Securing the talent of tomorrow
How can the energy industry compete with Silicon Valley in attracting the brightest recruits?
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.”
Watch: Inside Shell TechWorks
Duration: 04:37 seconds
[Music commences, soft and ambient]
Title: Inside Shell TechWorks appears over overhead footage of exterior of Shell TechWorks facility
[Kunal Dutta to camera]: “What does a company do when it faces a technical challenge that it needs to solve quickly?”
[Kunal Dutta in profile with b/w portraits of refinery workers behind him]: “It can recruit more engineers, hire a consultancy or look to its competitors for ideas.”
[Kunal Dutta to camera]: “But sometimes a problem is either so challenging or technically complex or has simply never been encountered inside the industry. And that's when it requires a totally different approach.”
View of piece of machinery as if looking through an AR/VR headset, followed by wide view of a woman testing an AR/VR headset while using both hand motion controllers. Several co-workers stand watching her.
Exterior time lapse of Charles Sumner statue in Boston Square with passers-by coming and going
Inside, gathered round a table, arms reach out to pick up building blocks from an assortment scattered around. A man crouches to write at the bottom of a whiteboard. A wired circuit board is seen as a pair of hands works behind it
Exterior tracking shot of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Great Dome, followed by exterior shot of large outline Shell Pecten signage on lattice structure against a cloudy blue sky
[Kunal Dutta voice over]:“This is TechWorks, Shell's very own experimental workshop in the heart of Boston. Its role is to help Shell find cost-efficient solutions to problems, and deploy them anywhere around the world, safely and quickly.”
Overhead footage of exterior of Shell TechWorks facility followed by, inside the building, tech workers at desks looking at blue screens, camera moves across them. A tech worker presents ideas on large printed diagrams in front of a whiteboard. An employee in light industrial environment wearing protective clothing works with a tool. Two employees in same environment wearing yellow hard hats work together. Underwater robot, POV along length of robot, at waterline level, edge of a large vessel in the background.
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “But working in this way requires a certain mindset. And that's why 90% of TechWorks staff, including its founders, come from outside the oil and gas industry. They hail from sectors including defence, aerospace and robotics.”
An employee looks down, applying substance or brushing a small item under bright lighting. Two men in front of surface arranged with house brick sized blocks each bearing a number. One man picks a block up and examines it. A woman presenting to a group gestures in front of printed diagram on a whiteboard. With machinery in background, two men wearing hard hats look at their equipment. TechWorks founders. IT staff member in check shirt looks at his laptop. Two staff members work with tools. Staff members stand watching R2D2. A finger and thumb turn a knob on a control panel. Small lights flash on the round device plugged into the panel as a hand adjusts a knob on the panel’
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “I've had an exclusive look inside the offices of TechWorks, and as you may have guessed, things are anything but what you might expect.”
Kunal Dutta walks past Shell TechWorks sign on exterior of building. Walks along path to main entrance and taps in to security device. Walks through door which shuts behind him.
[Matthew Kleiman, Head of Programs at table with Kunal Dutta]: “Well, it was very important for us from the beginning…”
[Matthew Kleiman close-up with printed diagram in background]: “…that we not be considered just a think tank, or a scouting organisation…”
[Matthew Kleiman voice over]: “…that we actually build things here. And we have to not only have great ideas, but put our money where our mouth is…”
Three staff members construct a small unit on a table. A staff member makes an explanation, using vigorous hand and arm gestures, to a colleague in front of a whiteboard. Two staff members examine and discuss a diagram on a whiteboard. Three staff members in light industrial environment wearing hard hats stand with a piece of machinery while a fourth crouches down to adjust a piece of machinery connected to the other piece by a yellow spring type cable.
[Matthew Kleiman interview]: “…to speed up the development process.”
Exterior time lapse of metal lattice structure against cloudy blue sky. The structure is seen from a different angle with a small hut alongside it.
[David Kordonowy, Head of Engineering]: “Rather than performing the research that's going to develop breakthroughs within the next 20 years…”
[David Kordonowy voice over]: “…what we're really concentrating on are changes that we can make to Shell…”
Exterior shot of large outline Shell Pecten signage on lattice structure against a cloudy blue sky, slow zoom in.
[David Kordonowy]: “…to increase either our productivity or decrease our costs within the next 6 to 12 months.”
Hands place Post-it notes of various colours on to a blank surface.
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “Working this way means they bring fresh perspectives and can adapt existing technology or even repurpose it entirely for the energy industry, from harnessing computer game technology to help connect pipes, or building underwater robots to aid subsea discovery.”
A staff member looks at a number of hexagonal Post-its stuck to a whiteboard. Another staff member wears the AR/VR headset while a screen behind him displays what he is viewing. A moving close up view from inside the AR/VR headset of the metal structures and pipework he is looking at through two overlapping circles. A robot is seen underwater, just below surface, POV along length of robot, shot follows robot at it rises above waterline, large vessel in background.
[Julie Ferland, General Manager]: “The parallels between what's going on in the shipbuilding community and what's going on in the oil and gas community are tremendous.”
[Julie Ferland profile with underwater robot model in background]: “There are so many of the same lessons that have been learned in the downturn in the Department of Defense in the US…”
[Julie Ferland voice over]: “…that can be applied to the cost-constrained environments in the oil and gas industry.”
Aerial view of oil platform, pan along the length of the platform.
A staff member sits at three computer screens.
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “But it's not just the technology, culture is crucial to TechWorks, and the management team here believe that the sharpest thinking can come from anyone, or anywhere.”
