Let the Talent Flow

A cyclical industry hasn’t stopped Baker Hughes from having a steady pool of talent always on tap

"We find ourselves in a marketplace in which tensions and pressures are higher than they used to be.” — Didier Charreton

When Didier Charreton joined Baker Hughes as vice president of human resources in 2007, he initiated a transformation that would ensure the company, which provides products and services to oil and gas companies around the world, would have the resources to tackle new challenges in the market. It’s been a long journey, but a successful one, and Charreton discusses how it unfolded.  

What’s the state of the energy industry today?

Didier Charreton: There are some solid demand indicators. We see growth in gross domestic product led primarily by China and the United States for the next couple of years, and consumption per capita is on the rise. As a result, we anticipate that oil companies will spend more in the years to come, which should lead to increased activity for Baker Hughes and the service sector.

How do the supply-demand dynamics of the industry affect the HR function?

Charreton: We find ourselves in a marketplace in which tensions and pressures are higher than they used to be. Demand for technical expertise has increased. Over the past few years, the pressure of incidents such as the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, has increased the demand for technical experts. We’re now moving to a landscape in which we not only compete with other service companies but also with our customers for talent. What we’ve also seen happening is the emergence of new frontiers—shale gas and oil, deep water exploration—which adds even more to the demand for technical expertise.

What about the so-called “big crew change”?

Charreton: We’ve been talking for a long time about this change, which refers to generations nearing retirement and the pipeline of talent to replace them not being available. For me, it’s somewhat of a myth. We’re in a cyclical industry, and as we go through these cycles a natural rejuvenation process occurs. Service companies have been used to dealing with cycles. The onboarding of new employees on a global basis has become a core competency of ours.

How do you craft a talent-management program in this environment?

Charreton: The challenge is to establish new ways of acquiring and preserving knowledge and competence. It is essential for us to be able to certify that the people we send to well sites actually possess qualifications that are assessed regularly and documented. We’ve invested a lot in the past few years—more than $100 million—in training infrastructure. We’ve built a couple of world-class education centers in Dubai and Houston, where most if not all of our operations staff, the people who work at the well site, receive standard training. This training infrastructure accelerates the acquisition of technical skills to a broader population that may not have as long an on-the-job experience as used to be the case.

How do you manage a global workforce?

Charreton: The relative scarcity of talent in some countries can be a challenge. Often, where the opportunities are the largest, there isn’t a robust educational structure. The scouting of talent takes more effort, and it sometimes takes more work to bring local personnel up to our global standards. But we never compromise on those standards. We recruit engineers and technicians according to these standards in every country in which we operate. And we provide an infrastructure and opportunities for them to grow and develop in a way that is consistent across all product lines and all geographies.

Have these efforts been successful?

Charreton: Through the consistent implementation of global standards and the processes we have for talent identification and development, we’ve been able to strengthen our talent pool. We know people better and have increased the diversity and versatility of our talent pool across all levels of the organization and all geographies. On the executive leadership team alone, we have eight nationalities represented. This is a strong testament to our commitment to be a truly global player.