ECF ’15: Fluor touts new craft worker recruitment plans

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

GALVESTON, Texas -- A leading executive with Fluor sees modern, technology-based strategies as critical to recruit the next generation of craft workers for the downstream industry.

Jim Hanna, executive director of construction, fabrication and craft services at Fluor, addressed attendees on Tuesday afternoon at the inaugural Energy Construction Forum.

Speaking in a track entitled "The War for Skilled Labor", Hanna spoke from personal experience on how Fluor has significantly modernized its recruitment strategies just within the past two years.

"Two years ago, I learned a great lesson," Hanna said. "I was in Salt Lake City manning a booth, and we ran ads in two local newspapers [seeking labor applicants]. We had 12 people show up over two days."

After that experience, Fluor remade the craft page at its website, which Hanna said hadn't been updated in years. The company also changed its website from English-only to also include a Spanish version, since a large chunk of the potential workforce is fluent in Spanish.

On the day the new site launched, Fluor posted 15 typical staff positions and also a few maintenance jobs.

"In just that first day, we had over 2,000 people hit it through social media," Hanna said. "We even had ambitious electricians show up at a site we were working with Dow saying 'We hear you're hiring' on the day of the launch. It was just a tremendous response.

"What we used to do to staff this industry is different today," said Hanna. "It's a different outreach."

Since then, Fluor has been very ambitious in using social media to recruit craft workers, Hanna said. The company is also partnering with several community colleges.

"With all of this buildout in Louisiana and Texas, the reality is that the skilled craft workers of yesteryear isn't there," Hanna said. "Crew sizes are smaller because most people you now hire are new to industry. They'll learn their craft, but it's going to take time and after-hours training.

"The main point is, you have to make an investment in the industry," Hanna emphasized.

Within the craft sector, the Fluor executive says the biggest demand is for combination pipe welders.

"There just aren't enough in the industry today to meet the demand, even with oil prices sliding," Hanna said. "Demand for pipe welders is at a premium."

Hanna said Fluor was staffing pipe welders at $29/hour but saw high turnover rates, given the excessive demand. After that, the rate was raised to $35/hour and the company has been "much more successful" in retaining the workers.

Hanna noted that from his industry experience, all of Fluor's main engineering competitors share similar dilemmas. Making matters more complicated, many operating companies are seeing greater acceleration within their own staff retirements and are also seeking to fill many of the same jobs.

"The issue of workforce really hadn't been reinvested in for years across the industry," Hanna explained.

But with new downstream project announcements surging, that commitment is finally starting to change.

"This isn't a problem," Hanna concluded his remarks by saying. "It's an opportunity. We just have to sustain it. We weren't ready two years ago, because you have to train, and we weren't training enough.

"But we are now, and that's going to make the difference," he said. "It's a long-term commitment, not a short-term. That's the only way you're going to find success moving forward."

The inaugural Energy Construction Forum continues through Wednesday at Moody Gardens in Galveston.

BONUS VIDEO FOOTAGE: Check out the ECF's Exhibit Hall, which included this outside crane demonstration with the latest downstream plant construction technologies.

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