Energy industry technology: Two major effects on workers

Energy industry technology: Two major effects on workers

Like virtually all other industries, the energy industry is undergoing major changes resulting from developments in new technologies.

Advances in sensors, robotics, and other types of machinery and devices are affecting every kind of energy enterprise, from wind technology to oilfield drilling. The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing the way devices can interact with each other and with the environment – gathering, processing, and transmitting large volumes of complex data.

In light of these developments, it’s important to look at where workers stand and how employment in the energy industry is changing.

Worker safety

Workers with blue-collar jobs in the industry have generally had to contend with a higher risk of on-the-job accidents. These include explosions, collisions, fires, equipment malfunctions, chemical leaks, and various structural collapses such as fallen scaffolding.

New developments in technology improve safety out in the field. For example, sophisticated sensors can continuously monitor equipment and check that every piece of machinery is operating within normal parameters. If there’s a problem, workers can find out more in advance and give themselves a chance to ensure their own safety and possibly prevent the situation from becoming an emergency or disaster.

Other examples come from the kind of equipment that reduces the amount of time workers have to spend underground or in the presence of toxic materials.

Employment prospects

Even as workers may benefit from improved safety thanks to new technology, they may also find their jobs threatened. One example comes from a recent article in the New York Times that looks at how oilfield work remains productive but now requires fewer people on-site, as machinery has taken over critical functions.

What happens to workers who are laid off and haven’t received education and training for other kinds of work? This question concerns a growing trend across different industries in which computer automation and various technologies perform jobs once assigned to people. The energy industry may depend more on workers who can oversee and operate the new technology or play a role in designing and programming it. At the same time, smaller energy companies may struggle to pay for the technologies that would help them compete with larger enterprises.

The fate of the workforce in the energy industry, and the trends in both improved safety and the elimination (and creation) of certain kinds of job, will keep needing to be addressed.