A recent Petroleum News interview with BP Exploration (Alaska)’s Florian Borowski, human resource manager for resource planning, and Dave Rees, technical resourcing specialist, provided an inside look at the company’s employment process and its perspective on the workforce situation in Alaska.
BP has 300 more employees in Alaska than it did two years ago. According to Borowski the company’s Alaska headquarters in midtown Anchorage is “busting at the seams.” Parking is an issue; 22 weekly flights to the North Slope are full, and once you get there the beds are all occupied and the offices are packed.
Managing current growth while focusing on the future is BP’s main concern.
“We at BP have been recognizing the need to not only believe we have a 50-year business, but act like we have a 50-year business. Growth is really about executing our 50-year plan; my position was actually created for that purpose,” Borowski explained.
With projects large and small on the horizon, BP is on the lookout for promising new hires to complement that plan.
“Most of the positions right now are in discipline engineering, supporting our base business: mechanical, civil, construction and project engineers, and on the subsurface side, petroleum and reservoir engineers,” Borowski said.
“We are hiring people right out of school, but right now we’re really looking for experienced folks,” added Rees. Corrosion engineers, for example, with the necessary experience are hard to find, he said.
To beef up its production while simultaneously addressing the workforce issue, BP developed three main focal points for increasing growth: “Re-establishing our ability to pursue our base business, production, integrity management and organizational capabilities; pursue major projects like Liberty and the western region development project, as well as brown-field type projects; and renewing our workforce — we lost 15 technicians last year, mainly to retirement, and we hired 80 new ones via transfer or external hire, ” Borowski explained.
“Renewing the workforce also means renewing the equipment,” Rees said. “We want to accelerate renewal and it takes people to do that, we need project managers to get these big projects started, but we also need people to maintain the facilities long-term.”
Where BP looks and what it wantsLike all companies, BP has a process it goes through to find new people — a process Borowski said is concise, focused and comes with high expectations.
“Every time we have a job opening the job gets posted with the Alaska Department of Labor job service and with five Alaska newspapers; that’s where it goes first and foremost every time,” Borowski said. “The challenge is, if we can’t fill it through those means, then we find ourselves recruiting from the Lower 48.” Again, specialty areas are tough to fill; “there just aren’t a lot of Alaskans with the necessary experience looking for work up here.”
But Alaskans still have the best shot. In 2005, 83 percent of BP’s employees in the state were Alaska residents, 71 percent receiving a permanent fund dividend.
“We’ve tripled the number of college hires that we’re pursuing; graduates from UAA and UAF 4-year programs are preferred. We look for Alaskans who are going to school out of state; we want to get them back home. We pride ourselves on the progress we’ve made in that arena,” Borowski said.
BP is first and foremost looking for Alaskans. But which ones do they want?
“Working for BP takes education, training and a positive attitude. You can have the education and training but if you don’t have the right attitude you might not work for BP,” Borowski said.
“We’re looking for people who want to bring something extra to the job,” Rees added.
Depending on the position, the education and training necessary for a job with BP can come from trade schools, colleges or working for a BP contractor.
Providing solutions and resourcesConcern about finding enough qualified job applicants in Alaska has been raised at several meetings and forums over the last year. When asked about BP’s proactive role in workforce development, Borowski said “BP has taken a leadership role in internship programs and process tech programs, utilizing internships more than any other company up here in terms of bringing folks in.”
He explained that “we do that because not only are we giving people the opportunity to learn the skills and get some experience, it also allows us to develop a long-term interviewing process with them, which is extremely effective for us, and it contributes a lot to the community.”
This past summer BP employed 16 interns from process tech programs and 22 interns from colleges, Rees said.
When asked if BP was utilizing trade school graduates in Alaska, Rees explained that “most of our entry-level positions require a high skill level, so we’re usually talking to experienced hires with five-to-10 years in the field.”
True entry levels with the company can be filled by graduates from process tech programs, he said, noting that most of them have had the work experience and are top students with great employability skills.
Borowski recommended that people interested in a process tech position look into training offered by the Alaska Process Industries Careers Consortium.
Generally positions offered through BP directly require many hours of training, experience and certifications; individuals without this type of background may “certainly be good candidates for one of our contractors,” he said.
Borowski also mentioned efforts being made by The Alliance to maintain a Web-based portal for its member organizations’ employment contact details. He referred to the site as one-stop shopping: “If you’re a welder and want to work on the slope, go to the Alliance Web site and get the information on all the companies that are hiring welders right now and make those contacts.”
Motivating Alaskans to compete for BP jobs“I think it’s important that we really make an effort to demystify how to get into this business; I think APICC is providing a great resource to people trying to figure out what steps to take,” Borowski said. “Our business isn’t visible here in Anchorage; we don’t have a big refinery down here that people drive by to see what it is we do to operate on a daily basis.”
Borowski repeatedly stressed the importance of getting Alaskans to compete for BP jobs: “They’re going to be filled, but how to get Alaskans to be prepared and capable and qualified to fill these jobs is the challenge. That’s where PARW, Putting Alaska’s Resources to Work, and other initiatives are playing an important role in getting the word out. We have a strong bias for getting Alaskans in these positions.”
“It starts with the kids; getting them motivated,” Rees said.
Although BP does not have trouble filling positions when forced to go outside Alaska to look for applicants, Borowski admitted being concerned about the workforce shortages some of its contractors are having.
“We’re very dependent on those companies that are having a problem finding the right talent. We really want the service and supply companies that work with us and support our projects to be successful at getting the talent they need to get the work done.”
Boom and bust imageBut Borowski also recognized that people often view oil and gas as a boom and bust industry, which could prove a deterrent for people making long-term career plans.
Both men adamantly agreed that they want people to realize BP is always going to need its core people to keep the company operating.
Part of Borowski’s job is to make sure the business evaluates itself and follows through with its obligations. “We take that very seriously, to grow in a thoughtful manner,” he said. “How big should we be? How many positions should we have?”
BP has 1,600 employees in Alaska today. Sticking to its 50-year commitment means two more generations will have careers at BP Exploration (Alaska).
“That’s roughly 3,000 people that will come to work for BP in the next 50 years,” Rees said. “It could be 3,000 Alaskans.”