The year 2009 was tough for a lot of people. The recession caused the oil and gas industry, which had been in a period of robust hiring, to freeze hiring and even consider layoffs. For a staffing company, it was not a good time to be helping people find employment – there were very few opportunities. 

Chris and Carolyn Sutton, partners at Clover Global Solutions, were carefully eyeing the terrain. The Suttons, who had spent 24 years in Alaska – Chris in the energy industry and Carolyn in tourism and construction – bought Houston-based Clover in 2000, though they had little experience with staffing prior to that time. In their first nine years, they built and expanded the company as a staffing source for the oil and gas industry. But the recession signaled a time to change tactics. 

“The job boards were full of resumes because everybody was looking,” said Chris Sutton. Since hiring likely-would resume eventually, it seemed like a good time to assemble a backlog of qualified candidates. But how best to match the candidate to the job? 

The Suttons decided it was time to overhaul the way they helped their clients find suitable candidates. Taking US $225,000 that had been earmarked for marketing, they developed a search tool patterned after how people search for things on the Internet. “Internet buying is just a lot of search criteria, isn’t it?” Sutton said. “We spent about five months developing the filters: engineering, drilling, directional, extended-reach, 10 years’ experience, and ability to speak a second language such as Arabic or Portuguese.” 

The database 

The result Sutton said, is “a giant matrix” that is constantly changing to reflect the needs of the energy industry. “The shale and unconventional work is a good example,” he said. “While I’m talking right now, my staff is updating unconventional job titles and experience.” 

Job titles, in fact, are a challenge for this type of system. Titles get “invented” every time something is done differently, Sutton said. “These titles aren’t catalog items like ‘drilling engineer’ or ‘electrician.’ Especially in the unconventional work that’s happening, there is a lot of blending of competencies. 

“We keep our ears tuned to put that capability into the sourcing tool,” he added. 

Early on, it was decided that technology, i.e. the search engine capability, would be Clover’s key differentiator. The company also doesn’t rely on a website to market itself, preferring to establish interest groups on social media sites. 

“We control 25 specific groups,” he said. “There’s a drilling group, a safety group, etc. People put thought leadership articles in them. We have more than 60,000 members in those groups.” 

Clover also has an active thought leadership blog. Sutton said that a recent blog on shale plays got 1,100 hits. “There isn’t a word about Clover in there. They really are articles, things we research.” 

This entrenchment in social media in turn drives candidates and clients alike to Clover’s database, and Sutton keeps careful track of who is participating in the groups and reading the blog. “This has caused a tremendous number of people to go say, ‘I’m going to profile myself,’” he said. But clients like the search tool as well. 

“It gives them a budget,” Sutton said. “Let’s say a startup gets $7 million from investors. They come to us and say, ‘This is the kind of team I’m going to be looking for.’ We go online with our tool, we source the candidates, and then we ask about their project.”

Advanced Search = Exact Match

Like Google for human resources, Clover’s online search tool helps find the right candidate for the job. (Image courtesy of Clover Global Solutions)

In many cases, the clients are not looking for full-time, permanent employees, but rather employees who can see a specific project through. Often these are not desk jobs but rather jobs that require rotational shifts or unusual working hours. Because of the in-depth profiles that the search tool provides, clients also can find workers willing to fill these types of positions. 

The tool also helps clients budget because the rates quoted for these types of positions reflect real-world compensation. “These are market-reflective rates,” Sutton said. “They’re not pie-in-the-sky rates. These are rates from consultants’ averages that we’re placing on our projects.”

Of course, there’s also some wiggle room, he said – if clients will commit to a longer work assignment, those rates often come down. 

This type of flexibility in working arrangements is attractive to retirees who want to keep a hand in the game but are no longer interested in or in need of full-time employment, Sutton said. 

Another interesting aspect of the tool is its “alumni” setting. Many companies like to rehire former employees, because they’re already familiar with the company and its culture. Additionally, candidates can list companies that they will not work for, either because they’ve had a bad experience or don’t want to relocate. 

A recent enhancement to the system is the ability to identify emergency response skills. “We list in there every active property in the Gulf of Mexico by client – who owns it, who operates it, etc.,” Sutton said. “A candidate has the opportunity to say, ‘I worked on the Thunder Horse platform,’ or ‘I was a first responder to Hurricane Katrina.’ That was a huge home run for us because now one of the filters asks them to share their emergency response and disaster experiences.” 

Even with this type of in-depth profiling, not all positions can be quickly filled. Sutton said the shale plays in the US are taxing the country’s ability to find enough skilled workers; Russia and Saudi Arabia face similar problems. 

“Everybody who wants to work and can find a bedroll is working,” he said. Clover’s system helps it maintain a solid reputation in these cases because clients aren’t being bombarded with resumes of candidates that really don’t fit the bill. 

In fact, not everyone who wants to create a profile makes it all the way through the system. Sutton said that as many as 50 to 100 people fill out profiles each day, but each profile is vetted before being made available to clients. Part of this is just to save clients time, but it’s also to ensure that candidates actually have the certifications they claim to have. 

“If our clients ask for a drilling engineer who has experience with HP/HT conditions and I provide them with that person, I am acknowledging that I have vetted them for the skills, competency, and experience needed to do that job,” he said. “I see it as a fiduciary obligation to vet that individual’s skills.” 

Landing the right candidate — fast 

The time and effort put into creating the search tool and keeping it up to date have paid off. Sutton said that in one case, the traditional system of going to online job boards and looking for candidates netted 217 resumes. Clover’s tool was a bit more efficient. 

“We found two perfect matches and 49 almost-perfect matches in about a minute,” he said. 

Requests to license the technology are being turned down for now. “It was not meant to be software as a service,” Sutton said. “It took 1 1/ 2 years to develop our search tool, and we overspent our budget. But it has paid for itself in the first year.”