Big Oil, it seems, has a recruitment problem. Thousands of engineering vacancies remain unfilled. The shortage of engineers has been caused by a convergence of factors, including an upsurge in offshore exploration by cash-rich Big Oil and the ongoing reconstruction of the Gulf’s energy infrastructure damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Industry officials have told the Associated Press that it’s nearly impossible to quantify the shortage, but the internet is full of openings at ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Valero Energy and a host of other companies.

Now in a bid to speed things up, the industry is trying unusual hiring techniques they hope will succeed where traditional recruiting have so far failed. “Speed interviewing” is now the rage. The technique is modelled after singles gatherings called “speed dating” that became popular in the past decade in the US. At them, participants rotate among a large number of prospective dates, narrowing the list to a choice few by session’s end.

Foster Wheeler USA, the Houston arm of a global engineering and construction contractor is one such company trying the new technique. “Having to grow our work force so rapidly in the past year, we have to think outside the box for new and innovative ways to find people,” says Ed King, Foster Wheeler USA’s personnel director.

Last Saturday, Foster Wheeler and three other companies held their first speed-recruiting event in Houston, the hub of hiring for oil and gas projects in the bustling Gulf of Mexico.  So want a job in the oil industry – got ten minutes to spare? Head of down to Houston..