Five minutes with: Albert Kahlow, regional director of Middle East, Airswift

This month we get the industry lowdown from Albert Kahlow, regional director for the Middle East at recruitment consultancy Airswift.

Upstream, Airswift, Employment, Talent gap

The Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) suggested 90% of oil and gas employees are male – are there any signs this is changing?

Men still hold the majority of positions. But the balance is shifting. Over the last decade, operators and engineering firms have taken a more proactive approach to gender diversification. Typically, they’ll engage a workforce solutions provider to drive this and establish KPIs around numbers of female hires. We’ve also seen a bigger push from educational institutions around communicating the benefits of STEM careers.

Can you see a time when the workforces of the major regional oil and gas operators become predominantly local?

Improvements have been made around nationalisation in the Middle East. This is due in part to apprenticeship and graduate schemes. Roles such as HR and procurement are areas where 85% of employees are local. However, there is a balance to be struck. Operators are building their skills in disciplines such as geosciences and process engineering, so there is a need for some expatriate knowledge and mentoring programmes.

Analysts have pointed to a skills gap when current senior executives retire – could localisation fill this void and provide a better gender balance?

Yes - we’re already seeing localisation fill the skills gap. A number of localisation initiatives have been driven by the recent downturn, due to the cost of expatriate talent. Localisation also provides NOCs with an opportunity to develop more female talent for roles across all areas of the company. To ensure local executives have well-rounded experience, NOCs are proactively sending candidates on international assignments to give them more exposure outside the region.

Digitalisation, automation, AI – is this where training is increasingly being focused and the skillset most sought after by the industry?

While we’ve seen a rapid increase in the demand for digital skills globally, in the Middle East this isn’t detracting from the need for core engineering skills. Today operators are focused on ensuring they have the skills required to execute existing projects. We know that digital skills will be important for the future - and this presents a huge opportunity for candidates to carve out a niche in areas that will be sought after such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Do you believe the renewables sector poses a threat to oil and gas recruitment?

Yes, renewables do pose a threat. The GETI survey illustrated around 20% of oil and gas professionals would look to move to the renewables industry. Graduates tend to be more excited by this sector, seeing renewables as the sector where exciting things are happening technologically. To them, oil and gas can feel a bit outdated. In reality, digitalisation is accelerating in the oil and gas sector. Many companies are undertaking cutting-edge technological projects. So the sector needs to think about how it markets the exciting opportunity that awaits all levels of the workforce.

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