Train Your Front Line Worker On Digital To Boost Your Success

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Train Your Front Line Worker On Digital To Boost Your Success

The front line worker in oil and gas has been overlooked in the drive to bring digital innovation to the industry. We need to fix that.

The Digital Elite

It’s pretty easy to get smart about the role and impact of digital innovation in energy when you work in an office tower, or, more recently, from a kitchen table, in a large energy town like Houston or Calgary.

Office-based workers in oil and gas (and I was one once), are more than likely in one of the many supervisory, technical or professional grades—university educated, focused on knowledge work, exposed daily to general computer technology that has to be manipulated to be useful (such as spreadsheets or documents).

A small number of these employees may be tasked with working on some special project off the side of their desk that deals with an aspect of digital adoption.

Every few months office workers personally experience some minor shift in their daily routines because of technology upgrades, or the introduction of some new features in the systems used to do their jobs. The impacts of digital innovation are plainly visible, and while it’s inconvenient to have to change things up, the long game for digital is more transparent.

Office-based workers can take in local live or virtual conferences like the Global Energy Show, attend vendor presentations from the likes of IBM or Microsoft, or visit Apple retail stores to check out the latest in consumer technology. Really big oil and gas companies have their own training facilities at their corporate centers where digital awareness training can be delivered.

The career success for this group of employees is likely linked to how well they stay abreast of important developments in the industry, from the impacts of new regulations dealing with climate change to the changing energy demand and supply patterns driven by the war in Europe. To a degree they are paid to stay on top of things, and may have a small expense allowance to spend on maintaining personal awareness.

Even the local media in big oil centers tend to play up the story about digital innovation on the future of the economy. The sheer number of incubators and accelerators in city settings reinforces the trend.

But this is not the world of the front line worker.

The Digital Front Line

The front line worker (FLW) group is actually the largest segment of employees in oil and gas. In the upstream, the front line worker probably works for a services company, and not the oil or gas producer directly. Altogether, I estimate that the FLW group is 9 times larger than the supervisory, technical and professional grades for any one large oil and gas company.

By definition, the FLW works in the field, usually far from a large office and rarely, if ever, are there large numbers of FLWs in a big city. They may have visited the home office during their first few weeks of initial training, but since there are so many field workers, it’s generally more cost effective to send the occasional trainer to the field, rather than fly the field to the training center.

Many such workers are highly mobile, spending untold hours driving from site to site and visiting the local field offices infrequently. Field offices are typically small, house only a handful of supervisors, and lack the space to bring large numbers of workers together.

In plants such as oil refineries, the front line worker may be paid hourly, often works on shifts, and with equipment or processes that change rarely, if ever.

They don’t get the opportunity to attend in person conferences or live events, and vendors are not traveling to their work sites for unpaid product demos. They may not have the ability to spend even modest amounts of company money to better their situation.

The Digital Gap

The impacts of digital on energy are expected to be dramatic. In 2017, I was invited by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to participate in a study they were conducting on the impacts of digital on energy. They concluded that digital would lower the costs of energy by 20%, improve the productivity of energy assets by 20%, and reduce emissions. Most of the impacts would be realized in the front lines of energy production.

Of course, if the front line is not aware of the potential and don’t fully grasp the opportunity that digital represents, it should be no surprise that digital efforts fall short of the mark.

In late 2018 I had the opportunity to measure the gap in the understanding of digital and its impacts on the upstream gas industry between a home office group and a field group in a company that was doing very well. The data was revealing.

Home office workers and FLWs reported similar understanding and familiarity with the internet of things. But on virtually all other important digital technologies (mobile apps, cloud computing, analytics, machine learning, robotic tools, big data), the home office was much further ahead in awareness and daily use.

Critically, the home office workers believed that digital was more important to the future of the company than did FLWs in the field, reflective of the more consistent and frequent exposure to digital that someone in a corporate center would experience.

Digital for the Front Line Worker

To help bridge the gap between the front line worker and the world of digital, I’ve recorded a new short video training course on digital’s impact on the oil and gas industry, specifically for the front line worker.

  • It’s intentionally short, at just 50 minutes long, in 7 short videos, in keeping with the minimal amount of time that front line workers have available in their day.
  • It’s available on all browsers for mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
  • It features a handful of short quizzes that help reinforce the content.
  • It includes specific examples for oil and gas to underscore practicality.
  • It directly addresses some of the misperceptions of digital and presents the reality.
  • Students can take the course based on their own capacity and availability.

The course is housed on Udemy, a leading platform for on-line learning.

Look for it here.


The biggest opportunities for digital in oil and gas are in the front lines of energy production, refining, and distribution, and the front line workers are integral to the successful adoption of digital innovations in the sector. By boosting their awareness of digital, front line workers are then more readily able to embrace digital innovations.

Check out my latest book, ‘Carbon, Capital, and the Cloud: A Playbook for Digital Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.

You might also like my first book, Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, also available on Amazon.

Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course on Udemy.

Take the one-hour Digital for the Front Line Worker in Oil and Gas, on Udemy.

Biz card: 🪪 Geoffrey Cann on OVOU
Mobile: ☎️ +1(587)830-6900
email: 📧
website: 🖥
LinkedIn: 🔵

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