Lube Industry Confronts Talent Shortage

Keywords: Lube Industry , Asia,

Asia’s lubricant industry faces a shortage of skilled workers, and finding ways to attract local talent and younger employees is key to solving the problem, according to industry experts.

Globally, employers are facing the most acute talent shortage since 2006. A survey of 40,000 employers this year by Manpower Group concluded that 45 percent are struggling to fill roles, with skilled trade workers, sales representatives and engineers the most difficult to find.

The shortage of engineers, including chemical engineers, was highest in Japan and second-highest in Singapore, while India and China tied for third according to a Talent Shortage 2018 survey by U.S.-based Manpower.

“The young generation thinks that there are better opportunities elsewhere, like the [information technology] sector. There is an [information] gap, and they have to understand that it is not a sunset industry,” said Shailendra Gokhale, managing partner at Rosefield DAA International Consultancy in India. A sunset industry is one that is in decline.

“The marine segment is in a double bottleneck situation. We need people who understand both the lubricant product and dynamic market as well as the marine engine and logistics. With an aging population, there is very little leeway to transition,” Caroline Huot,Cockett Marine Oil Group’s global head of lubricants, added.

The issue of age and succession can be critical in countries that have more independent lubricant blenders. “I think the age factor is a bigger issue in countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Investment in training and development, proper succession planning strategies and education about lubricants on the important role they play in the world would all be things that would help attract and retain talent, and improve the supply of high quality and abundant staff,” James Moorhouse, director of United Kingdom-based downstream oil industry staffing companyABN Resource, told Lube Report.

“Unfortunately, we see a lot of people talking about issues but not really taking action to sort it out,” he added.

In addition to issues with succession, the lubricant industry also competes with other sectors for skilled workers. “The IT and services industries compete with the best brands, and knowledgeable people get in. [The lubricant] industry needs to make it more attractive for people to make a career out of it,” said Rene Abrahams, Nynas AB's technical advisor for lubricants in Asia-Pacific.

Moorhouse agrees. “I think the lubricant sector has an exciting outlook for both Gen X and Millennials, with some fantastic career progression opportunities, as a large proportion of the industry will enjoy retirement in five years. This offers a rate of career development that is very rare to other industries and highly attractive – a positive message which the industry can utilize to attract new talent.”

Companies can be creative in other ways too. “We try to be more creative by changing the name from petroleum to energy. Digitalization of lubricant industry can also attract talent. We are still in the same industry, but we have to make it more attractive,” said Alfonso Jesena, Fuchs Petrolub Group’s regional product manager for India and Southeast Asia.

Companies in India took steps to provide the necessary skills to students to meet the industry’s demand for skilled workers. “Two years back in India, we took the lead to set up an engineering institute for students to do chemical engineering. Sometimes there is the chicken and the egg question, and there are definitely eggs, and hopefully they will hatch,” said Gokhale.

“We shouldn’t neglect the [Gen Xers] that are here now, who are well-qualified and still have 20 years to give to the sector,” added Moorhouse.

Having diversity, like encouraging women to enter the lubricant industry, may also be important. “It depends on the country and culture. In Sweden 50 percent [of decision makers] are women and in Thailand most of the decision makers are women, compared to Japan,” said Abrahams.

However, “a key point I want to make here is that improving diversity isn’t just about ensuring we have more talented women in the industry, but that we’re also hiring people of different ethnicity and backgrounds too,” added Moorhouse.

The shortage of skilled talent will continue, and using technology has become a necessary tool for outreach. “Companies that show true innovation, sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and values and that show the important work the business does to wider society [are attractive to] younger audiences. They also do this on social media platforms where the message will be seen and heard,” said Moorhouse.