BP is set to increase the number of graduates it recruits in the next few years, boosting its capability to take on new challenges in meeting energy demand.
The offer to new recruits is a career that involves working at the frontiers of the industry - the deep water, heavy oil, unconventional gas production, state-of-the art refining and petrochemical plants. And in BP, new joiners are carefully integrated into the business, with support from mentors who are willing to share their experiences to help the next generation make new advances.
It is exactly this prospect that BP is hoping will attract ever greater numbers of graduates around the world, as it looks to build the skills required to provide the world’s future energy needs in a sustainable manner.
The numbers tell the story. In 2009, BP's upstream business recruited just under 300 graduates around the world. Last year, that number rose to almost 500. By 2014, it will be looking for some 700-800 new people every year. It’s a similar story in refining and marketing, where global graduate recruitment is set to triple between 2010 and 2014, rising from 110 to 350 new joiners every year. The aim, in both segments, is to then maintain those levels of recruitment.
And it's not just graduates that BP is hoping to recruit. In September 2011, it launched its Future Leaders programme (FLP), designed to attract high-potential postgraduates, with a minimum of three years' experience, to take up roles in both refining and marketing and BP’s information technology and services (IT&S) function. This year, it is looking for 40 candidates, with numbers rising in the future.
So, what has prompted all this activity? Global demand for energy is growing, with estimates suggesting an increase of as much as 40% over the next 20 years. At the same time, the energy industry is facing a growing skills gap, as large numbers of experienced workers retire.
As a result, BP needs to prepare a new generation with the skills, knowledge, values and behaviours to take the company into the future. BP has developed several graduate programmes that help support new starters in their initial years with the company.
The longest running of its graduate development plans is its upstream Challenge programme - an early development initiative for technical and professional disciplines - which has been running since 1993. Aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates with up to three years' work experience, Challenge has evolved into a highly-structured, competency-based programme. It provides graduates with practical experience and formal training to build strengths in particular disciplines, including engineering, finance, subsurface and wells.
Greta Uranich, global operations manager for the programme, explains how Challenge works: "Each of our 'Challengers' will go through two job rotations, over a period of three years, with each rotation providing appropriate field or operational experience. This is complemented by on-the-job experience, along with up to 25 days of formal training every year. In addition, our Challengers receive support and coaching, regular assessments and feedback.”
BP invests both time and money in its development programmes, with each Challenger receiving extensive support from a network of managers, mentors and buddies. As Uranich puts it: “It takes a village to raise a Challenger."
For Kirsty Dawkes, a geophysicist for BP Angola, it was this commitment to training and support that attracted her in the first place. Based in Sunbury, Dawkes is a third year upstream Challenger who found out about the programme while on a summer internship with the company. “It was the training aspects - both formal courses and on-the-job training - that I found particularly attractive," she says. So far, she has attended technical courses related to her discipline, software, offshore safety survival and, most recently, influencing and presentation skills.
The Challenge programme may be attractive, but it also lives up to its name. Alex Townsend, a start-up support engineer in the Angola global projects organisation in Singapore and Sunbury, and now in his first post-Challenge role, says: "It is a challenge. I got a phenomenal amount out of being on the programme, but to get through it all, you must plan, apply yourself and grab the opportunities available."
For Townsend, the high point was during his third role as a process engineer aboard the Greater Plutonio floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel in Block 18, Angola. "I joined the turnaround team to replace and repair a number of defects on the platform [a 'turnaround' is a planned, periodic shutdown of a facility in order to perform maintenance]. We managed all the changes successfully and the FPSO started up on time, without any injuries or leaks. Also, because it worked more efficiently, you could see the outcome of your work and its positive effect on people.”
One of the key elements about the programme is that it is designed to throw new recruits into real projects, right from the outset. Sometimes, that can mean moving country, getting to grips with a new career, new colleagues and a new culture – all at the same time. Joseph Payton knows this well, having moved from the UK to Germany after just nine months of working with BP, to take up a role as quality assurance technical support manager with the global fuels technology team.
“The company gives you great responsibility, backed up with supportive managers," he says. "It’s been great coming to a new country and liaising with colleagues in other surrounding countries. You’re working with high-calibre people and pushing ahead with technology." Scott Lepley, a PhD graduate based in Houston, meanwhile, has found himself working as a geologist with the Brazil team as part of his second upstream Challenge rotation.
“I’m working with world-renowned experts,” he says. “Not many people get [these experiences] in a lifetime’s career and here I am in my third year working with the best.”
However, it isn’t only the upstream business that is looking to develop its new recruits in this way. In September 2011, BP’s refining and marketing business launched its own Challenge programme. Simone Tillmann, global head of the downstream programme, explains why: “Although other programmes exist in downstream, the ultimate aim is for them all to migrate to Challenge, so that we can offer a globally consistent framework.”
