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The future of natural gas: winning the race for talent

By Dr. Kenji Uenishi
President GE Energy Asia Pacific

Today's globalization affects the way we do business in very different ways than the 1990s version of globalization did. As transactions and technologies become more complex, companies must have strong global reach and experience, while at the same time being close to local markets. This in turn requires strong local talent.

Unfortunately, as finding great local talent becomes more important, it is also more difficult – particularly in geographically and culturally diverse areas such as Asia Pacific. The challenge is even greater in fast-growing regions and fast-growing industries like the energy sector.

When it comes to the oil and gas industry in particular, one of the most significant challenges in the coming years will definitely involve the workforce, for at least three reasons:

  1. "Crew change:" for instance, more than 50% of the current industry workforce in North America is expected to retire within the next five years
  2. How young talents perceive the "reputation" and "sustainability" of a career in oil and gas
  3. Skills gap: the technology used in the oil and gas sector has become increasingly complex for a challenging environment; compared with a generation of young talents globally which is NOT investing in a scientific/engineering career, with the exception of Asia.

GE has put a lot of effort into overcoming this challenge and developing strong local pools of expertise.

During the recent World Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our team went "in the field" and organized a panel discussion with young engineers from Curtin University, Taylor's University, University Sains Malaysia, University of Malaya, University of Nottingham, PETRONAS University and others, in order to discuss and explore ways to continue tackling this increasing challenge.

Our panelists included Y. Bhg. Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Secretary General, Ministry of International Trade and Industry; Prof. Dr. Manuel Pubellier, Dean, Faculty of Geosciences & Petroleum Engineering; Alain Gerbeau, Global Operations Leader, GE Oil & Gas, Asia Pacific; Anusoorya Themudu, Organization & Talent Development Director, GE Energy, Asia Pacific and Izzat Fauzi, Final Year Student, University of PETRONAS, Petroleum Geosciences.

Also present were 114 young Malaysian engineers from a number of different universities that participated in a "conversation with GE Oil & Gas" on the hottest topics regarding talent development and career growth in the oil and gas industry.

Demographic overview

Insights from the discussion clearly reflect how talent development, career growth and occupational and industry stability in the long term, along with a positive reputation and an outstanding work culture, are perceived as strong drivers in a company's ability to attract and retain talents, at both global and local levels.

Demographic overview
Survey results
What factors are most important to you in deciding a career path?

Based on this, it's easy to see how the traditional globalization model employed until the early 2000s can't keep up with the pace of modern trends.

Globalization of the past involved a lot of overseas assignments from HQ and Centers of Excellence (CoEs) to work in local operations. Most senior and junior leadership and decision-making roles in local operations were therefore held by people from HQ and CoEs, which left local offices with very little authority or empowerment to act.

So we changed the process to have leadership groups train local talents, and we developed a comprehensive leadership training program for these identified leaders.

As a result, local leaders in our Asia-Pacific operations unit are on the fast track for leadership roles, owning delegation of authority and being responsible for more than 90% of commercial and operational decisions.

This is a significant change. Greater responsibility for local talent and career path planning is key, considering that, as said before, one of the main factors in attracting and retaining strong local talents is "career sustainability."

Some may argue that certain regions, such as Asia, consist of a very diverse mix of cultures and that Asian talents may have some difficulty in adapting to a flexible matrix organization.

That's exactly where GE is making its biggest investment in training and resources. One of the crucial elements for our success is to provide young talents with stretch assignments in HQ or countries with different cultures, encouraging them to move out of their comfort zone. We provide continuous support, mentorship, evaluation, and feedback to help them in their successful transition.

All of this has to happen without compromising the company's global culture and identity. Hence the need for a set of company values which is strong, recognized and consistent across the whole organization and throughout the world, just like GE's growth values.

Only by harmonizing all the above mentioned elements in a smart way will we be able to create the senior and junior leaders of tomorrow. Strong local talent development is the key. And, with today's business landscape, it would be rather hard to envision a better way of listening and ensuring that local customers' voices are heard, and that their needs are met.

Dr. Kenji Uenishi Dr. Kenji Uenishi is President of GE Energy Asia Pacific


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