Facing the switch

Written by
Changeboard Team

09 Dec 2014

09 Dec 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Oil & Gas Benchmark Survey

As many as 22,000 of the GCC’s experienced technical workers must be replaced in the next three years. This is according to the results of this year’s ‘Oil & Gas HR Benchmark Survey’ by Schlumberger Business Consulting, which suggests that this number of geoscientists and petroleum engineers will retire by 2015. This exodus of skilled personnel and the increasing reliance on younger, inexperienced colleagues – known as the Big Crew Change – will stiffen the competition for local talent.

Recruitment cutbacks during the recession of the 1970s and 1980s have created an industry devoid of a generation of geoscientists and petroleum engineers. Oil and gas majors are striving to fill this gap by hiring young talent, a task made more challenging in the GCC by the limited supply of experienced local staff and the drive towards nationalisation.

Organizations are taking a long-term view to hiring and retaining local talent. They’re paying close attention to employer brand, the employee ‘contract’ and how to create an infrastructure to develop and manage a younger workforce. A central challenge is recruiting enough talent for future succession and managing them so they’re ready for senior engineering roles in 5-10 years’ time.

BP: going for excellence

“The GCC can avoid the traps that the US and UK fell into – by developing a generation of talent,” says RV Anand, VP HR Middle East & India.

“We started to invest in local talent five years before we needed it, ensuring our HR processes were joined up. We have capability forums where line managers discuss how people are progressing and succession readiness to ensure succession plans deliver.”

BP recruits 400-500 graduates globally each year and focuses on developing locals. The influx of ‘raw’ local talent means accelerated and systematic development is critical. Anand explains: “In the past five years, we have moved from a three-year graduate scheme to a multi-year ‘Excellence Programme’, which takes engineers to key technical specialist or team leader roles where they can operate autonomously.” The Excellence Programme includes baseline assessments to test employees’ technical and soft competencies, and development planning to bridge gaps – with 70% of plans built around on-the-job learning.

The company believes a strong employer value proposition plays a key role and it aims to create a meaningful workplace culture. Anand says: “We have five clearly articulated values which all leaders and employees are expected to live daily.”

It embraces succession planning, using a nine-box grid to identify high potential employees supported by focused development planning.

Petroleum Development Oman: coaching culture

PDO has prioritised the recruitment of young local talent. It hires about 1,400 employees annually – including 400 local graduates who have studied at home or overseas and 200 from local educational institutes. Some 79% of its employees are Omani.

Commitment to diversity and inclusion has helped reach a wider talent pool. The company employs staff from 50 countries and women hold four of the key director roles – exploration, gas, finance and people & change. “It’s about identifying talent early and fast-tracking development, which includes international experience,” says head of talent, Shabir Al Hussain.

Every professional discipline has a competency framework and a ‘learning ladder’ – a portfolio of development programmes covering the employee life cycle from joining to senior management. Each employee has a quarterly personal development plan. PDO’s Middle East Learning Hub also offers training to employees from its partner, Shell, so local staff learn alongside people from other nationalities and from another major organization.

Expats play a pivotal role in developing local staff. Their performance contracts require them to personally coach 2-3 Omanis, and they have clear coaching and knowledge transfer targets. For Al Hussain, coaching is as important as technical expertise. “If you can prove your competence, you’ll get promoted,” he says. “We now have many Omanis in leadership roles in their 30s; previously these jobs were done by expats in their 50s.”

The company has introduced an ‘HR in the New Era’ programme to understand what Generation Y values. To help retain more experienced staff, the company has also created a ‘Subject Matter Expert’ scheme, providing career progression opportunities to technical specialists who want to continue to play to their strengths in their core professional disciplines.

“The business expectations of HR have changed in the past 10 years,” says Al Hussain. “Here, HR is viewed as the business, not a business partner. Having HR professionals with the skill sets to provide competent support to tackle business issues is a key differentiator.”

Honeywell Saudi Arabia: focus on development

Honeywell is struggling to recruit engineers in Saudi Arabia at a time when business is growing and demand for skilled resources is high. The shortage of talent spurs high employee turnover, mobility between competitors, spiraling pay and increased recruitment costs.

Bader Al Dulaimi, HR country manager for Saudi Arabia, says: “Recruiting engineers is critical to our growth plans. The quantity and skills of our talent directly influences how many projects we can take on.”

Honeywell sources engineers from around the world including Uzbekistan, and hires graduates from Saudi Arabia. It recruits mid-career skilled nationals into managerial positions. Al Dulaimi has found that social media does not work when hiring engineers. “We need to dig deeper into talent pools, so ask our best people to recommend friends,” he says.

Upskilling graduate recruits is a key part of HR strategy, with short-term programs involving on-the-job training, mid-term interventions comprising a one-year structured learning program, and long-term measures that blend both of these and might include overseas work experience.

Al Dulaimi adds: “We aim to retain key talent long enough to transfer their knowledge. Succession planning is important to promote career growth, as well as offering attractive rewards such as profit share, and creating a transparent, fair and open culture.

Featured HR leaders

RV Anand

VP HR, BP Exploration, Middle East & India
Anand leads the delivery of BP Exploration’s people strategy in the Middle East and India.

Shabir Al Hussain

head of talent, Petroleum Development, Oman (PDO)
Shabir leads recruitment, on boarding, Omanisation, development and leadership. He is president of the Omani Society for Human Resources Management.


Bader Al Dulaimi

HR country manager – Saudi Arabia, Honeywell
Bader is responsible for Honeywell’s HR strategy in Saudi Arabia.

Shabir Al Hussain

Shamirhead of talent, Petroleum Development, Oman (PDO)

Shabir leads recruitment, onboarding, Omanisation, development and leadership. He is president of the Omani Society for Human Resources Management.

Bader Al Dulaimi

BaderHR country manager – Saudi Arabia, Honeywell

Bader is responsible for Honeywell’s HR strategy in Saudi Arabia.