GETI 2022: COVID-19 causes rapid digitalisation of petrochemicals sector

  • Advances in engineering techniques and technologies seen as biggest opportunity as remote working accelerates digital transformation
  • Pandemic-driven trend in changing ways of working is second greatest opportunity for the sector
  • Rapid digital transformation creates new risks and cyber security cited as most in-demand digital skill for new hires

LONDON, UK, 22 March 2022 The sixth annual Global Energy Talent Index (GETI), the world’s most established and comprehensive energy recruitment and employment trends report released today, has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated revolution in ways of working and associated digital transformation in the petrochemicals industry.

Advances in engineering techniques and technologies and changing ways of working were hailed as the greatest opportunities over the next three years as lockdown policies accelerated the introduction of new technologies from remote plant operation to engineering simulations. Digitally enabled skills and competences are also now cited by 33 per cent as an opportunity for the sector over the next three years. The digitalization of working is illustrated by the fact 28 per cent of professionals now receive remote working/flexible hours in their employment package.

This high-speed transformation has also created a skills shortage, with petrochemical companies more likely to seek digital skills and competencies from outside the industry than in-house or from other energy sectors. The rapid digitalization of legacy plants and platforms has also opened the sector up to new threats, with cyber security now the most in-demand digital skill alongside AI and robotics.

Digital transformation has even affected recruitment and HR with hiring managers more likely to deploy AI and automation than mentorship or recruitment to create the skills to cope with a changing energy landscape. COVID-19 is also cited as the biggest challenge for the sector over the next three years and changing ways of working is joint third biggest, as a legacy industry scrambles to adapt to fast-tracked digitalization. A more digitally savvy workforce is also more at risk of moving with 77 per cent considering leaving for another industry in the next three years, and technology is the top choice.

Pandemic-related demand for consumer packaging for home deliveries and PPE has also helped the industry rebound from lockdown and raised salary expectations. The proportion of professionals expecting a pay rise in the next 12 months has risen to 63 per cent from 56 per cent last year, while the proportion projecting a pay cut plummeted from 15 per cent to five per cent.

Janette Marx, Chief Executive Officer at Airswift, says: “Lockdowns fast-forwarded the digital development of petrochemicals, creating rising demand for talent from outside industries such as technology. The sector is competing for a young, tech-savvy generation that values innovation and sustainability and this will require employers to embrace new green tech innovations. Lockdowns also drove greater demand for e-commerce related consumer packaging and PPE which buoyed the sector’s recovery and boosted salaries which could help attract a fresh wave of skills. The pandemic also ushered in the modernisation of working practices, making it more appealing to a generation of talent that values remote and flexible work schedules.”

In addition to providing much-needed insights into the period of flux over the past 12 months, GETI is the industry’s most comprehensive salary and mobility study. Further key findings within petrochemicals include:

  • Salaries have rebounded from lockdown with 39 per cent receiving a pay rise and the proportion receiving pay cuts falling from 24 per cent to 13 per cent in a year
  • Sixty-two per cent of hiring managers cite engineering as the most in-demand technical skill for outside hires and the most transferrable skill on the CV for 57 per cent of professionals
  • Europe was the top destination for overseas transfers for 24 per cent of workers, followed by the Middle East and the US

Leon de Bruyn, CEO at Lummus Technologies, says: “Work-from-home policies accelerated the introduction of new engineering technologies from remote plant operation to design simulations, and this was a challenge for a sector that lags others on digital technology.

“Digitalisation provides our industry with the opportunity to make up for talent shortages that date back to the 1990s. By leveraging digitalisation, our industry can attract a new, tech-savvy generation often from outside sectors such as IT. And to attract the next generation of industry leaders, we should promote exciting innovations like biochemistry, sustainable aviation fuels and AI-optimised plant operations.”

Airswift and Energy Jobline interviewed sector experts and surveyed 10,000 energy professionals and hiring managers in 166 countries across five industry sub-sectors: oil and gas, renewables, power, nuclear and petrochemicals. The report is available to download at

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