In this issue, HR Advice reveals the strategies and policies of the Human Resources department at Germany’s largest crude oil and natural gas producer, Wintershall. Our interview with Klaus Nussbaumer, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the Wintershall Group, gives us an insight about his company, its recruiting and career development mechanisms, and its program for young talented recruits. Further, he shares some of the lessons he has learned and gives advice on how young professionals can make the best use of the HR department. If you would like to comment on this article, please visit the SPE.org YP.—Claudia González Rondon, TWA Editor, HR Advice
The unique and fascinating E&P world, explains Klaus Nussbaumer, offers young professionals something that no other industry could do: an international venue that combines business and technology in a challenging way. In his view, that opens up excellent development and compensation opportunities for mobile and motivated young professionals worldwide.
Nussbaumer recognizes that the industry currently faces an extremely tight labor market. E&P companies are looking intensely for qualified employees, he says, and are confronted with a market swept of young engineers. Therefore, human resources (HR) will play a key role when it comes to recruiting, developing, and retaining employees. The industry increasingly will invest in the qualification of its own young workforce, which, in Nussbaumer’s view, will offer excellent employment and promotion opportunities for graduates and young professionals.
“I am very positive about the future outlook of our industry,” Nussbaumer says. “Right now, E&P companies are heavily investing in the exploration of new fields, close ties with partners, or building up new organizations.” At the same time, finding new opportunities and bringing them into technical realization will become more and more challenging. “Qualified personnel will therefore be as urgently needed in the future as they are needed today,” he stresses.
Nussbaumer believes that current and prospective employees should be treated as customers to ensure the industry attracts and retains the best talent. “The better we know their needs and expectations, the better we can respond, and the more successful we will be,” he says. At the same time, each company should know about its respective strengths and attractiveness and align its recruiting and retaining measures accordingly. “As a midsized company with a flat hierarchy, Wintershall offers fast decision making, substantial assignment of responsibility to each employee, and close contact to the upper management. For these reasons, many employees left bigger companies and came to work with us.”
To measure the impact Wintershall has in the current recruitment wave, Nussbaumer feels proud of the achievements obtained during the past months, successfully recruiting many highly qualified graduates. “It proves that Wintershall has established itself as an attractive employer and, with its very successful trainee program, has hit the mark,” he says. “It also shows that the close contact to our employees, the regular feedback, and our constant improvements are paying off.”
Nussbaumer believes that one reason the market for engineers as a whole is so tight is the competition among companies to recruit talented people. Once Wintershall has recruited a young professional, says Nussbaumer, the new employee starts a trainee program that provides 24 months of intensive preparation for future tasks in the company. Within that time, they are exposed to sound, hands-on training at several operating units with support by faculty, personnel, and mentors on site. “To support their development, we provide a mix of technical and nontechnical training measures that not only build their qualifications but also help to get them quickly integrated within our company network,” he says. Nussbaumer believes that sound technical knowledge is the best starting ground for an individual career path regardless of the direction the employee eventually will take.
By quickly taking on responsibility, young professionals can show their potential at an early stage. “In order to develop this potential in a focused way, we closely link personnel planning and personal development across faculties and business units,” says Nussbaumer. “We make sure that we can staff our projects with the best people and that we can offer tasks and positions that technically and personally add to the qualification of our employees. This enables us to systematically develop them into leadership positions or to constantly offer challenging projects for a specialist career.”
After 3 to 4 years, an employee normally moves to a new E&P position in Wintershall. That time is needed to take on responsibility and develop, but it is short enough so the employee can move on and gain considerable experience in various positions early in his/her career. For people with high potential, shorter assignments of a minimum of 2 years can be chosen for fast-track development.
Nussbaumer recognizes that there are always situations in which perceptions may diverge between employer and employee regarding a particular career path, but the company sees its workforce as a long-term investment that demands collaboration. “That is why those situations are handled within an open and honest dialogue, and, in most cases, solutions are found that make both sides a winning team. This is one of the advantages of a midsized company,” he says. “We are small enough to address and accommodate individual needs, but also big enough to provide a broad range of job opportunities.”
Wintershall supports moves within the same discipline as well as cross-discipline assignments. “We need specialists and generalists, but the final decision of which way to go really depends on the employees themselves, their abilities, perceptions, and development opportunities,” he says. “When it comes to young professionals, we make sure to keep a reasonable balance between both ways during their early years.”
Wintershall’s benefits package includes a company pension scheme, a family-oriented personnel policy, and bonus program. He says the company offers personal-skills and career-development training at different levels and gives employees the ability to combine professional development with their personal circumstances. A “Work & Live” program is very popular among employees, in which individual solutions are offered concerning child care, re-entry into the workforce after maternity/paternity leave, and flexible working hours. Additionally, the company offers a variety of sporting activities at its fitness center that welcomes spouses as well.
Nussbaumer has three recommendations for young professionals:
Klaus Nussbaumer is Senior Vice President of the Human Resources Div. at Wintershall Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of BASF A.G. Before assuming his current role in 2004, Nussbaumer headed the Executive Human Resources Dept., responsible for the senior executives of the BASF Group outside Germany. Before that appointment, he held different positions internationally within the Human Resources Dept. of BASF A.G, one of the world’s leading chemical companies, where he began his career in 1990. Nussbaumer earned a master’s degree in business administration and is married with two children, ages 10 and 12.