How do you reshape when today’s future may not be tomorrow’s reality?

By Lance Mortlock

Managing Partner, Energy & Resources Canada

Forward-thinker. Strategist.

19 minute read 12 Nov. 2020

Show resources

  • How do you reshape when today’s future may not be tomorrow’s reality?

Oil and Gas Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey 2020

In brief
  • Data from oil and gas executives shows disparities remain between what companies want to do and what their current workforce can do.
  • Across many technologies seen as critical differentiators, companies don’t have needed skills or robust plans to develop them.
  • To plot the road ahead, reprioritize skills for now and the future, assess your workforce and update your training approaches.

Oil and gas companies are facing disruption and uncertainty like no other time in the industry’s history. Already, companies were navigating challenges related to pricing outlooks, evolving energy demand and decarbonization. The global COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this environment — prompting a historic drop in crude prices and cost-cutting measures in a way not anticipated even a year ago.

To meet these challenges, oil and gas companies are looking to digital technology to drive efficiency and productivity into operations, transforming how they operate and truly doing more with less. This comes with its own set of challenges: digital technologies are evolving rapidly and companies must determine which to embrace and adopt, where to integrate them into the value chain and how to fully leverage them to extract maximum value from the investment.

The June 2020 survey of oil and gas executives clearly demonstrates the industry understands the most promising path forward. Executives need the right digital technology — and a workforce with the skills and training to maximize those tools. For example, our survey found most industry insiders recognize the competitive advantage a digitally enabled enterprise can deliver: 80% are investing at least a moderate amount in digital technology today, relative to their budget. Further, not one participant responded that their company is planning no investments in digital. It is clear the current environment makes these investments more urgent rather than less.

But how well positioned are oil and gas companies to earn back the value of their investment in technology, especially in the current environment? And more pointedly, how well positioned are their workforces — based on the technical and adaptive skills needed for these technologies — to successfully enable this digital transformation?

Our survey revealed significant skill gaps even among current users of digital technologies. Workforce composition and training are widely acknowledged barriers to technology adoption, and the skillsets needed to onboard and extract value from digital technologies — data analytics, cybersecurity, data science, design thinking, artificial intelligence and others — far outpace the current level of maturity across the industry.

Not surprisingly, 92% of the executives we surveyed recognize the ability to reskill quickly is crucial. The challenge confronting the sector can be summarized in three figures: nearly 60% of the workforce needs to be reskilled or upskilled, 43% of the workforce will be reskilled or upskilled, and it will take 10 months to reskill the average worker.

To achieve this, companies must:

  • Overcome cultural and organizational barriers, including resistance to change; values and mindset; and governance and organizational design elements that hinder flexible, rapid decision-making.
  • Solve for reskilling fundamentals such as developing badge programs and building curricula that curate open-source learning material and align to intentionally applied, on-the-job learning experiences.
  • Proceed quickly despite the impulse to sacrifice these efforts to other priorities in the worst market many of us have ever experienced. If companies wait to come out of the downturn to invest, they may not come out of the downturn. Skills will be the competitive advantage.

The ability to make difficult choices and find the right balance will determine who emerges best positioned to thrive in the post-pandemic marketplace.

  • About the survey

    TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, fielded an online survey of oil and gas executives representing a cross-section of integrated oil companies, national oil companies, independent producers and oilfield services companies. Respondents hold different functional roles across their organizations, including IT, HR, operations, strategy and digital. Nineteen percent hold a C-suite title. Respondents live and/or work for companies with operations in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

    The survey was fielded between 6 June and 5 July, 2020.

Show resources

EY - Oil and gas refinery at sunset
(Chapter breaker)


Oil and Gas Digital Transformation and the Workforce Survey 2020


1.  Everyone agrees — digital is critical

Oil and gas executives recognize the value in digital technologies and anticipate significant investment in them. Despite a breadth of disruptive trends facing the industry, survey respondents believe increasing availability of data analytics and insights has the greatest potential to positively impact their business growth.

Executive survey


identified the increasing availability of big data analytics and insights as one of the top-three trends that will positively impact their company’s business growth in the next three years.

Executive survey


identified decarbonization and other changes in response to climate change as another of the top-three positive trends of the sector, as much a technological as a business challenge and a reminder that companies can position themselves to gain from decarbonization.

Executive survey


agree their organization will have to change the way it operates coming out of the current downturn.

We need to keep evolving as a company or we’re going to become obsolete. We have to innovate, we have to be up to date, we have to be current, we have to be ahead of it, or the company will be taken over by somebody else and it’ll cease to exist.
Digital operations executive,
integrated oil company

2.  Being digital vs. doing digital

Many challenges to technology adoption are organizational and cultural — coordinating across departments, the ability to change in a timely manner, a lack of workers with the right skills and the challenge of training workers to use new technologies.

If you think about barriers, there are cultural barriers, there are technology barriers and then there are skills barriers. You can throw money at a problem and upskill your workforce. You can throw money at a problem and bring new technology in. Culture is a tougher nut to crack. The reality is, you can throw all of the money and resources you want at the other two but if you still have that cultural barrier blocking you, you’re going to fail.
Digital finance executive,
integrated oil company

3.  The skills gap is real

Among the technologies companies that currently use or are using planning to use, a significant percentage of executives say their company does not have the skills necessary to realize the technology’s investment value. Further, there is a substantial gap between the importance of specific skills and a company’s current maturity across the full range of digital technologies.   

