Case studies

Why BP had to modernise its recruitment function to become fit for the digital age

22 Feb 2018 By Eleanor Whitehouse

Huge improvements in the hiring process made it possible for the oil giant to compete with Facebook and Google for top tech talent

At BP’s International Centre for Business and Technology, something akin to a small city tucked neatly between Feltham and Sunbury-on-Thames in south west London, the theme is safety, safety and safety. On the shuttle bus provided by BP to get its staff to the complex from Feltham train station, an airline-style announcement politely requests that passengers wear their seatbelts, and even climbing a staircase has its own set of clearly displayed rules.

But with many of BP’s employees working in hazardous environments such as oil rigs and refineries, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill still writ large in the public consciousness, it’s easy to see why the firm puts safety above all else.

“Whether they work in a refinery or behind a desk in an office, all members of our workforce have a responsibility towards health and safety,” says Vicky Bourne. As head of resourcing for BP’s product and service arm – known as Downstream – Bourne oversees hiring in refineries, offices and beyond. Her team recruits around 3,000 people per year worldwide, and last year processed more than 110,000 applications. And it’s fair to say that its ability to hire and retain the right people will determine how BP makes the transition from oil major to energy giant in the decades to come.

“When people think of BP, they usually think we’re just looking for engineers and technicians, but we have a lot of sales and marketing roles, as well as a huge supply chain operation, so our workforce is more diverse than just science,” she explains.

Bourne herself is no stranger to science. After completing a medical microbiology degree and a stint in pharmaceutical sales, she moved into recruiting, and joined BP’s resourcing team seven years ago. “When I started here, the recruitment function wasn’t very modern,” she says. “Our employer brand was behind the times. We had to modernise how we did things – including make better use of channels like Facebook and LinkedIn – to appeal to more candidates.”

Expanding resourcing capabilities in BP’s key areas – the UK, the US, China, Australia and New Zealand – has been a priority for Bourne, who has now set up dedicated recruiting teams in these countries. However, hiring around the globe also poses challenges, including cultural differences. “We have to bear these in mind and be where our candidates are looking,” says Bourne. “China, for example, has its own social media channels, so we advertise on platforms like WeChat, instead of Facebook. Some countries also have different academic calendars, so we can’t look for graduates in June if the academic year ends in December.”

With huge improvements made in getting BP in sight of the right prospective employees, Bourne has also turned her attention to what happens once the applications have arrived. “When we first asked our candidates how they found their recruitment experience with us, 60 per cent said it was positive. Which meant 40 per cent thought it was average or poor, and we had to change that,” she says. 

Bourne and her teams across the globe have worked to steadily improve this figure over three years “by sharing best practice, getting expert advice and establishing the right partnerships”, and the most recent data boasts 86 per cent positive feedback. “It’s not happened overnight,” she says, “but I’m proud of how far we’ve come.”

Looking ahead, Bourne says BP is keen to shake off the reputation that is traditionally attached to the oil and gas industry, and frame the firm as part of the solution to reducing emissions, not the problem: “We’ve got a job to do as a sector to get out and talk about how we’re supporting the transition to low carbon.”

With the largest renewable energy business of the six ‘supermajor’ oil and gas companies, BP is leading the way in clean energy. As well as three bioethanol plants in Brazil, 14 wind farms across eight US states and a new project to create aeroplane biofuel from household rubbish, it has also recently invested $200m in solar energy firm Lightsource to address the growing demand for solar power, and $5m in FreeWire, a mobile electric vehicle charging company, to provide charging facilities at BP forecourts.

Coupled with the company’s increasing investment in new digital technologies, it’s up to Bourne and her teams to find the people with the right skills to keep up with the sector’s evolution. Artificial intelligence, drones, blockchain and big data are all now firmly on its agenda.

A role once undertaken by a human workforce, the organisation increasingly uses drones to assess oil pipelines in remote environments with difficult weather conditions, eliminating the safety risk to people. Downtime in refineries because of mechanical failure is also is being significantly reduced, as continuously tracking and analysing operational data allows the technical teams to perform maintenance before a problem occurs.

“Our move into digital means we’re now competing with the likes of Facebook and Google for the best people – but how do we present the energy sector as a compelling alternative to the big tech companies?” says Bourne. “Oil and gas isn’t seen as being at the forefront of the digital agenda, so it’s up to us to change that.”

She also sees technology helping more in her own role: “The future of resourcing is to continue improving employee experience and empowering our people. We want their experience to be as good as our consumers’.

“We’re using technology to take over more and more manual resourcing activities from the team, which means we can devote more attention to valuable longer-term work, like partnering with the rest of the business to make sure we’re adding as much value as possible. This is a really exciting opportunity for us.”

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