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The evolving oil and gas workforce

Published: 24 March 2020

  • Short term uncertainty may have an impact on the oil and gas workforce, but the industry should also consider the longer-term effects of digitalization and the energy transition on talent

  • These trends are shifting demand for skills and influencing perceptions 

  • Progressive stances and steps on decarbonization, digitalization, and openness for discussion are key to employee engagement

  • This is especially the case for newer entrants and those with up to 10 years in the industry

The oil and gas industry is facing significant short-term uncertainty, but it also faces longer term challenges as it enters a transformative decade driven by digitalization and decarbonization. Understanding evolving perceptions within the industry’s workforce will be key to navigating these.

Significantly, the outlook of newer entrants differs in many areas from people who have been in the industry for decades, according to New Directions, Complex Choices, DNV GL’s research on the outlook for the oil and gas industry, assessing sentiment, confidence, and priorities for 2020 among more than 1,000 senior professionals.

In both the short and long term, it is essential that the industry understands these differences, especially regarding the specific skills that the industry will need in the coming years.

Widespread digitalization has shifted the focus on specialist talent towards digital skills. Among respondents to DNV GL’s research – undertaken in October/November 2019 – artificial intelligence (AI) and data specialists were expected to be the second most in demand types of workers in 2020 – and the number one for North America – from a list including all aspects of oil and gas operations. Software developers were also sought after, ranking fifth overall. Project managers, risk management professionals, and subsea engineers rounded out the top five skills expected to be in demand for 2020.

Changes that can draw a new generation

To gain insights into the evolving workforce, DNV GL’s research considered how the views of newer entrants differ from those in the later stages of their careers.

The first group (who we call ‘Shorter Tenure’) have 10 or fewer years’ experience in the industry, giving indications about the perspectives of future leaders. Those with more than 30 years’ experience (who we call ‘Longer Tenure’) represent the views of today’s leaders.

The research suggests that progressive stances and tangible steps forward on both digitalization and decarbonization can help to engage younger talent.

Tomorrow’s leaders want to decarbonize quicker

Shorter Tenure respondents (55%) are significantly more likely than Longer Tenure respondents (38%) to want their organizations to move faster to reduce their carbon footprint (Figure 1). In an era of global climate-change activism, they are becoming more concerned about their organizations’ environmental impact.

Commenting for the industry outlook, Hans Coenen, VP, corporate strategy and business development at Dutch gas network company, Gasunie, said that the company’s transformational projects, particularly those related to decarbonization, are increasingly attractive to young people.

“Younger people really do not want to work for an old-fashioned natural gas company anymore; they want to work on building the infrastructure for a sustainable future,” he said.

“We are transforming now into an energy infrastructure company. We need to gain the commercial skills to meet this challenge, to work in more joint ventures and with more partners. Then, there are operational skills, safety expertise, and new practical skills needed to take on these new projects.”

Openness about decarbonization could attract and keep talent

DNV GL’s internal metrics show that one key driver of engagement among its own employees is whether there is an environment for them to express their opinions freely. When it comes to openness about decarbonization, the industry outlook indicates that Shorter Tenure respondents are more likely (more than 1-in-4) to discuss decarbonization on a day-to-day basis in their team than Longer Tenure respondents (1-in-5). However, more Shorter Tenure respondents (43%) than Longer Tenure respondents (34%) think that their organization’s senior leaders do not talk about decarbonization.

This research could be showing early evidence that open dialogue between employers and employees on key issues, including decarbonization, can boost employee engagement within oil and gas companies, while helping to recruit and retain new talent.

Generational divide over digitalization

Many more Shorter Tenure respondents (74%) believe that their organizations need to embrace digitalization to increase profitability than Longer Tenure (62%) respondents (Figure 2).

Shorter Tenure respondents are also more likely to think digitalization is not happening fast enough across the industry (63% vs 49%), and that digitalization has already had a transformative impact on their organization (57% vs 39%).

These are significant differences, particularly when many people do not fit the stereotype for their age group;1 from younger workers lacking any digital aptitude, to a range of older digital champions. Such large divergences suggest fundamental differences in how Shorter and Longer Tenure employees perceive the value, potential, and urgency around digitalization.

Digital leadership could boost attractiveness

Strikingly, far more (74%) of those who rate their companies as leaders in digitalization see their organizations as attractive to young people, than respondents (43%) who identify their organizations as ‘digital followers’. This suggests that digital leadership, and its associated characteristics, could make organizations more attractive to the next generation of talent. For example, far more ‘digital leaders’ (75%) than ‘digital followers’ (50%) claim that their organizations listen to and act on employee input to make their companies a better place to work. 

The context is that digital transformation requires considerable engagement with employees to transform working practices2. This suggests that leading digital companies may have a more innovative culture in place, in which they are more open to new ideas, talking with different people, and involving other organizations. They have a broadly innovative approach, and digital is just one aspect of that.


  1. ‘The perception and reality of digital skills’, ECDL Foundation, 2018
  2. Petrobras puts people at the heart of its digital transformation’, DNV PERSPECTIVES,
  New Directions, Complex Choices: The outlook for the oil and gas industry in 2020

New Directions, Complex Choices: The outlook for the oil and gas industry in 2020

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DNV prides itself on providing accurate information but makes no claims or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of contents in this publication, and disclaims liability for any errors or omissions. The authors’ views here do not necessarily reflect DNV’s views.