As many as 120,000 new oil and gas workers worldwide will be needed over the next decade as the industry’s senior-most workers head toward retirement, according to a Sept. 5, 2013 story in the Telegraph. For oil and gas companies faced with the daunting task of finding all the high-quality workers needed to fill the void created by those departing workers, turning to military veterans could be one of the best moves they can make, according to the team at Orion International, a major military veteran search firm that focuses on finding the best available talent for their clients.
There is certainly a large pool of talented workers with invaluable experience and diverse backgrounds available to work in the oil and gas industry, David Coe, Orion’s vice president of Strategic Programs, told Rigzone.
“Each calendar year, about 180,000 to 200,000 people leave active military service in the United States and transition out into the civilian workforce,” Coe said. “There is a real diversity of talent from the various branches of the Armed Forces to choose from.”
Orion makes the choosing easier for its many oil and gas clients by holding regional hiring conferences several times a year, like the one just held in Houston, Texas in early August. A large number of energy companies showed up to meet with about 100 pre-screened and selected military service members who are about to transition out of the military. Just days after the event, several of the service people had already been offered and had accepted jobs in the industry following their discharge. One oil and gas company had met with 10 different candidates and had offered or was planning to offer jobs to seven candidates, Steve Casey, vice-president of Sales Operations, said.
“Several of the positions that were filled required relocation to small towns in South Texas, but our client found the right candidates, and other offers are being sent out this week,” Casey said.
One might think that with hiring decisions being made so rapidly, retention rates could suffer. However, that is not the case, Coe said.
“The two-year retention rate for vets hired into the oil and gas industry by our client companies is right at 93 percent. I think that what drives the retention number that high is that when we have the opportunity to build out a military talent program for an organization like, say, ConocoPhillips Co., we’re spending a lot of time and dedicating resources on the front end to becoming experts on that customer’s business,” Coe said. “We go on site and conduct training events for their staff and managers to help them become more knowledgeable about the range of military candidates that may be a good match for their careers. We also run a marketing program that actually tells the story of who that organization is to veterans before they actually leave the military. People who are scheduled to get out in six or 12 months from now are already hearing about how great our client companies are.”
“Retention rates like that have client companies coming back for repeat business. We pre-screen and pre-select the candidates ahead of time. When they arrive at the hiring conference, it is to interview for specific positions with specific companies. It’s nothing like a job fair,” Chris Casanave, Orion partner and senior account manager, told Rigzone.
Orion credits the careful screening process it uses with its military candidates for much of the long-term success of the matches that it successfully facilitates at the hiring conferences.
“Someone might have the right experience for a job with a hiring company, but they might be a better fit at another company,” Coe said, explaining that it was helpful to have candidates from all branches of service to choose from.
In addition to hiring conferences, Orion also matches up veteran candidates with specific jobs during mini-conferences, which are on-site events with pre-screened candidates attending to interview for specific positions, and normal direct placement, where a client company looks for someone with particular experience. The very nature of military service makes the oil and gas industry ideal for former military service personnel, according to Casanave.
Military veterans can also have a more diverse background than most non-veterans, having had opportunities to work in different areas and around people from other parts of the country – or even around the globe. And that background makes veterans more adaptable, and has provided them with more experience being part of a team, Casanave added. Orion International counts a number of energy companies among their repeat clients, including firms such as ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., BP plc, Schlumberger Ltd. and many other energy companies.
“We place workers in oil and gas jobs all over the nation, but particularly in the south-central region, where it’s the main industry for us. We have been working with energy companies over the last 20 years, and we’ve placed workers in offshore and onshore jobs, in positions of leadership, such as project managers, and in engineering and many other positions,” Casanave said. “And we don’t just help energy companies hire our recruits and then forget about them. We are engaged in attracting, hiring, developing, training and retaining candidates.”
Headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, Orion also has offices are in Austin, San Diego, Cincinnati and Virginia Beach – each of which is strategically located near a major military facility. The idea, Casanave said, is to find the best candidates in those nearby military facilities – and on bases elsewhere, as well – long before their discharge date.
“We try to get them in front of companies as soon as possible. Usually, that’s about 90 days ahead of discharge,” Casanave, who works with junior military officers, said.
That period is stretched to 120 days or more for engineers and other in-demand positions requiring tight skill sets, she added. Some candidates are contacted as much as six months to a year before their discharge date, and had civilian jobs with leading oil and gas companies lined up well in advance of their discharge date.
SCREENING CANDIDATES FOR OIL AND GAS CAREERS
The all-important screening process takes place well before the candidates are put in front of the companies they interview with. The candidates’ skills and educational background are assessed, as is their leadership potential. They are also queried about what region of the country they want to live and work in, what they are interested in doing for a career, and what their salary requirements are. Using this information, as well as what they know about each of their client companies, Orion then introduces the candidates to client the best match of companies with job openings that are similar to what the recruits are seeking.
Because most of the Orion team has a military background, they are able to use that experience to get a better perspective on what the best matches are. In the evaluation process, Orion first looks at what the candidate’s basic job is – electrician, mechanic, admin, etc. – as well as how far they advanced in their field, how many years of service they have, what branch of the service they are in, and whether they want to remain near the location of their last duty station, or whether they would rather be relocated to a different region of the country.
An example, Casnave said, is when Orion looks for offshore positions for veterans who had been in the U.S. Navy.
“They have a background being on a ship, and they are used to being deployed to various areas. In fact, in the energy industry, there are probably likely to be deployed to other areas than when they were in the Navy,” she said.
Like their officer counterparts, veterans who came from the enlisted ranks have a much lower attrition rate than non-veteran workers. Roughly 82 percent of veterans remain with the company, compared with an attrition rate in the 40s for the general population, Vearl Williams, a senior partner with the company who was brought in to help formerly enlisted personnel find jobs, told Rigzone.
“Oil and gas work is a good place to work, and it’s much like the military. You’re in the heat and the cold, and the work is teamwork oriented, and there is some ‘hurry up and wait,’” Williams said. “Like oil and gas, the military is a large fraternity.”
FINDING PERMANENT POSITIONS FOR TEMP WORKERS
Initially, Orion – which began in 1991 – placed only junior military officers who were transitioning into the civilian workforce. However, the oil and gas industry is known for having diverse positions, and not all of them require a college degree or the amount of leadership experience that many officers have. So, one of the original founders of Orion hired Williams and two other vets who had been non-commissioned officers (NCO) while in the Army to start a recruiting business for formerly enlisted men.
The program got off to a slow start, with veterans from technical fields finding work, while those who had been in infantry and other similar positions struggled to find positions. However, Schlumberger eventually contacted Williams about a proposal to hire workers on a temporary basis for cementing, fracking and other operations, and if they got commercial driver’s licenses within 90 days, they could become permanent workers.
So, a program for temp-to-permanent workers was formed. Interest in the program picked up substantially when Schlumberger later came to Williams with a need for a large number of recruits. They would be hired as temporary workers for fracking and cementing operations, and could become permanent when they got their commercial driver’s license.
“We got them hired straight out of the military, with no oil and gas experience,” Williams recalled. “Many of them were from the infantry and artillery ranks. Schlumberger already had a training program, and we started providing them with monthly candidates. The vets had no oil and gas experience. Since 2011, Schlumberger has hired more than 500 veterans straight out of the military,” Williams said, adding that other client companies are now hiring vets, too.
Currently, there are 130 contractors working out in the field, Williams said, and he has “another 100 waiting in the wings for job openings.”