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Comment: Shaping the future workforce

by Guest on Jun 28, 2017

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).
Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).

Technological changes taking place around the world are reshaping the workforce landscape across industries, and petrochemicals is no exception. Disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing, big data analytics, augmented reality and others, are redefining the status quo, fundamentally changing the skill sets required by the industry today.

Disruptive technologies such as AI is leading to the emergence of new breed of jobs, and the decline of many traditional functions. Research suggests that nearly a quarter of the skills used today will be redundant after 2020.

Amid this changing workforce landscape, industry leaders would need to understand and envision the future to be able to not just respond but shape, guide and retain skilled talent. Employees should be engaged to re-think existing work models and understand how technology can enhance rather than threaten their capabilities.

As the digital environment becomes a reality, employees will be focused less on administrative tasks and more on tasks involving problem solving, creativity, innovation and taking risk. Digital technology will empower employees with real-time data, allowing them to optimise operations, determine potential future issues and take action before they became widespread.

For a company to be truly successful in the attraction, engagement and retention of a talented workforce, it will have to strike a balance between the right incentives, leadership and professional development, as the nature of work becomes more complex.

The industry will continue to face challenges, some technical, others adaptive (market uncertainty, complexity, change, etc.). While technical challenges will require expertise around new technologies, adaptive challenges will need flexibility in mind sets and skills. Change always starts from the top, which means leaders will also have to be agile, empowering people at every level of the organisation. To realise their full potential, workers should be given the freedom to innovate.

In the light of these changes, we need to develop a workforce that consists of lifelong learners, able to reskill and adjust to almost any imaginable workplace environment. We need to facilitate a shift to a more blended workforce, which demands well-informed and thoughtful planning. The challenge at stake is to develop the right approach to talent management in the future.

This would require government, industry and educators to align their strategies and work together to create the right opportunities for our talented youth. The education system must evolve accordingly. Outdated, highly siloed training, which produces narrow specialisation, fails to nurture flexibility and stifles innovation, must be a thing of the past.

We do not know what jobs would be needed 10 or 15 years from now. What we do know is the type of skill sets that would be required to be able to do those future jobs, and the industry, along with other key stakeholders, needs to play an active role in encouraging and developing these skills among its future workforce.

This is why we need more talent focused initiatives, ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ being one of them, where future industry professionals learn from industry leaders about the skills required in this highly competitive job market and how to address the challenges they might face on the way.

With all its technological disruption, uncertainty and change, the future will likely bring many challenges, affecting our most valuable resource – our people. It would depend on us to adapt and prepare them for a future shaped by uncertainty, disruption and change.

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). Set up in March 2006, GPCA is a dedicated non-profit association, serving its members with industry data and information sources. It is the first such association to represent the interests of the petrochemical and chemical industry in the Arabian Gulf.


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