Downstream Challenge is similar to its upstream partner, in that it offers a number of job rotations over a period of around four years, support from mentors, plus training in core skills and behaviours. Unlike the upstream programme, some business areas allow Challengers to experience roles across different segments.
Challengers graduate from each of the programmes when they have met all their competency and training goals, moving into a standalone role within their chosen discipline.
Meanwhile, the FLP aims to develop mature graduates for early leadership roles. Applicants must meet strict criteria - that they hold a postgraduate degree, have professional experience related to their discipline, have lived or studied outside their home country and have demonstrable leadership potential. Fluent English is mandatory and they must be able to speak a second language.
An extensive recruitment campaign has been carried out in nine countries, including the UK, US, China and the United Arab Emirates. New recruits began joining BP in March 2012. “There are three main elements to the FLP development offer: education, experience and exposure,” says Tessa Arnold, head of the IT&S Academy. “New joiners will go through a series of structured learning modules. They will undertake two distinct roles, one of which may be outside the home country, gain experience in a major business project and have exposure to the global business and senior leaders.”
All these global development programmes have great appeal, as they offer a clear structure, goals and associated training. Leyla Safarova, an environmental advisor in Azerbaijan and a final-year upstream Challenger, says she was attracted to BP because of the development programme. “This is the only programme in our country that gives such a great opportunity for graduates,” she says. “You work and learn at the same time. There’s very good training and, for me, the chance to gain formal certification in environmental management from the UK's Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.”
All three graduate development programmes place their emphasis on what it takes to develop a career, along with the value of knowing who to turn to for support and advice. Among other things, great importance is attached to networking, and formal opportunities are provided. One new opportunity took place in 2011, when the upstream Challenge team organised a global poster competition called Global TechnoFest. The competition ran in 10 of BP’s regional hubs, including Norway and Alaska, and was designed to give Challengers the opportunity to share their projects and ideas with the wider BP community. All the teams were encouraged to demonstrate how their work supports safety and risk management, business impact and technical excellence.
More than 300 individuals took part in the competition and six teams were later selected to display their work at a final showcase in BP’s London headquarters, attracting interest from staff and senior executives “The exhibition helped Challengers gain far greater exposure for themselves and their work,” says Uranich, “while also enabling them to become better connected.”
Currently, BP has around 1,650 Challengers worldwide. However, there are thousands more who have since ‘graduated’ from the programme and are now in significant roles around the globe. Al Vickers, vice president for safety and operational risk in BP’s global wells organisation, based in Houston, joined the company 15 years ago as a Challenge graduate. Since then, he has enjoyed a diverse career that has spanned upstream and downstream segments in operational, engineering and managerial roles, across the UK, South Korea, Angola and the US. Carl Orsbourn, meanwhile, a performance and planning manager for UK Retail has also experienced a remarkably wide-ranging career. “I’ve had a range of jobs since joining BP,” he says, “working, among other things, as a project manager, a pricing manager and in a variety of operational roles in California.”
Both men are committed to helping new Challengers find their feet. Orsbourn is the refining and marketing commercial Challenge programme coordinator, finding roles for new recruits, allocating mentors, running assessment panels and helping support Challengers find their next role, following their graduation from the programme. Vickers, who recently gave a speech at a US Challengers’ induction event, is impressed by the quality of the young entrants he meets. “I see outstanding people,” he says, “They’re dynamic, mobile, energetic, refreshing and want to learn. It’s also clear that they know how to access and network information at a phenomenal speed. As a leader, you can learn a lot from them, as they’re learning from you.”
With competition so fierce in the industry, BP’s commitment doesn’t end when these programmes are completed. Across the company, career road-maps are being designed to support employees as they continue to develop. And in 2011, the upstream business announced the launch of its eXcellence programme, into which Challengers move after they graduate. This new initiative provides an accelerated development career programme through to an individual’s 10th anniversary of joining BP.
Clearly, BP is making a long-term commitment. The hope is that this will be returned by its employees. “This is a business in which technical knowledge and the value that can be derived from it in the right hands, is paramount,” says Vickers. “We need people who are at the forefront of their disciplines, and we must retain their talent in order to discover new and better ways of operating. If we can create a stimulating environment where people can learn and grow, then we’re a big enough company for people to have hugely diverse careers without moving elsewhere.”
So, what do Challengers think of the programme? Would they recommend it to others? “Definitely,” says Leyla Safarova. “I’m working, learning, gaining professional skills and being paid well, too. BP’s planning for the future with Challengers. BP cares about us and we care about BP, too.”