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Energy Sector See Gains In Pay, Job Satisfaction

The second annual Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) survey of energy sector workers has revealed increasing optimism and job satisfaction. Better pay and workplace automation have led to greater contentment. But as economies improve, the study also shows that up to 95 percent of renewables workers would move to advance their careers, challenging employers to invest in programs that engender loyalty.

The 2018 GETI report, issued by Airswift and the Energy Jobline, studied employment trends at renewable energy, fossil fuel and nuclear power companies across 163 countries, showing that the companies, whether carbon-heavy or neutral, have engaged and motivated workforces.

While many leading indicators studied in the GETI report are headed in positive directions, the authors noted that much of the optimism they saw"”particularly in oil and gas industries"”hinges on continued automation and digitalization that enables employees to enjoy more flexible and engaging work environments compared to conditions even as recent as those in 2015. The 2018 report tabulated survey responses from 21,000 professionals, skilled tradespeople and human resource managers working across the energy sector.

According to report authors, a clear majority (77 percent) of energy professionals believe automation and digitalization are positive developments within the overall sector, overriding any concerns about job security. While digitalization and automation can and have taken jobs in some industries, the opposite is largely true in the energy sector: greater use of advanced technology including remote sensing is leading to better work environments and greater flexibility. This process is creating opportunities to remotely fulfill job responsibilities and has contributed to better monitoring and maintenance that has in turn meant employees spend less time in the field, have less exposure to potentially hazardous conditions and can enjoy the flexibility that enables work from home and other non-traditional locations.

The sense of optimism that researchers found goes beyond operational benefits and include the "˜softer' benefits that can be crucial to attracting and retaining talent in a competitive energy landscape. In particular, roughly 40 percent of those citing increased happiness over the past three years attributed their improved circumstances to digitally-enabled modern workplace trends like flexible scheduling, improved safety and greater senses of personal empowerment. Clearly, the report shows that while having what employees consider a "˜good' salary is a key factor to attracting top talent, the reason workers stay on a job vary greatly. Worker satisfaction is also heavily influenced by elements that executive management may be challenged to appreciate to the same degree that has traditionally accompanied salary and other benefit considerations in bottom line driven industries.

The report also points to the fact that a sizeable number of professionals and tradespeople across oil and gas, energy distribution and petroleum-based industries are largely happy, seeing their work places as having long-term growth potential despite the rising tide of renewables across the electricity generation ecosystem.

In renewable energy, report authors see a key difference between their 2018 findings and the previous year: pay is rising overall for persons working within renewables, albeit slowly. Forty-five percent of professionals reported that their pay had risen in the last year, against another 45 percent who said that their compensation had remained the same. Despite which side a person found themselves, the sector remains optimistic overall. Two-thirds of workers anticipate an increase in compensation over the next year and 28 percent expect pay to rise by at least 5 percent, a figure that outpaces expectations in every other sector except power. Forty-three percent of renewables professionals would consider a switch to another sector, with oil and gas (11 percent) the most popular alternative.

Solar+Power Management Technical Editor Mark Andrews asked GETI report authors about progress amongst renewable energy professionals and tradespeople, and learned that while there is a significant degree of mobility between fossil fuel production and distribution professionals, a significant degree is between electrical power distribution and decentralized wind and solar power.

"Renewables, especially offshore wind, is an industry that continues to grow. And, due to the nature of the work being offshore, it is a natural place for oil and gas professionals to migrate their skills. At the same time, the oil and gas sector is cyclical and the world is becoming more "˜carbon conscious,' which means renewables is perceived as more stable with better career longevity," noted Airswift's Janette Marx, CEO.

While energy sector employees expect that oil and gas production is going to remain a key part of the global energy ecosystem for decades to come, some also look for opportunities to move towards less carbon intensive jobs compared to levels seen 10 years ago.

"Power is a crucial resource for every country. Traditional generation methods, such as fossil fuels, produce large amounts of carbon so the developed world has had to react. Countries have had to either modify existing assets to be more CO2 efficient, or look to new generation sources such as waste, biomass or renewables to meet demand."

"This demand is growing due to increasing populations, digitalization and the needs of modern society. This means there is high demand for low carbon electricity which remains relatively unaffected by economic downturn. The skills needed to realise this potential are very specific and the projects are technically demanding, so the remuneration and happiness of employees appears to reflect this," explained Marx.

Across industries, whether the worker is commissioning a new solar park or stationed on an oil drilling platform, a key to success is the ability to work with advanced technologies. While oil and gas industries have lost some jobs to automation, the addition of robotic or autonomous systems, remote sensing capabilities, Internet of Things (IoT) based analytical processes and advanced simulation tools have increased opportunities. Indeed, industries that have not historically been digitized are moving rapidly in that direction.

"For professionals, digitalisation means that automation and mobile accessibility could create more opportunity for remote and flexible working. For hiring managers and companies, automation and the cutting-edge technologies behind digitalisation "“ big data, AI, machine learning "“ can provide new levels of operational insight to promote performance and enhance efficiency," Marx stated.

Regarding the changing role of energy sector workers, Marx added that while expertise in their respective professions is paramount, there is a continuing need for advanced education, analytical skills and the need to embrace digitalization. Employers that pay attention to details like enabling flexible work schedules and creating advancement opportunities can gain an upper hand when it comes to recruiting top talent.

"Happiness is a major factor. The sector that can offer professionals the happiest working lives will win out. Oil and gas has long held an advantage when it comes to pay, and with the oil price back on the up, professionals expect that to continue. They must embrace digitalisation, setting themselves up nicely to retain talent and transfer knowledge and skills to the next generation," Marx stated.

This is important because despite the obvious differences between fossil fuels and renewable energy, many skills in one part of the energy sector are transferrable to another, especially those in power distribution and in various off-shore skillsets.

"Midstream oil and gas projects, and especially downstream refining projects and operations, have talent pools with transferrable skill sets. At Airswift, we've had success in supporting this transfer of talent in many areas. A few examples include design and engineering roles with niche software experience "“ such as piping design and stress engineering "“ which always require in-depth technology and software knowledge."

Renewable energy resources support long-term climate change mitigation goals by reducing greenhouse gases. While a great many workers in this sector take pride and personal satisfaction in helping meet global climate change targets, another key to understanding their satisfaction lies in ways that employers in wind, solar and hydroelectric industries have readily embraced technologies that continue to improve working conditions, safety and long-term worker satisfaction.

Although the oil and gas industry typically pays employees more than their renewable energy counterparts, ""¦the comparatively modest remuneration hasn't stopped workers in renewables from finding contentment. The sources of happiness come primarily from the sector's embrace of digitalization: better technology, flexible working and remote working all played a part in ensuring contentment. Many companies can boast of having the relaxed office culture often found in Silicon Valley," Marx explained, something that is not typically found at most oil and gas producers.

As global economies strengthen, cost-effective and clean energy production, distribution and availability will be key to continuing advances. Workers across the energy sector"”whether at a renewables company or a fossil fuel provider"”continue to show a willingness to relocate for better prospects. Employers should note that working conditions along with competitive pay and benefits are essential to their success. Working conditions and the ability to digitize and automate work functions are already leading to greater employee satisfaction and commitment. If the 2018 GETI report demonstrates anything, it is that employees will stay with companies that respect them and their work. By continuing to make investments that employees understand and appreciate, employers will have a substantially greater chance of retaining their top workers, giving such employers competitive advantages compared to organizations with poor employee satisfaction and high turnover.

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