As more companies puzzle over how to attract new and young talent, MOL Group is using innovative online gaming platforms to spark students’ interest in E&P
Despite other urgent matters weighing more heavily on oil and gas, the issue of recruitment and personnel replacement burns quietly in the background. The so-called Big Crew Change – the widespread retirement of a generation of skilled and experienced oil workers – means that the industry is now adopting some new and highly innovative recruitment strategies to engage today’s school students and graduates.
In October, Budapest-headquartered MOL Group concluded the intake of its exploration & production competition, UPPP. Competing to win a prize pot of 25,000 euros and a technical placement (or summer internship for undergraduates, the programme begins with online virtual simulation, where teams must solve challenges based on real-life E&P and industrial problems. The winning 10 teams proceed to a live Grand Final, where they again compete to solve more challenges, and must present their exploration findings to a number of MOL Group’s senior board.
One of the most innovative aspects of the process is what MOL Group HR vice president Zdravka Demeter Bubalo calls the “gamification platform” – the virtual online challenges based on simulations of real E&P work. “We did it because we recognised the importance of challenging the traditional way of hiring, and we wanted to offer a unique approach to support talent development and keep our MOL Group colleagues better engaged,” she explains.
InnovOil spoke with Bubalo and her team just as entries closed on this year’s UPPP intake. In just a few weeks, 1,112 three-person teams from 50 countries registered to take part, showing impressive growth on the programme’s successful launch in 2014. “Last year we started with 27 universities in 14 countries, but this year we opened it up to teams worldwide,” she continues.
With interest growing, the scheme also supports international teams – another way in which it can mirror the real-life element of working E&P departments “Competitors are working internationally,” Zdravka says, “And this year we offered the possibility of a crew finder so they can find teammates from other countries, and this really supports the global mindset.”
These teams will now compete until November 6, before winners are chosen for the live 3-day final, taking place December 8 and 9 in Budapest.
This is an approach which the group is using not just as a recruitment tool, but as a way of encouraging interest at all levels of education. “Fewer students are enrolling in natural sciences and STEM subjects these days,” Bubalo says. “We wanted to take a unique approach in terms of gamification, to attract them to natural sciences in general – and we’re doing this with our Junior Freshhh competition in secondary schools.”
The UPPP programme supports MOL’s two other talent streams – Freshhh and Growww. Freshhh aims to widen the scope of entrants and is open to students studying any degree subjects; Growww is the company’s graduate recruitment programme, which, since its inception in 2007, has taken on 1,570 graduates.
These too are expanding, with a view to drawing students in to STEM subjects at a younger age, Bubalo explains. “We’re putting additional efforts into our Junior Freshhh competition, where we provide a platform for young secondary school students to get interested in maths and physics.”
For older students, the UPPP and Freshhh programmes have offered very valuable context and experience for students, especially in the more academic environments of STEM subjects. By blending “game” elements, which provide quick tests and challenges, with the on-the-job training inherent in the corporate placements, the programmes offer students a fairly broad scope of the E&P landscape. “What we’ve seen with STEM students is that they do not often have a chance to work on real-life challenges, especially in E&P – this gives a good blend of gamification and later on, real-life experiences as well.”
The outcome has been very effective in terms of corporate staffing and candidate selection. “We have a high retention rate on Freshhh and Growww, more than 80%,” Bubalo says. “Since 2007 we have an extreme retention rate and within this time almost 40% have already been promoted to managerial positions.”
What has been interesting for MOL Group is the extent to which programmes like UPPP can generate responses from their contestants into the wider world – increasingly a vital tool not only of recruiters, but for major operators in general. “We are amazed how active they are on Facebook and on the [UPPP] application platform. The social media platform is the one which brings them all together no matter where the borders are,” Bubalo enthuses.
Looking ahead, Bubalo sees the potential in adapting these competitions in line with the future of MOL’s business – running dedicated offshore or disciplinary schemes, for example. “I believe we will go in line with our strategic direction in E&P. Currently we are strong in Central and Eastern Europe, but in future we might look more to offshore and North Sea, so we might look to tailor the competition.”
Either way, all of MOL’s efforts mark a distinct change in an industry only just acknowledging that it has to adapt to attract new talent. “Not only depending on the market, but I believe that our industry should be more innovative for the general interest of our children,” Bubalo notes. “What we’re seeing in the HR arena of E&P is that people are thinking more and more about innovative approaches.”
The advent of digital technology can go some way towards helping students engage too. Virtual systems such as Oculus Rift, as well as the industry’s powerful simulation and modelling tools, can not only help the industry train its existing members, but can also be a powerful method of encouraging engagement early on.
With companies like MOL leading the charge, programmes such as UPPP may well become more common as the sector continues its efforts to attract the world’s best and brightest.