Biggest challenge for Freedom Oilfield Services is attracting experienced employees
When Wyoming-based Freedom Oilfield Services brings on a new employee, the company does plenty to create an employee-friendly environment and entice them to stay on. Still, it can be challenging to find people in the first place, particularly experienced ones.
“We’ve relied mainly on word-of-mouth from the people already working for us,” says Diana Walter, manager at Freedom, which operates out of Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Killdeer, North Dakota. “They come to work for us, they like it, and then they have people who want to come work for us. But it can be hard to find people who want to go out and do this type of work everyday. Our guys go out and they can be working 14 hours a day or more depending on the job. They’re out there on location running a truck, standing at a control panel for the bulk of the day.”
That’s why first and foremost Freedom looks for a willingness to learn, knowing that on-the-job training will fill in experience gaps.
“We’ve gotten lucky and have found some people with a lot of experience, but typically we rely heavily on our field supervisors to train new people,” says Christy Bonsell, human resources director. “We look for that basic understanding of high-pressure equipment or some experience working around a wellhead. We had one guy who came to us with no CDL and no experience, but he had a great attitude. That’s our philosophy. We’re willing to commit to training people if they come on board and show that they’re willing to do their part as well and learn.”
Take Freedom’s hot-oil units, one of an array of different services it offers customers. The trucks are large and powerful, “rolling tea kettles,” as company president Joey Austin describes them. They require experienced operators, so a typical training regimen will include at least six months of a trainee working under a supervisor. Then the trainee begins running the truck himself while still being carefully observed by the supervisor.
“It normally takes almost a year to become a qualified operator,” Walter says. “We just rely on on-the-job training with the guys who have done the work the way we want them to get it done.”
Another challenge for Freedom is ingraining proper safety practices throughout the company, although it is a challenge that Freedom has found a lot of success in meeting. The mantra at Freedom is, “Safety is a culture.” It has been a process rather than an overnight initiative.
“It has taken many years to develop it to get it to where it is today,” says Austin. “It’s come a long way, but we still have many drivers who broke out in the same era as me and the other owners when safety wasn’t emphasized as much. It’s been a difficult situation at times trying to get everybody to move forward and make safety truly be a culture.”
In 2012, Freedom added a full-time safety director who splits time between the Wyoming and North Dakota locations to ensure that there is follow-through on the company’s safety policies that employees first learn during orientation. The safety director leads monthly meetings where policies are reviewed and any required continuing trainings (i.e. first aid, CPR, and H2S) are completed. The meetings are also an opportunity to inform employees about safety-related mandates that may be coming in the future or allow them to express any concerns they may have.
“We also review where we’re at — any incidents from the previous month, we review those and look at root cause analysis, how did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening in the future,” Walter says.
Beyond the monthly meetings, Freedom looks to its field supervisors to ensure safety polices are actually practiced out on job sites.
“We do rely heavily on our field supervisors because our safety director can’t be everywhere at once,” says Walter. “He did create an audit program to help us be consistent. We know we’re auditing everybody for the same thing. It’s a checklist that helps the supervisors know what they should be looking for, plus it gives them the chance to show the employees what we’re checking so that they have a chance to provide comments as well.”
Walter says it’s important to practice that team concept when it comes to safety and gather input from everyone.
“We have an open door policy,” she says. “Employees can come to any of the managers, they can come to any of the owners if they see an issue of concern or if they are approached by one of our customers. Our safety culture is only as good as the people who will practice it.”
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