BP: Addressing the Skills Gap

BP: Addressing the Skills Gap

As upstream oil and gas professionals near retirement, many companies in the sector are facing a major shortfall when it comes to the skilled and experienced people they need as the oil and gas industry continues to expand around the world.

The “Great Crew Change” has focused plenty of minds within the upper echelons of the oil and gas industry.

BP plc is one company that has recognized the need to take a proactive approach to training in order to obviate the skills gap challenges that it might face.

In a recent interview with Rigzone, BP Head of Learning and Development Don Shoultz highlighted that for a long time, BP has had a Challenger Program in place that is designed to equip its employees for their first three years with the company.

"We like it and we think it has good branding for recruiting as well. So we are pretty satisfied with that," he said.

Yet, in recent years, BP realized how quickly an oil and gas professional with a few years of experience gets to the same level of competence as a typical 25-year employee is often an arbitrary process. So, the company decided to take steps to help expedite and better manage this development.

Excellence Program

"Over the last four years, we've started a program we call the Excellence Program, which starts right after the Challenger Program. So you literally graduate from Challenger and automatically move right into the Excellence Program," Shoultz said.

When coming up with the Excellence Program there was no "secret sauce or magic, silver bullet", according to Shoultz.

"So, as we thought about this the answer we came up with was rigor," he said, explaining that BP looked at the entire gamut of how people learn and get experienced – from formal learning to informal learning, via networks, technical coaching and mentoring.

"When you graduate from the Challenger Program and you move into the Excellence Program you're placed on a job that is intended to continue the development of our staff," Shoultz said.

"And then while you are in that job, which can be from two to three years, you are getting a prescribed program of formal learning that matches the job experience that you are in. And then the informal learning, we really try to formalize so that the technical coach that you need during those … years is prescribed. The networks that you belong to – if you're a water-flooding expert or if you're a reservoir engineer, whatever you are – those networks become more prescribed instead of arbitrary.

"So now, as an employee it's prescribed. What job you have, what formal learning you get at that point, the informal learning is plugged in as well. It's all lined up … It's very intentional. Each employee in every job category has a road map. They can go to a website, they can look at their roadmap if they are a petroleum engineer or petrophysicist … and see their roadmap and know exactly what they need to take, what their next job experience will be, [and] where it will be. All that kind of stuff is laid out. It's far more intentional.

"So really, we think that adding a lot of discipline and alignment will accelerate how an employee develops."

No Great Loss of Talent

Indeed, BP's approach to training and development, and keeping its staff interested in the work the firm does, appears to be working, according to Shoultz's colleague, BP's Vice President for Upstream Resourcing Julia Harvie-Liddel.

"Certainly, what we are not seeing in BP is a great loss of talent. We are retaining a lot of our more seasoned and experienced staff, and what [we're] doing is we're supplementing this with much greater graduate hiring than we did in the past," Harvie-Liddel said.

"If you look back at what we did when the oil price took a dip during the 1990s and early 2000s, I think we did create a bit of a skills gap then because [the industry] hired less. But … we've worked quite hard since then to significantly increase the number of graduates that we take into the business to supplement the talent and also we're retaining more senior talent."

A satisfying and interesting career is required to help retain talent, added Harvie-Liddel.

"If you look at the portfolio of work we've got and the fact that we're using leading technologies I think people find that very exciting and they'll work beyond their first retirement eligibility point with some degree of ease."

And technology appears to be a way to sell the oil and gas industry to young people who might be considering a career in the sector.

"I hear most of our leadership defines the energy sector as a technology industry. It is energizing how much we depend on technology, and so the opportunity for us is in recruiting is to go out and make future employees aware [of] how exciting this industry is," Shoultz said.

"When you look at the bottom of the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico or Angola it looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It's unbelievable. And we'll drill a well somewhere and we'll tie it back to a rig 25 miles away, under a mile of water. And so, I think the challenge for us … is to get that message out."

Training is Key

Technology, of course, also plays its part in the learning and development process. According to Shoultz, BP now uses a variety of distance-learning technologies when training its staff.

"So, for example, right now I'm sitting in a learning center in Houston … What our leadership tells me is that it's not about bricks and mortar; it's about technology and getting learning out to all the regions," he said.

Of course, BP does not simply operate on its own when it comes to developing talent in the oil and gas sector, and equipping the industry's workers with the skills they need.

"BP is involved in a lot of joint ventures. BP in so many areas is required to get things done through national oil companies, so we have very, very close relationships with national oil companies and the countries themselves … We have to demonstrate to them that we are very good at not only equipping our own people but that we are very good at equipping your people as well, your country's people," Shoultz said.

The company also has a close relationship with a number of other international oil companies and service providers to the industry. Shoultz is particularly proud of BP's increasingly close relationship with Schlumberger Ltd.

"My team has entered into a partnership with Schlumberger in the area of training," he said.

"So my counterpart [at Schlumberger] and I see each other probably a couple of times a year … And so we have a very good understanding on how they do their learning and they have a very good understanding of how we do our learning, and we're actually moving into situations where we start to share."

Economies of Scale

Internal training and development explains some of BP's success when it comes to addressing the skills gap, but the firm's recruitment function "will always have a role to play", according to Harvie-Liddel. BP's sheer size, and related economies of scale, helps when roles need to be filled quickly!

"What we tend to do with all vacancies is we always look internally. So, we look at our own talent pools before anything will go to the external market," she said.

Of course, getting the raw material in terms of recent graduates into the industry is also highly important.

"I think as an industry it is incumbent upon us to persuade people that we can offer a compelling career and that's something that we all need to continue to work at because there was sporadic hiring during the 1990s and early 2000s. And I think that certainly, among my networks in the industry, we've all learned from that and we understand that that's not something we can do again."

A condensed version of this article originally appeared April 11, 2013 on Rigzone.

A former engineer, Jon is an award-winning editor who has covered the technology, engineering and energy sectors since the mid-1990s. Email Jon at jmainwaring@rigzone.com


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Paul Thomson | May. 10, 2013
Is there such a skills shortage or is the HR systems just not working? From personal experience I have worked in the oil and gas sector in the UK for the best part of 23 yrs now and although I had a break for a few years still think I have a lot of relevant experience. Work shop supervisor for a National Oilwel, couple of years working with hydraulics and working worldwide setting up and running thermal disorbtion plants. On top of that I have an hnc in engineering. Yet can I get an answer to over 200 emails? Not a chance! Does this mean then that my experience is no longer of requirement to the oil industry then? This is not isolated either as I know of a lot of guys in the same boat. So is there a real shortage of skills that can be transferred to the disciplines or are the companies being a little unrealistic in what they are now looking for. Is it possible that HR departments can no longer spot transferable skills any more? I would love to know the real answer and there are thousands out there that would also like to know I think. Regards, Paul

GLafond | May. 10, 2013
Ive contracted for BP before. They have excellent safety processs & procedures however front line business managers pressure supervisors for time restraints. They seek talent but from my experience - they dont walk the talk...

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