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The future lies in flexible teams

The future lies in flexible teams

Gazprom Neft has, for many years, been rated one of Russia’s most popular employers — this year placed second in the annual HeadHunter Top 100 rankings. Kirill Kravchenko, Deputy CEO for Administration, Gazprom Neft, talked to TASS during the 2019 St Petersburg International Economic Forum about new ways in which businesses and professionals are working together, the company’s innovative “Professionals 4.0” platform, and the potential opportunities offered by automation.

Kirill Kravchenko

— Kirill, our first question is about the “Professionals 4.0” platform. What is it, essentially — and why is it needed?

— The “Professionals 4.0” platform is a major federal initiative intended to find the talent — the professionals — needed to implement technical projects as part of a flexible team. It’s an efficient, highly responsive solution to the need to deliver on key business objectives as and when these arise, without increasing headcount.

Our platform is being developed through a major partnership project with the “Russia — Country of Opportunity” independent non-profit organisation, and is open to Russian companies, government agencies, and independent professionals. More than a dozen partners have already joined, including SIBUR, Rostelecom, Roselectronica, Skolkovo, Ernst & Young and several others.

— If I understand you correctly, this platform could be compared to a labour exchange — job centre — or to HeadHunter itself?

— It’s definitely nothing like a labour exchange — the two things are completely different concepts, and very different platforms. The focus with Professionals 4.0 isn’t on permanent employment — although there might be opportunities for this if candidates prove themselves — but rather on project activities and team building, not individual outcomes. Businesses and government agencies can use it to find and select the best people, for specific tasks, for a short period of time.

— How interested are people in this? What advantages do short-term projects — without any guarantee of employment — have to offer them?

— When we launched, we invited 2,000 participants on the “Leaders of Russia” competition to implement projects through the platform. All of these people are working professionals, with good reputations. They’re mostly interested in learning something new and applying their skills, on top of their existing work. On the one hand, they are working on their own self-development, and, on the other, they are making a positive contribution to a business, while benefiting themselves in terms of reputational or material rewards. Nevertheless, no one is stopping employers from “taking note” of people who perform well.

— Have any projects already been delivered using this platform?

— After we launched, about 70 projects were posted. Five of these have already been delivered; others are in progress. I can certainly say that the objectives of these projects were extremely interesting — and varied.

— Which ones, for example?

— For example, yesterday we signed an agreement with Skolkovo. Their original project was to improve the quality of their programmes, and expand their range. A project was undertaken on developing digital technologies, artificial intelligence and supply chains, in association with Gazprom Neft. These are all actual, practical business objectives, involving innovative breakthrough solutions.

— You mentioned that you started the Professionals 4.0 project in March. How will it develop further?

— We launched with a beta version, and the next release — with enhanced functionality and an improved interface — will come out in the autumn. Nevertheless, we have, already, worked out the algorithms, looked at the feedback, developed a clear improvement plan, and increased the number of companies involved. We are in negotiations with dozens of organisations — from regional administrations to the largest enterprises in the country. In addition to which we plan, in the very near future, to invite graduates from programmes at the Sirius Educational Centre to join the platform and, by the end of the year, finalists from the “Digital Breakthrough” competition (part of the “Russia — Country of Opportunity” project).

— And what does Gazprom Neft gain from all this? What are the benefits for you?

— We are interested in getting Russia’s most talented people together with the business community, spotting potential and, at the same time, helping ourselves in implementing certain parts of our projects.

On that basis, we are able to harness the potential that the likes of HeadHunter simply cannot. Employees are tied to their companies, but here you can develop additional or hidden potential through project solutions, while remaining in your own job.

— Have you found any exceptional candidates for your company, or is that not really the objective?

— It’s one of the objectives — we always make a point of earmarking exceptional candidates. There’s huge competition for talent, both on the wider market and within companies themselves. So — we have both our own internal employees (who are showcasing themselves through this platform) and external candidates, with whom we are expanding our system.

— I see. You mentioned that you had signed a Cooperation Agreement with SIBUR at the Forum. Are negotiations in hand with any other companies?

We’ve signed three agreements at this Forum — with the Leningrad Oblast Administration, with SIBUR, and with the Moscow School of Management, SKOLKOVO. We’re expanding our partnership pool, but we want to do this on a limited because we are, at the moment, still working on policy for meeting our objectives.

We are continually improving and expanding the platform’s functionality, with each new cycle. So I think — step-by-step — and certainly by the end of the year, we’ll be able claim hundreds of projects as having been posted on the platform, in real time — and not just the 70 we have today. Added to which, the audience will be significantly up — both in terms of potential project participants and commercial clients.

— Of those projects posted so far — what’s the main area of expertise? Is it more IT, marketing, or other areas?

Initially, the platform was focussed on technology in the industrial sector. We’re now seeing our partners come up with various kinds of tasks. First among these is finding a solution to a specific technological challenge, in various business areas. The second concerns IT and digital. And the third kind concerns administration projects directed at transforming organisational structuring, processes and teams.

In other words, we’re focussing more on industry than social or pubic-related areas.

— Does it not strike you as paradoxical that many of the people who go into IT are, in fact, creating a replacement for themselves? It’s well known that automation and the use of robots reduces the number of people employed in certain processes.

— Yes and no. On the one hand, obviously, with automation, many professions are disappearing. On the other hand, a whole range of new professions are emerging, which are, already, quite clearly delineated. Even we can’t imagine what these are going to be called in the future: but everything new is going to be much more to do with creativity, to do with brainpower.

So it seems to me that these people will certainly find a use for their skills, no matter what challenging technological problems they are solving. There’s no question — these are the best brains: and there’s no question that these are the ones who never fail to get attention.

— Which professions are going to die out in the next 10 years — and which, on the contrary, are going to become ever more popular?

— Professions relating to data conversion, deploying artificial intelligence and finding new technologies are definitely going to be around. Plus, there won’t be any strict hierarchies in professions, rather more flexible team projects.

Why did we create this platform for implementing team tasks and objectives? Because the world is changing faster and faster, there are more and more challenges, and these are becoming ever more diverse. If you’ve only got one specialist area, you’re not going to be able to deliver tasks that challenge you in terms of your system. You’re definitely going to have to collaborate with other people.