A staff member wearing a hard hat and safety clothes leans over a laptop. Two office staff look at a laptop screen, camera does a circular pan around them to show other staff in the office. A technical staff member gently uses a tool, brushing or applying a substance, under a bright light. Close up of a long, metal cylindrical part.
[Matthew Kleiman close-up with printed diagram in background]: “Anybody in the organisation that has a great idea is as free as possible to raise that with anybody…”
[Matthew Kleiman at table with Kunal Dutta]: “…no matter what their title or position in the organisation might be.”
[Matthew Kleiman close-up with printed diagram in background]: “And that is how we foster that collaborative, creative free-thinking environment that start-up companies are so well known for.”
[Kunal Dutta roving with hand held microphone footage]
Walks towards two people play ping-pong in the games room.
[Kunal Dutta]: “And nowhere is this better demonstrated than inside the games room at Shell TechWorks. We've got people playing ping-pong here.”
Indicates arcade machines as he walks past. Pats Star Wars figurine on the head.
[Kunal Dutta]: “We have 1980s arcade machines. Star Wars figurines. Continues walking round the ping pong table as players continue playing, staff members seated off in the distance.”
[Kunal Dutta]: “All of this sort of indicative of the kind of start-up culture that is trying to be created here inside Shell TechWorks.”
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “Angela, what is it you're working on at the moment?”
Rear shot of same ping pong players, foreground back to camera is Angela Nagelin.
[Angela Nagelin, Engineering Analyst]: “I'm working on an in-well tool right now that will increase production for gas wells and un-conventionals. And it's going to decrease the time and decrease the cost, because right now in this environment that's really what we're focusing on.”
Kunal Dutta and Cara Held seated on sofa in games room.
[Kunal Dutta]: “What did your friends think about joining Shell? Is that still an issue?”
[Cara Held, Senior Systems Engineer]: “Some of them were really excited. They were like, 'Oh, that sounds cool' once you tell them, 'Oh, I'm working on this tech incubator...sort of like a skunk works, coming from defence.”
Kunal Dutta and Nemanya Sedoglavich stand in front of arcade machine
[Kunal Dutta]: “How does a current truffle farmer end up in Shell TechWorks?”
[Nemanya Sedoglavich, Senior Systems Architect (& Truffle Farmer)]: “Well, my background is in medical instrumentation, so I'm an optoelectronics engineer.”
[Matthew Kleiman voice over]: “Our mission now is to support as many businesses in Shell as possible.”
Exterior overhead view of TechWorks facility followed by close up of Shell TechWorks signage at entrance to building.
[Matthew Kleiman at table with Kunal Dutta]: “Not everything will be solved by technology…”
[Matthew Kleiman close-up with printed diagram in background]: “…but technology certainly has a role to play in helping us adjust to a ‘lower for longer’ environment.”
In the office, an R2-D2 figure appears round a corner, chatting in droidspeak.
[Kunal Dutta voice over]: “Inspiring the next generation is crucial for the oil and gas industry as it grapples with the challenges of the energy transition. TechWorks believe it is now well-placed to attract the brightest talent as it prepares for the energy future.”
The woman wearing the AR/VR headset is seen as her colleagues smile and chat. The view of the piping from inside the headset, as earlier. A staff member in a hard hat leans over his computer. Tech workers at desks look at blue screens.
Exterior time lapse of Boston turning from height of day to depth of night.
Shell Pecten on white background slate.
© Shell international limited 2016
STW was founded in 2013 as a response to changes inside the industry. Shell needed faster technical solutions to help it respond more effectively to changing energy prices. At the same time, digital technology was transforming the nature of work with the rise of remote monitoring, robotics and virtual reality.
For STW, as the business demands started to change, so did their talent requirements. About 90% of STW staff come from outside the oil and gas industry.
“We call the kind of people we look for ‘T-shaped’,” explains Julie Ferland, STW’s General Manager. “They are chosen for having a depth of capability in one area and the ability to apply it across many others.”
This approach has allowed STW to bring in expertise from outside to find unusual solutions. These include harnessing computer game technology to help connect pipes on an oil rig.
Inspired by computer game technology such as X-Box 360 Kinect, the team uses special cameras to calculate the precise location of a pipe on a rig. STW engineers and designers are also currently working on virtual reality technology that allows operators to simulate how to respond on an oil rig in the event of a power failure.
The Star Wars theme runs through the TechWorks office
Scouting for talent
In order to keep pace with technology, STW needs to constantly stay ahead of the latest talent pool in and around Boston. Securing potential recruits can sometimes be tricky.
“Some of the people we seek may tell you that they don’t agree with many of the things that the oil and gas industry is doing,” says Ferland. “These individuals are motivated by the idea that their presence and work here can make positive impacts on the industry.”
Yet for a multinational corporation like Shell, such specialist talent has no purpose unless it fits into the wider business. “If you just have a whole bunch of smart people sitting in Boston building interesting things, it doesn’t necessarily add value to the business,” says Kleiman. That’s why the company relies on Shell’s internal experts to help ground what they do against the needs of the business.
Ultimately its location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is what gives Shell access to the Boston talent pool.
“The idea that the Shell logo is going to draw people through the door may be true in some parts of the USA. But that’s not the case here. It’s something else entirely,” says Ferland. “It’s the hands-on engineering and rapid deployment cycles. It’s the frenetic nature of what we’re doing. It’s solving highly-challenging problems. It’s Star Wars.”
By Kunal Dutta
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