency types can help individuals, organizations and educators retool skillsets as the shift gradually takes place," says Mortlock. "These impacts may seem overwhelming, but they're not unattainable. Knowing the potential impact on individual competencies, jobs and job families provides valuable insight into strategically planning the workforce of the future."

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