Investments in Personnel Development Pay Back Multifold

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Dmitry VolokhovThe interview with the Advisor to the First Deputy CEO of Gazprom Neft Dmitry Volokhov

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The FEC (fuel and energy complex) segment is highly promising for many Russians with lots and lots of people wishing to be employed in this industry. However, major companies cannot always find skilled professionals for their projects — yesterday’s students lack expertise while it is pretty costly to outsource. Gazprom Neft has chosen a different way, that is to develop existing personnel says Advisor to the First Deputy CEO, Gazprom Neft Dmitry Volokhov.

— Dmitry Vladimirovich, what is the Project Academy?

— It is a multi-unit training program devised to form strategic business vision with middle-level managers employed by our company, to develop competencies in change management and to improve the project implementation system. The Moscow Management School Skolkovo has made it an ideal site for such programs in terms of experience base, teaching staff and facilities.

The faculty of the Project Academy comprises experts experienced in implementing major projects, professors from widely known universities and business schools and also leading experts in various business areas. Primarily, we are talking about oil and gas experts, e.g., Shell, Gazprom Neft’s partners, having an extensive experience in running high-profile operational projects in many countries across the globe and a 10-year track record in managing a similar personnel training site. Involvement of efficient managers from other business areas has become an interesting practice. For example, this year the program featured a few guest speakers from IPA (Independent Project Analysis), Rob Fisher from Bain&Company with his account of the philosophy and approaches behind major projects at ExxonMobil, the President of Sochi-2014 Organizing Committee Dmitry Chernyshev.

The first annual training cycle included five basic units: “Leadership in Major Project Management: Strategic Challenges”, “Building of Highly Efficient Teams and Development of Corporate Interface”, “Supply Chain Management”, “Financial Control in Major Project Management” and “Major Project Management”.

At some point, while going through the program of each unit, trainees in 7 groups drafted proposals to change the existing rules and procedures for major project management within the company. It is apparent that a training process at such level requires more than just getting a textbook and giving the trainees off-the shelf solutions. It does not come under a standard training scheme: the Project Academy has no provider or knowledge recipient, lecturer or student, — the key training principle is that all trainees work on a real task meanwhile gaining new practical skills and knowledge, that would later allow the company to make a step forward in its development.

— How efficient do you think this training method is? Could it resolve the problem of the lack of highly qualified managers in the company?

— I can easily say that investments in training pay back multi-fold. Most professionals from various companies trained by the Skolkovo program have been used by the management to do more complex jobs and have worked their way up the corporate ladder.

With the Project Academy Gazprom Neft became capable to produce high-quality human resources pool, basically, forming complete teams available for new projects.

— Can the Project Academy make a substitute for МВА? What are the differences?

— MBA is the further education program where you can acquire basic business skills. There they teach standard disciplines, i.e. economics, management, marketing, accounting, business legislation, finance and business strategy. However, MBA provides general knowledge presenting an overall view of real experience and missions of this or that company or of this or that sector. As has been said earlier, the most important training principle at the Project Academy is to get yourself immersed into a real task when your solution impacts the company’s business. Therefore we are training practitioners.

— How popular is personnel training with major companies, including foreign ones?

— Foreign companies commonly make heavy investments into personnel training. However such practices are becoming more and more popular in Russia. Corporate training enables the company to prepare the staff for its own projects as well as to motivate the most successful of them. The highest motivation for professionals has a non-material aspect and it is the opportunity to develop skills within your field, industry and a specific company.

— What prospects do you think Gazprom Neft’s Project Academy can offer?

— The purpose of the Project Academy is to train highly skilled professionals capable to manage the company’s large-scale projects. It is to make intellectual capital which would ensure the competitive edge and business performance of Gazprom Neft in Russia and abroad.

The company has gained access to the international market where there are total different “rules of engagement”. Here what’s required of managers is a different competence, ability to adapt and to solve more challenging tasks. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to find such professionals in the market.

Therefore, the Project Academy is not a one-off training program. Basically, it is a skill transfer and development system within the company, a forum where professionals, who can lead major projects, learn and share experience. It is what Gazprom Neft will call ’the company’s competence system to manage major projects’.

— Why do the current university graduates lack the set of skills needed to work in FEC? Are they poorly trained or are they well-trained but not in things that are needed?

— The specific nature of the oil and gas industry is the technical complexity of its processes, and becoming an expert requires a fairly long experience in addition to good training. Here efficient management is impossible without the foundation of knowledge which you cannot acquire or build up unless you have access to first-hand experience.

On the other hand, it is no easy job to achieve this during training — many companies cannot afford to take in trainees in mass to perform certain functions, as each error has large implications. Therefore university graduates and graduates from other schools, normally inexperienced, should prepare themselves to the fact that fast successes and rapid career growth are rather an exception than a rule here. In order to achieve this you should make efforts, probably pushing harder than in other industries.

— What requirements should university graduates meet to get a job at Gazprom Neft?

— In the oil & gas industry the lack of professionals can be seen over the entire value chain: from upstream to downstream. We also need geologists, reservoir engineers, drillers, and also workover and infrastructure, process and mechanical specialists.

However, what makes a good professional worker is not so much his/her educational background or experience, but the actual performance and focus on professional growth. It is people like these that most employers are looking for and trying to give them every opportunity for skills development and career growth.