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Is AI the Answer for Skills Gaps on the OFS Frontline?

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worker working on pad with oil and gas refinery background,smart factory concept.

Today, companies are struggling with one of the most problematic aspects of the great resignation – skills attrition. While no industry is immune, Oil & Gas seems to be particularly impacted by this skills gap. According to an Ernst & Young study, nearly 90% of surveyed HR executives believed that attracting skilled workers was one of the top challenges for the Oil & Gas industry. And despite investments in automation, frontline workers are still at the heart of many Oil & Gas field operations.

The outlook isn’t particularly rosy in regard to addressing the skills gap. The Oil & Gas Industry is not viewed as one of the top sectors for employment opportunities with the current set of entrants to the workforce. ECITB, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, ran a study which placed the Oil & Gas industry at the bottom of a list of 7 industries where surveyed students would consider a career.

Applying Tech To Address The Skills Gap

With a compelling need in Oil and Gas, as well as many other industries, entrepreneurs are applying technology along with new business models to help companies address the skills gap. Sometimes lumped together under the category of “the future of work” or “workforce development,” these new approaches are delivering a variety of solutions. Some are applying technology to supplement skill levels through easier, more effective delivery of digital training content enhanced by augmented or virtual reality to upskill existing workers.

Other approaches seek to upskill existing workers by helping Oil & Gas companies link together training from a wide variety of sources in a training marketplace for their employees. These marketplaces can be configured to focus on specific areas. An example of this type of service is Guild Industries.

Another application of technology to the skills gap addresses the hiring challenge. Solutions taking this approach are using technology to better match workers with the right skills to the companies seeking those skills, often by specialized, managed marketplaces. These marketplaces concentrate both job seekers and opportunities with more detailed and specific resources for both parties to streamline hiring. They also provide a broader set of services around recruitment and certification, and are particularly well suited for flex work situations where skills demand may fluctuate.Workrise is one such solution in the Oil & Gas industry.

The promise of AI on the frontline

AI is often spoken about as a job replacement technology. A Goldman study estimated that AI could automate up to 25% of all work tasks and eliminate up to the equivalent 300 million jobs. Yet, despite the apprehension that many frontline workers may have regarding AI technology, AI may become one of the most promising technologies in the improvement of their work lives.

One way to address the frontline skills gap with AI is through AI digital assistance, which can offer several benefits for the workers and Oil & Gas companies alike. At the heart of the skills attrition problem  is that unwritten knowhow that experienced workers use on the job – tribal knowledge. AI digital assistants can be developed to capture and share that tribal knowledge by providing real-time support to frontline workers, access to relevant data, guided instruction, machine-learning models, and remote assistance. Additionally, AI digital assistants can help frontline workers with complex problem-solving, streamlining processes to improve productivity, reducing downtime, and improving safety.

In the same way that an office worker is provided with a technology platform to assist them with their work, frontline workers could be armed with a set of AI-powered workflows on mobile devices that address the core processes of their daily work. In addition, the AI digital assistants are able to collect data about frontline worker activity, and feed AI models to further enable machine learning and AI based assistance.

engineer wearing a yellow helmet using tablet and looking for security oil refinery plant. concept to safety of oil refinery plant.

AI the frontline way

It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of technology solutions, 95% of global IT investment, is placed with office workers. Simply assuming technology such as mobile devices and AI on their own will deliver the expected benefits is not taking into consideration the vast differences in how office workers and frontline workers interact with technology.

The Frontline AI assistant should be tailored to the specific needs of the frontline worker and the task at hand. A frontline-friendly user interface should be intuitive, straightforward, visual and specific. Workers should have control,  and the AI assistant should be in tune with the frontline worker’s experience levels, providing assistance relevant to their specific needs. These capabilities also allow the AI assistant to learn from the frontline worker’s actions, making it more effective over time.

Benefits along the journey to AI

While promising, the reality of AI for the frontline can often be over-hyped. Ai is dependent on fully functional models with rich data sets and an integrated feedback system that continuously rates and enriches the content and drives the learning process. The effort to build and train these models takes time, effort and investment. The good news is that the process of implementing a frontline AI solution is a journey during which Oil & Gas companies can see immediate benefits.

The first step in the journey is enabling the frontline with a digital platform. Putting this infrastructure in place can deliver significant benefits for upskilling the workforce independent of the AI models. A digital platform on mobile devices that is frontline worker optimized can facilitate on-the-spot access to reference materials, micro-training and troubleshooting tools. The digital platform provides an easy mechanism for collaboration with team members and remote experts through messaging, and it also can provide an infrastructure to capture in-the-field experience “tribal knowledge” that can be shared across the workforce.

In the process of assembling content and training the AI models, specific portions of SOPs and field-supplied recommendations can be tied to specific portions of inspections and work instruction, providing workers with immediate access to guidance when needed. This self-service assistance is a powerful and effective step along the path to an AI-guided frontline workforce.

Bridging the skills gap with technology

The skills gap is a critical issue that all Oil & Gas business leaders must face. Innovative new businesses are applying technologies to address the problems at multiple levels, from boosting the supply of skilled labor, to transforming recruitment and staffing models, to retraining existing staff. AI technologies also present an attractive solution to bridge the skills gap. By deploying digital platforms on the frontline and working toward the implementation of AI guidance, Oil & Gas companies not only upskill workers, they build the foundation for attracting, onboarding and empowering their workforce for the future.

Stephen Zocchi is CMO at ROO.AI. After building software to help salespeople quickly and easily price and configure complex equipment, he joined ROO.AI to create a new mobile platform to guide and assist frontline workers in Oil & Gas and MTO Manufacturing

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