We can have the best technology, but if you don’t have the ability to connect the dots, to understand where the application of technology would create either better process efficiency that we’re trying to have, or create a totally new top line for the organization, or new business for the organization, none of that would happen.
Human resources executive,
National oil company

4.  Competition for talent will heat up

Executives predict shortages of workers with digital skills will improve over the next three years, but this may be overly optimistic given the market demand for these skills across all industries. Further, even with increased availability, many still anticipate inadequate access to certain skills.

The greatest shortfall is on arguably the most important of digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), a critical and potentially game-changing technology given its role in taking advantage of big data. Without AI, it is doubtful companies can take full advantage of the sheer volume of data other digital technologies either generate or rely upon.

5.  So what will companies do?

Despite the recognized importance of skills to their success and competitive advantage, most oil and gas executives report their companies do not have a robust plan to reskill their workforce. Instead, executives say their companies will deploy a smattering of strategies to account for these gaps.

For most companies, the approach to filling skills gaps is highly variable and fragmented. Companies need broad consensus on priority skills and a coherent, comprehensive approach to identify the skills they have, those they need now and those they will need in the future, and then address the gaps with measurable and interconnected strategies.

6.  An influx of adaptive skills

The digital era will drive a reordering of priority skills in the workforce. Historically referred to as “soft skills,” these adaptive skills are critical to the behaviors and mindset necessary to have the flexibility, creativity and resilience to test and apply new technologies against industry problem sets. The challenge — these skills are in short supply and needed across all industries.

Effective adoption of digital technologies requires behavior, mindset and skill shifts. It is not enough for companies to have the technical expertise to make use of a technology. They must also have the skills to apply those technologies as broadly and strategically as possible — with critical thinking, creativity, innovation, problem solving, ideation, etc. — to find and extract every bit of value possible. This is the difference between doing digital and being digital.

With the pace of change of technology, you’re going to look for people who are able to adapt … if we’re making data more readily available to people, then you’re going to want people to have analytical skills who can draw conclusions from that data to make better decisions faster.
IT human resources executive,
integrated oil company

7.  Reskilling is more than training, it requires change

Executives recognize the enormity of the reskilling challenge — they estimate nearly 60% of workers will need to be reskilled to maintain competitive advantage.

8.  Investments in talent aren’t optional

The skill imbalance may be exacerbated by current market conditions as oil and gas budgets are slashed, workers are furloughed or laid off, and technology investments are viewed as optional. This is a reality likely to persist for several quarters.

Effective adoption of digital technologies requires behavior, mindset and skill shifts. It is not enough for companies to have the technical expertise to make use of a technology. They must also have the skills to apply those technologies as broadly and strategically as possible — with critical thinking, creativity, innovation, problem solving, ideation, etc. — to find and extract every bit of value possible. This is the difference between doing digital and being digital.

The right thing is to invest through the cycle or even better if you can invest countercyclically ... the next best thing to do is just have measured investment through the cycle and recognize that if prices rebound there’s going to be tremendous demand for talent and data analytics and data science experts and you’re going to have to pay dearly for that, just like you pay dearly for any other products during a boom.
Digital finance executive,
integrated oil company

9.  A playbook for survival and success

Oil and gas companies are making significant investments in digital technology. But our survey shows many don’t have the workforce skills to realize the fullest return on those investments — or a plan to develop the adaptive and technical skills necessary to do so. To navigate the uncertainty and disruption brought by changing market conditions and COVID-19, companies will need to secure competitive advantage through a well-skilled workforce capable of delivering digital transformation.

EY insight:
Data and analytics are key to driving efficiency across the value chain. As an example, our estimates show an oil and gas company could potentially unlock more than US$145 million of value annually by integrating its key processes across the upstream oil and gas value chain with a common data model. However, without skilled and trained workforces to operationalize around a common data model or to fully integrate processes across the organization, oil and gas companies will continue to leave money on the table.

Show resources


Lance Mortlock
EY Canada Strategy Partner and Oil and Gas Leader
403 206 5277

Robert Alexander
Associate Partner, People Advisory Services
403 206 5195

Shane Monte
Partner, People Advisory Services
403 206 5391


Christopher Rush
Partner, People Advisory Services
403 206 5191

Roxanne Israel
Partner, People Advisory Services
403 206 508

Learn more at

To help oil and gas companies unlock value in these difficult times, EY has teamed with Microsoft to build a scalable, cloud-based accelerator application known as the EY Digital Energy Enablement Platform, or EY DEEP. EY DEEP helps integrate key processes across the upstream  oil and gas value chain with a common data model to allow full extension of the platform across the organization. This extension breaks down silos to integrate reservoir engineering to production planning, well operations to supply chain management, and land management to decommissioning; supports better decision-making; improves efficiency; and reduces time and cost. Read more about the EY DEEP platform at

To help companies upskill employees for the future world of work, EY has developed the Adaptive Skills Accelerator — a development program that combines a rigorous capability assessment and a custom learner journey connected to a portfolio of EY and curated content that is all supplied through an EY-developed Learning Experience Platform. The application contributes to both organizations and their employees and establishes the foundations for success in the workplace of the future. Read more at:

Contact us

Like what you’ve seen? Get in touch to learn more.


To what extent does your company have a plan around not just the technical side of work but also the skills side? Getting the most out of your technology investments requires maximizing the value of your people. A human-centered approach pays off when you need it most: now and in the future.

About this article

By Lance Mortlock

Managing Partner, Energy & Resources Canada

Forward-thinker. Strategist.