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CIO interview: Chris Porter, VP talent acquisition and matching, BP

With the help of digital technologies and recruitment of data-savvy talent, BP is aiming to become a net-zero business by 2050

Every business leader knows there’s a big battle raging for digital talent. Research suggests two-thirds of UK executives believe their organisation faces a digital skills gap, with bosses concerned that a lack of talent could affect their company’s ability to compete successfully. 

In the case of BP, that’s where Chris Porter, vice-president for talent acquisition and matching, comes in. An experienced HR executive, Porter is leading the company’s recruitment drive for data scientists, software engineers and cyber security experts at home and abroad. He recognises that a strong relationship between HR and IT is crucial to achieving this objective.

“What we’re noticing is that our digital leaders are really innovative and they move quickly,” he says. “So for our people and culture function in BP, it’s about ensuring that we have the tools and resources to support them in a meaningful way.”

Last year, BP committed to transitioning to a net-zero business by 2050 or sooner. Digital technologies are critical to this journey, helping to change the way energy is discovered, created and consumed. With advanced technology being vital to all three core areas of the business – low-carbon electricity and energy, convenience and mobility, and resilient and focused hydrocarbons – Porter’s team needs digital capability at scale. 

“Ten or 15 years ago, we’d never be exploring digital product lines, so there wasn’t a need for us to think about how to support that kind of executive,” he says. “But now we’ve got several digital leaders who are looking for the very best of the data-engineering community and it’s about us showing adaptability and going after their demands with real purpose and meaning.”

Climbing the ladder 

Porter has been a recruiter for most of his career, working first for agencies and then in-house with HR teams. His work has mainly focused on hiring, which includes watching the demand flow into the hiring team and then facilitating the sourcing of great talent, all the way through to the onboarding phase. 

“That’s really my passion,” he says. “I get a buzz when you connect the right person with the right job.”

Porter joined BP at the end of 2013 and started working for the company’s shipping business, hiring people from the executive team all the way down to the apprentices who are put on vessels. 

He then moved into the downstream segment of the business, which involved hiring people for customers’ businesses, such as retail, petrochemical and refining organisations, before working for BP’s vice-president for people and culture as chief of staff. These broad experiences meant he was well placed for his current role leading talent acquisition, which he started in January 2021.

“This is really the perfect job for me,” he says. “I’m now in charge of BP’s talent acquisition function globally. We are forging into the digital and tech space ourselves by thinking about how we can automate our internal deployment processes, and how we can connect people with richer jobs and potential development opportunities through HR systems.” 

“I get a buzz when you connect the right person with the right job”

Chris Porter, BP

Porter manages about 150 people across the globe who usually make between 5,000 and 10,000 hires a year, depending on the broader business objectives. He has already been involved in the design of a new strategy for talent acquisition, which involves the company thinking more intelligently about how it accesses high-quality skills cost-effectively.

“Instead of going out and looking for one particular human to do one particular job, we are thinking more about work and skills,” he says. “So, for example, if we had a Python coding problem in our digital entity, what we used to do is go out and hire three or four women to come in and do that particular job on a full-time basis.

“Now we’re thinking of other strategies. Could we, perhaps, borrow a team from another organisation that’s not using them as much as they should? Could we, perhaps, flex our own internal model and think about prioritising work better and getting people seconded onto a problem with 40% of their time?” 

This work builds on the company’s reorganisation efforts last year to become a net-zero business by 2050. The aim of this reorganisation process was to break down siloed functions and create a single company, which meant becoming a smaller organisation, with the recruitment process restarting this year, says Porter. 

“We have a really good talent base, but there are also new skills that we have to pursue, particularly around some of our digital ambitions,” he says. “There are also renewable areas that we haven’t really been working on in the past, like hydrogen, the electrolysis process and offshore wind, and we need to go and acquire some of those skills form the market.” 

Making the most of technology 

Porter says the recruitment of data-savvy talent will be a key part of this process. Digital and innovation have been flagged as a source of differentiation in BP’s new business strategy. The reason for that, he says, is that digital touches all parts of the organisation.

“I like to think of digital as the one consistent language across the globe that we’re speaking about from a corporate perspective,” he says. “So everyone’s looking at digital, not just us, and there are a couple of areas where we think it could play a major role.”

One of these areas, says Porter, is enhancing the business’ current operations, such as making work safer, and pursuing efficiencies across the company’s systems. Another key area is venturing and seeding. “We have a number of digital projects that we’re running in parallel with our core business and hoping that those grow into something over time,” he says.

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Finally, Porter mentions the importance of creating an integrated experience for BP’s customers, and says technology will play a key role in that activity. The company’s digital organisation employs about 2,000 people, and Porter expects the HR team will need to fill as many as 300 digital vacancies this year. 

“It’s a big area of growth – we are hiring all over the place for digital people in terms of geography,” he says, adding that one of the firm’s most important developments in this area is the recent creation of an integrated digital hub in Pune, India.

“The Indian market is awash with really great digital skill and it’s competitive,” he says. “The amount of investment that I think is going into digital in India is remarkable. We’ve jumped on that fast-moving bus, and this year we’re recruiting 100-plus people in India alone, to try and get a hub established there, just so we can access the skill in that market.”

Sourcing new talent

As well as finding talent, one of Porter’s main areas of activity this year will be to help the business find new ways to source technology talent – including through the use of digital platforms. He says it is “still early days” when it comes to these developments, but the aim is to use technology to help the company find the right people.

“It’s about adapting talent acquisition and thinking in a more futuristic manner,” he says. “HR is  not just about hiring these days. It’s also about connecting skills with work in a meaningful way. So we’re just starting out on that journey and it’s been fascinating so far.”

The broad aim is to try to tag people across the internal and external labour market with their specialist skills. By understanding capability in more detail, Porter and his colleagues aim to be able to use HR technology to fill the gaps in resourcing that they have around the globe quickly and effectively.

“It’s just one example of how we’re looking inside our own people and culture function to leverage digital to connect people with work,” he says. “And that helps BP, so if we get everyone in the system, we can then see our utilisation rates on our human resources. But importantly, it also improves the experience of our employees and it helps them to find more fulfilling work.”

Porter says the company is investigating how it can use technology to aid on-the-job learning to help people develop their skills. BP is also looking at using digital tools to understand the labour marketplace better, which might involve partnering external firms to figure out where the best and brightest talent is – and how to access it. 

“What we’re trying to do is connect skills with work – and how we do that has yet to be determined,” he says. “There will always be a balance – we call it a build, buy, borrow strategy. That’s HR speak and we’ve been using it for years, but it’s becoming more and more true as the gig economy grows.” 

Creating business benefits

As Porter looks forward to BP’s continuing skills-development efforts, he says there remains a big demand for digital talent. Pulling all the company’s tech capability into a single innovation and engineering entity has helped staff to work on identifying the business’ data-led challenges – and to identify where talent gaps persist.

“This is an area of hiring acceleration for us,” says Porter, who then outlines what he believes will be the status of the company’s approach in two years’ time: “Everyone will be working towards a common purpose in their different business groups. So we’d be enabling the business to perform a lot better from a digital perspective.” 

Porter says accelerating the company’s digital journey is one of BP’s strategic anchors. He expects the company to create a strong baseline skillset in digital, and that this capability will help to advance its current business operations, helping to make BP processes safer and more efficient.

“And then, hopefully, we’ll see that some of the digital seeding that we’ve been doing is reaping rewards and that we’ll see some profitability out of digital projects, not just the enablement of our business-as-usual activity,” he says.

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