U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans

U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans

The number of participants in BHP Billiton Petroleum's graduate training program is expected to grow as the company seeks to address its future employment needs for its U.S.-based shale operations.

U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans
BHP Billiton Petroleum's U.S. shale operations will drive growth in its graduate training program

Over 700 graduates have passed through BHP Billiton's Two-Year Foundations for Graduates Program since its inception five years ago. This program provides training for graduates working through BHP Billiton's business divisions, including petroleum, mining, and minerals.

Approximately 100 of the graduates in the program work in the company's petroleum division, but that number is expected to increase as BHP Billiton Petroleum seeks to expand its oil and gas workforce, David Nelson, vice president of human resources, told Rigzone in a recent interview.

BHP Billiton Petroleum has had "real success" in its college graduate recruitment program, with very little turnover.

"The company's approach is about careers, not jobs," said Nelson. "Our role is not only to give you a good, meaningful job but also to develop you" in terms of additional training on the latest in exploration and production technology.

BHP Billion: David Nelson

The company's summer internship program is a springboard for bringing candidates into its Foundations for Graduates program. As part of its internship program, BHP Billiton Petroleum brings in college students during their summer break for a 12-week summer internship program.

BHP Billiton Petroleum tries to make the training as "real world" as possible, exposing the students to the company's business in real jobs working with senior staff, and through a series of “lunch and learns” with company executives and workshops to enhance professional development skills, said Nelson. Interns also participate in a community service project and in social opportunities with fellow interns and employees.

At the end of that program, the students present a project on which they have been working on. Following the 12-week internship, BHP Billiton Petroleum will follow up within a couple of weeks either for a follow-up internship or a graduate entry position.

"When they join us as a graduate – depending on their function – some will literally go out into the field, even working alongside our experienced crew on the night shift," said Nelson. "We try and give them a really rich experience to build their skills in the petroleum discipline."

U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans
BHP Billiton Petroleum tries to make training as 'real world' as possible.

While the graduate training program covers all of the company's operations beyond petroleum, one common thread to the training is one-week meetings held each year. During these meetings, members of the graduate training program from BHP Billiton are brought together to share experiences and learn more about the company's values and operations as a whole.

The one-week meeting for North and South American graduates was previously held in Chile, but now that BHP Billiton Petroleum is hiring so many graduates, the company is running a new North American program in Texas, said Nelson.

For the most part, graduates focus on training within their functions, with a blend of classroom and hands-on learning. Graduates will have multiple job assignments in the same discipline to develop a wide range of practical experience in their field.

Graduates will also work with their supervisors to design a development and training plan that suits the graduates' specific needs. Additionally, graduate program members will participate in a formal mentorship program to develop leadership, people and communications skills, as well as attend quarterly social events.

U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans
Graduate training features a blend of classroom and hands on learning

To meet its future employment needs, BHP Billiton Petroleum is focusing on recruiting interns from universities such as Texas A&M University, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Texas, with whom BHP Billiton Petroleum has had long-term relationships. BHP Billiton Petroleum has also expanded its recruiting efforts to other universities in the Texas region.

The company is heavily involved with sponsorship and activities with the University of Texas' Jackson School of Geoscience, to which David Rainey, president of exploration at BHP Billiton Petroleum, is connected. Besides the standard financial sponsorship, BHP Billiton Petroleum also participates in speaker programs at schools such as Colorado School of Mines.

When looking for interns, the company typically considers students with a 3.5 grade point average or higher. However, BHP Billiton Petroleum also looks at the activities and organizations in which a student is involved, such as engineering associations or leadership programs.

"We're very interested not only in smarts academically, but in personal leadership," said Nelson.

Ideally, given current activity levels, the company would hire more graduates to go through its two-year program, but can only have a finite number of people in the program in order to give students a rich experience, Nelson said.

BHP Billiton Petroleum typically looks for graduates with degrees in engineering, geosciences, accounting/finance, supply chain management and land management.

The internship and graduate programs will allow the company to address future employment needs, but the company also is seeking to hire workers to meet its near-term employment needs for its U.S. unconventional operations.

U.S. Shale Operations Drive BHP Graduate Hiring Plans
The company's internship and graduate programs will allow the company to address future employment needs

BHP Billiton Petroleum's U.S.-based shale operations will be the main driver behind its hiring plans over the next year as the company seeks to fill 400 job vacancies worldwide over the next year, Nelson said.

The majority of the 400 positions are associated with the company's U.S. shale operations, said Nelson. The company aims to hire workers for one-third of those positions by the end of the calendar year.

The company is hiring between 50 and 60 people a month, and is hiring workers across a range of skill sets, from drilling engineers to technical support and finance and supply. Nelson said the company is focusing its resources on recruiting critical subsurface skills such as geoscience and drilling engineering.

Approximately 20 percent of the company's current openings are for its conventional business, including its operations in Australia, Pakistan, the Gulf of Mexico and other regions, Nelson said. He attributed the vacancies in these areas to regular turnover.

Moving forward, job opportunities could materialize in other regions, such as South Africa, where the company is about to initiate a seismic operations campaign. New offshore plays can take five to seven years to develop so in terms of people needs, these exploration plays are early in the life cycle, "but we're always optimistic" about future development, Nelson said.

BHP Billiton Petroleum is seeing competition in hiring workers not only in the Houston market, but in the Permian Basin as well, Nelson said. Finding housing for workers in the Permian remains a challenge, with local hotel rooms booked as long as three years in advance. The company has experienced similar issues, albeit to a less extent, with its Eagle Ford operations.

Like the job market in Houston, BHP Billiton Petroleum is seeing competition among operators for workers in Perth, Western Australia, said Nelson. In Perth, the presence of many of the major oil and gas companies, as well as the minerals industry, is fueling competition among companies to hire from the pool of workers available.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com


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