Are We Training The Requisite Manpower For ...

Thu, 6 Jun 2013 Source: Boateng, Cyril Dziedzorm

The Oil And Gas Industry?

Author: Cyril Dziedzorm Boateng, (The writer is a former President of the KNUST Geophysical Society and an Instructor in Kumasi Polytechnic)

Email: cyrilboat@yahoo.com

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to an interesting article on peacefmonline, an article which inspired this piece. The story was on the Vice President advising students on government scholarships in Turkey to concentrate on courses they had applied for. He said this because students on government scholarships are said to be swapping their technical courses for “oil and gas secretarial courses”. This development should be of concern to all and sundry in Ghana. This piece proposes an effective approach to educating Ghanaian youth in the quest to get more of them employed in the petroleum industry. I hope the Editor will find it useful to the general public and the government of Ghana for that matter.

With the advent of the oil and gas industry, it seems there has been an exponential increase of students travelling to foreign lands to study programs related to the oil and gas industry. However, information gleaned from a number of pre-departure meetings of students indicate that the majority of these students study management related courses in oil and gas, to the neglect of the physical sciences and engineering.

With this development and observation, the following pertinent questions were raised in my mind. Are we training the requisite manpower in the oil and gas industry? Are we conducting relevant research for a sustainable and improved industry? Do we understand employment dynamics in the sector? Are our institutions in the country running the right programs with the correct training regimes? This article intends to answer some of these questions and generate a public discussion.

There were halleluiahs, singing and dancing when oil and gas was discovered in commercial quantities in Ghana. Politicians promised us that our woes were over. The find was going to transform Ghana into a developed country overnight. Our partners cautioned against over reliance on the new natural resource and reminded us of the mistakes we made with gold. It is true that Ghana can benefit from an oil boom in many ways and employment opportunities are a major component of these benefits. But employment opportunities do not lead to employment of Ghanaians per se. In an increasingly globalised world where employment opportunities are diminishing in developed countries, a job vacancy in Ghana will be open to any qualified person from any part of the world.

The oil and gas industry is very complex and highly specialized with different professionals playing various roles in teams to get the job done. The industry is usually divided into three main areas; upstream, midstream and downstream. Workers in the upstream sector deal with the exploration, discovery and production of the crude oil. Mid stream activities cover processing, transportation, storage and marketing of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids. Downstream activities cover the refining of crude oil and selling and distribution of natural gas and products derived from crude oil. Suggestions in this article are biased towards the upstream sector due to an upcoming personnel problem in the sector which Ghana can take advantage of. Known as the Great Crew Change, this is the impending retirement of a whole generation of highly experienced technical expertise: engineers and geoscientists. According to a study by Schlumberger Business Consulting in 2011, there will be an inflow of 17,000 younger petro-technical professionals (PTPs) in 2014 while 22,000 experienced PTPs will retire by then. A shortfall of 5,000 technical professionals is an opportunity for a country like Ghana where there are trained graduates leaving school every year to join the unemployment train especially in the Science and Engineering fields.

So what do we do as a country to situate ourselves as a hub for oil and gas professionals thereby getting jobs for our teeming youth and improving our economy. The following are suggestions as to how we can take advantage of these opportunities.

1. The government should expedite action on the passing of the Local Content bill for the oil and gas industry. Frankly, I believe the government has been slow in ensuring the passage of the local content and local participation bill. According to the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, cabinet approved a local content policy in 2010 but the bill was laid before parliament in October 2012. As I write this article that bill is no longer before parliament and I have no idea where the process stands. This Local Content Bill would have set out clear cut guidelines for the recruitment of Ghanaian personnel. For example, Under Recruitment and Training, the draft bill has set out 50% for management staff, 30% for Technical core staff and 100% for other staff on start, progressing to 80% for management staff, 80% for technical core staff and 100% for other staff in five years. In 10 years, the draft bill set out a target of 90% for management staff, 90% for technical core staff and 100% for other staff. Passing this law and ensuring oil and gas companies implement its provisions will provide the needed employment opportunities for Ghanaian youth.

2. The first generation of academic programs in the oil and gas industry have been run successfully in some of the premier tertiary institutions in Ghana. It is time to review these programs to make them better. For instance in the first generation of programs, I encountered Petrochemical Engineering programs having Reservoir engineering components even though the two fields were at opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Another problem I noticed was a lack of collaboration between departments in the institutions. Most of these universities already have departments with expertise in Engineering, Mathematics, Geology and Geophysics, but did not take a multidisciplinary approach when delivering new oil and gas programs. A multidisciplinary approach is key to ensuring the success of oil and gas programs. The best way to do this will be to introduce centers of research whose primary role will be to run petroleum related programs while drawing on the best brains from the various departments in the universities.

3. Much attention has not been paid to home grown research since oil was found in commercial quantities in 2007. This is the most important ingredient in putting Ghana on the petroleum industry map. It takes a lot of research to sustain the industry due to its highly specialized and technology dependent nature. Following from point two, the current amount being spent training Ghanaian students in western countries with the attendant high cost of living and school fees could be used as seed capital in establishing these petroleum research centers. The petroleum research centers will then work on cutting edge research in the petroleum industry and with good results published, put Ghana on the world map. In furtherance of this, graduate students should be encouraged as opposed to undergraduate students with a special focus on PhD students who will form the nucleus of strong research programs in Ghana in later years. These doctoral students should go for 3-6 month training programs in reputable universities outside Ghana and undergo continuous online training by Societies such as the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. But they should be based in Ghana so the research they conduct becomes the property of institutions in Ghana. Naturally, the research and training benefits will then flow to the undergraduate programs.

4. Polytechnics should be the focal point of training highly specialized practical technicians who can serve in roles such as roustabouts and seismic crew in the industry. These institutions can go further and train highly critical personnel that are currently lacking in the industry e.g. workers in subsea roles. Most polytechnics already have expertise in engineering and applied science. The additional know-how required will be in respect of a practical training facility to simulate the offshore conditions for students to gain that experience. This can be done collaboration with private players who have training facilities in Africa. Polytechnics in Kumasi, Accra and Takoradi which already have strong engineering and applied science programs can then collaborate with the research centers to be created in the universities to deliver the highly technical programs suggested.

5. Finally, government should insist on oil companies operating in Ghana, having recruitment fairs in at least three cities in the country each year (for example Accra, Kumasi, and Takoradi) and reserving roles for graduates of the programs in the universities and polytechnics.

Successfully executing the above suggestions will put Ghana in the right stead to become a hub for the oil and gas industry especially in Africa which has become the new frontier for hydrocarbon reserves with countries such as Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique becoming players in the petroleum industry.

Columnist: Boateng, Cyril Dziedzorm