The first things you notice upon entering Shell TechWorks (STW) are Star Wars replicas. Meeting rooms are emblazoned with names such as Imperial, Chewie and Leia, while Tie Fighter models hang from the ceilings.
This is no start-up, but a part of Shell. It was founded in 2013 as an in-house innovation centre comprised of people from outside the oil and gas industry. For Matthew Kleiman, its co-founder and Head of Programs, the Star Wars theme is vital for recruitment.
“People walk in with all sorts of preconceptions about what Shell is and isn’t,” he says, conjuring images of a global corporate giant filled with traditional engineers and accountants. “We needed to signal very quickly that we are different.”
This approach also attempts to address a wider challenge faced by the energy industry. How does it attract the next generation of talent, when the lure of Silicon Valley and companies synonymous with innovation such as Facebook or Google prove increasingly attractive?
There is a need to act. Millennials, or those born between 1980 and 2000, will form half the global workforce by 2020, according to accountancy firm PwC. A study by McKinsey & Company, warns that careers in oil and gas are viewed unfavourably by this group – with 14% avoiding the sector altogether.
For Kleiman, the risk of a talent shortfall in the future has to be answered. And the layout of the office – with its open-plan seating, ping pong table, arcade machines and toy foam guns – are a nod to “co-creative” spaces now synonymous with start-ups.
“We needed a way of telling recruits that when you come here, you’re not walking into a staid corporate environment,” he says. “You are expected to bring fresh perspectives from your previous experiences to help us solve challenging problems. Your ideas will then be deployed in the field within months. Not years.”