Shell will offer online AI training to thousands of workers

Remaining attractive to talent while advancing with technology means turning to in-house training.
21 February 2020

Founded in 1907, Shell is now pushing forward with AI. Source: Shutterstock

With a workforce of close to 82,000, companies like Royal Dutch Shell can’t expect to rely on a scant talent pool in order to bolster their need for specialized tech experts. Instead, the sustainable approach is to foster new skills among their existing workers to create a sustainable and constantly developing flow of talent that can carry them further into the digital age. 

The Anglo-Dutch oil giant is expanding an online program to train and upskill its employees’ skillsets, offering a range of specialized artificial intelligence (AI) courses — such as petroleum engineers, chemists, and geophysicists — through online learning platform Udacity. “Shell employees could use AI expertise, for example, to better predict equipment failures and automatically identify areas within a facility to reduce carbon emissions,” said Dan Jeavons, Shell’s General Manager of Data Science. 

The courses are voluntary and fees are covered by the company. Leveraging the benefits of online learning, the course structure is flexible and employees can complete the courses at their own pace or even during work hours. On completion of the course, Shell employees will ‘graduate as Udacity nanodegree alumni,’ joining an expanding network on LinkedIn. 

According to Shell, the initiative comes as a transitional step towards a greener business model while weathering difficult market conditions, and follows the firm’s plans to be the world’s largest electric power company by the next decade. Shell’s strategy is grounded in research and development into advanced technology. Having the right talent is vital to realizing growth and changing direction. 

“Artificial intelligence enables us to process the vast quantity of data across our businesses to generate new insights which can keep us ahead of the competition,” said Yuri Sebregts, Shell’s Chief Technology Officer.

With nearly 2,000 employees indicating their interest in the online program, the initiative has been well received. Moves like this from employers must become commonplace. A 2018 Mercer study of more than 5 million employees found that career development and meaningful work were key drivers of employee value proposition. Nine in 10 c-suite executives said they expect talent competition to increase even more in the next few years. 

With the rising demand for AI and tech talent, online learning and flexible education courses provide a feasible way to train and upskill employees to meet the demand and employers enjoy higher retention rates and satisfaction when education programs are offered.

Since its rollout in 2018, Walmart’s US$1-a-day college have seen associates complete over 88,000 college credits (worth US$42.5million). The retail giant sees its return on investment (ROI) within the organization with more ‘highly-engaged’ associates at work. 

In the same year, Disney launched an educational program with a five-year, US$150 million investment to enable its hourly employees to further their education. The Disney Aspire program attracted more than 40 percent of 90,000 eligible staff members and more than 8,000 have enrolled in classes.