Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

The Times: Grow your own winner

Skills shortages within the oil and gas sector are making companies look inwards to nurture and retain talent

February 27, 2008
Emily Ford

Oil may be running out, but for the moment the slippery black stuff needs more hands than it can get. Companies bend over backwards to recruit skilled, talented staff. Once they find them, retaining and managing that talent is vital – however enthusiastic, not all pipeline engineers want to spend their entire careers on rigs.

“There’s a dearth of talent across the board, at every level,” says Daniel Griggs, a director at BBT, a recruitment consultancy in the oil and gas sector. Companies struggle to fill vacancies in the Middle East, he says, and drilling and electrical engineers are just two roles where there are shortages. “Within these sectors it’s particularly important to retain staff [so] there’s good career progression.” After eight years you could have “senior” in your job title, Griggs says. “If someone’s willing to commit themselves to the industry they have great prospects.” Recruiters are looking at backgrounds creatively, rather than going for a 100 per cent fit.

Shell’s greatest talent shortage is in sub-surface exploration – geoscientists and engineers, says Bob Fryer, vice-president for resourcing and learning at Shell Exploration and Production. For talented graduates, an offer of employment comes with a long-term view. “We believe in delivering a career. People need to grow in their profession: that means staff development.”

The need to retain talent means that the industry is forced to compete on pay and conditions, Fryer says. Shell has the international edge. “Our footprint across the world is a unique offering,” he says. An “open resourcing system” lists vacancies around the world. The company insists on rapid movement for recruits to gain exposure early: new graduates can expect two roles within the first three years. After four years, Shell takes an estimate of potential that allows them to spot “very young and outstanding” talent, he says. Regional talent managers look for leadership potential, but they also expect people to take responsibility. “It’s up to the individual to manage his or her own career,” Fryer says.

High oil prices mean that the production sector is extremely active, says Mohan Kumar, head of HR at Essar Energy. “Talent has become very scarce in upstream and midstream, particularly in refineries and reservoirs,” he says. Essar is growing fast: today it has 2,500 engineers, up from 150 three years ago. “There is tremendous incentive for people to move faster [through the business],” Kumar says. “We try to move talent internally if possible.” Every year, staff are assessed. As soon as they meet a standard, they move up to the next level. Essar also uses external consultants to identify fast-trackers. “We look at the performance of the top 20 per cent of the talent,” he says. The best are potential leaders and assigned a career “account manager”. After two years, some can train to become oil traders, a select and highly paid group, he says.

Dean Hunter, HR director at Production Services Network (PSN), an oil and gas service contractor, is proud of their 0.6 per cent attrition rate and cites transparent opportunities as the reason. “People think that talent management is all about training but that’s not the case. [Employees] need to see a visible career path. Oil and gas is often not very good at that.”

Employees are not given a career ladder but a “spider’s web” with 30 routes. At the top of the discipline route, employees are given the title of “chief of discipline”. A chief mechanical engineer, for example, hires and trains staff as well as acting as an expert technical adviser. Everyone is expected to be flexible. “If we keep accountants as accountants, they will potentially hit a ceiling because not everyone can be a finance manager,” Hunter says. “When people get to a certain level we need them to move into ‘people’ areas such as sales or business development.” Graduates spend at least three years in a discipline to acquire a core technical skill. “We don’t want them to become jacks of no trades,” Hunter says.

It’s a familiar sentiment: oil and gas companies need to woo talented workers then hold on to their industry knowledge throughout their careers. The reward? Rapid career progression, if you’re good enough. One apprentice at PSN was made the global construction manager at 28. “That’s not unusual,” Hunter says. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

1 Comment on “The Times: Grow your own winner”

  1. #1 Mitchell K Ray
    on Apr 1st, 2008 at 16:48

    Please advise if RoyaldutchShell hires remote site paramedics for it’s oilrigs overseas? Thank you very much. I would like to send a resume to your Human Resourses Divison. Mitchell K. Ray

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: