November 2010 Vol. 237 No. 11


New Business Model Re-Invents Pipeline And LDC Recruitment

Bonnie Browning

With tens of thousands employed directly in the pipeline industry, and an associated total of more than 9 million jobs supported by the overall oil and gas industry, ongoing recruitment of professionals and management is no small task. In many ways, the challenge has always been intensified by wide-ranging geographical locations, typically remote and even hostile, where skilled pipeline personnel are required on an ongoing basis.

Going forward, today’s pipeline industry job picture calls for a better recruitment approach than ever for a couple of reasons. One, domestically (U.S.) the need for mid-level experienced personnel (generally defined as 7-10 years) in engineering and science remains critical with the prospects sometimes daunting for filling these positions. Two, the requisite skills do not just automatically replenish themselves through a fresh supply of new candidates every several months. To the contrary, pipeline skill sets remain difficult to find either in-country or through attracting talent globally for relocation to not necessarily appealing living conditions in e.g., the Middle East, Africa or Mexico.

Wide Ranging Prospects
Those factors alone could stress the pipeline hiring situation beyond the breaking point, if not for innovative strategies in globally outsourced recruitment. Today’s more scientific approach, fueled by the virtual office, is both figuratively and literally bringing the world of new hires closer than ever to the companies which need their skills and experience now.

Whether the pipelines are transporting crude oil, natural gas or product – and typically found in areas essentially removed from civilization – those in the industry are well aware on an everyday basis how profoundly theirs is not an office job. Yet, the industry continues to attract skilled professionals, working in the different stages of pipelines, from construction to transportation. Possibly one of the “sales” points for filling pipeline positions is when those beginning a career or making a change recognize that the field is not comprised of just a few types of positions.

Instead, people looking for a rewarding, technically oriented career can see the wide variety of opportunities available in this industry, based on an individual’s qualifications. For newcomers and even those with limited exposure to pipelines, a sampling of their future position may include IC engineer, pipeline lead, senior project manager, pipeline operator, shift leader, project engineer scheduler, superintendent, pipefitter, line locator, technician, corrosion/integrity specialist, portfolio planner, senior scientist, regulatory manager and welding specialist, to name but a few.

Project Management (Q-S4)
Yet, what’s the reality for companies and potential candidates looking toward filling open positions throughout the world, when the hurdles of remoteness and living conditions still exist even though employees are competitively compensated? Companies, or their outsourced recruiters, have to leverage new business models and technology as never before. A noted project management approach, known as Q-S4, has taken recruitment from essentially an ad hoc matching of potential employer with candidates to an actual and, some would say, more “scientific” 4-stage system of 1) staging, 2) sourcing, 3) screening and 4) selection.

The purpose is not to simply convert the old hiring process into a multi-part technology version but, directed by a recruitment project manager, to fine-tune the hiring process with a focused methodology. As a result, in staging, a statement of work is developed and driven through to sign-off. In solution, many elements are pulled together, from plans and processes to budget and risks. The processes stage is where the project team is assembled and run by a project team, along with collecting information from Q-Solution and Q-STATS. The latter includes in-depth reviewing of data and monitoring metrics as well as managing the overall scope of the Q-S4 Process brand.

Viewed from a layman’s perspective, the stages consecutively involve the recruiter pulling together information on the pipeline company and preparing the processes, locating the appropriate (i.e., qualified) candidates, actually conducting candidate interviewing and finally making the hiring decision. In all stages, as alluded to above, the strategic work is approached and executed as a technology-enabled project directed by a project manager, breaking with the more informal way of primarily culling candidates and selecting from several subjective possibilities.

Looking deeper into how Q-S4 Project Management is rewriting the recruiting rules, three points stand out. One, in terms of the technology component, this process is designed to overlay a pipeline company’s own technology infrastructure. As a result, nobody hears the plaintive call to “buy new technology now” just to be able to make the system work. Through customization and augmentation, the system actually becomes a proprietary process for the company’s own projects. Two, while designed mainly as a solution for the company’s projects, this system can be the linchpin for literally any recruiting solution. And, three, system utilization allows candidate prospects to be identified on a high-volume basis, resulting in best meeting needs from both revenue-producing and mission-critical standpoints.

Additionally, the key point about bringing project management into the recruitment process is that it just makes sense. Not an exotic idea, after being well-proven in fields including engineering/construction and IT, making the transition to recruiting (which is tailor-made for methodology) is a natural.

Global Virtual Office
As with any system, the best design or solution is only as good as the engine that makes it run. When a pipeline company comes to the recruiter that uses the Q-S4 system, what swings into motion is a scalable and efficient way to respond to recruitment needs using a virtual global office. By arming team members with technology assembled from different resources, recruiters can make the connections better than ever before.

For example, hardware used by recruiters includes sophisticated laptops, cellular phones and Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, allowing team members to work from virtually anywhere. Also, anywhere 24/7, the team utilizes audio visual technologies to visually “connect” for screening and relationship management purposes. Web-based technologies enable scalable and repeatable processes whereby all tools and information can be shared online for the most productive experiences. And, with all resources available collaboratively online, no team member is left out of the loop.

Together, this virtual office not only makes the system effectively work globally, it is also continually evolving. The Q-4S system of recruitment and retention process management, by virtue of being built on leading-edge technology, is just a step away from additional enhancement of today’s business model.

Examples Of Going Global
Not a beta release of what could be called “Recruitment: The Future,” this people-driven recruitment system is already active around the world. A prime example is a European pipeline company engaged in integrity management, working with their recruiter to serve a Latin American national oil company. Utilizing the virtual office capabilities and scalable solutions, and customizing the approach depending on challenges encountered, positions have regularly been filled for a critical, remote area. Having Spanish-speaking staff recruiters was vital because candidates’ homes frequently had to be called and, unlike the candidates themselves, their families usually did not speak English.

In the Middle East, a major oil company, with recruitment efforts focused on North America (U.S. and Canada) along with South Africa, was seeking employees to live and work as permanent salaried employees, not short-term contractors, at their location. Although engineers were the primary objective, the company also wanted teachers, physicians and others in establishing a community rather than exclusively focused on a work environment. That objective brought into play the necessity for recruiters to promote the value proposition to families as well as candidates themselves. While a continuing challenge, recruiters have experienced a high buy-in rate, with attrition virtually nil.

Sometimes, the buy-in value proposition takes a different angle, as with the pipeline company whose emphasis on safety is a top priority. Thus, in the organization’s continuing theme of getting job candidates onboard in remote, hostile environments, this company assigns drivers to take engineering employees everywhere to help ensure their protection.

Other companies utilizing the Q-S4 process are a natural gas distribution company in Washington state and a large independent energy company based in Oklahoma. Both were seeking pipeline engineers but the former determined that this process could apply equally well to recruiting information technology people and that has, in fact, been the result. Overall, these and other pipeline companies are recognizing that, with this new project management recruitment system, the anchors are in place: 1) projects, 2) people and 3) tools.

As might be expected, the pipeline industry has specific, unique needs and challenges which have previously been met through traditional methods no different than in any other industry. However, in order to find and hire the right candidates consistently, more pipeline companies have concluded that a new approach more attuned to today’s technologically advanced environment is necessary.

Working on a global basis, this system can be particularly helpful in the U.S. during the economic recession by best connecting job candidates with pipeline companies. Now these companies can hire people selected more “scientifically” than through the historical “best estimation” approach regarding the right candidate to fill each position.

Bonnie Browning
is director of client services for Q4B Managed Recruiting Services and is based in the firm’s Austin, TX, Recruiting Operations Center. She is responsible for all projects driving return on investment for stakeholders and sponsors. Browning’s 17 years of recruiting management experience include 12 in Washington, DC in legal, government and IT. She attended Texas A&M University and holds a B.S. degree from Excelsior College of New York. She can be reached at

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