Story Publication logo June 20, 2011

Oil Jobs for All?



In December 2010, Ghana joined the league of oil-producers, determined to make oil a blessing and...


The headline in the local press claimed "6,000 Ghanaians trained in oil and gas."

Six thousand trained, and, according to the article, "officials had difficulty controlling the crowds that thronged the training centres at the various stations."

Blame it on "Dallas" or the dazzling images of Dubai—nothing seems to capture the public imagination like oil. The real impact of the oil industry on local communities in Africa is in plain sight from Nigeria to Chad, Equatorial Guinea and beyond, but this hardly dampens public enthusiasm for the black gold.

When Ghanaians found out there was oil off their coast, a sense of excitement spread across the country. Optimistic and at times unrealistic statements from various oil company officials and government ministries added to expectations. At one point, news of 10,000 oil jobs circulated, and it's information like this that drives thousands to sign up for training courses.

A burgeoning oil and gas industry could potentially bring thousands of jobs to the Western Region's distressed local economy. The problem, however, is that those jobs don't yet exist. Even the article announcing 6,000 trainees fails to mention that for the time being there's nowhere for them to go.

Francis Sallah is the regional industrial relations officer for the General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers' Union. Lately he has been hearing a lot about jobs, or the lack of, in the oil industry.

Officials say that Ghana's oil operations can create up to 1,000 jobs by 2020. That doesn't sound like much, but with several new offshore discoveries that number is likely to increase in the coming years. And if Ghana develops the "downstream" part of the industry, the refineries, gas and petrochemical plants that are the industrial by-products of oil production, then the employment opportunities could grow dramatically.

But the development of downstream operations is not a given. And as far as the oil production jobs are concerned, the question is how many of those coveted positions will go to Ghanaians?

The Ghanaian government says that 90 percent of the oil jobs should go to Ghanaians by 2020, but Sallah wonders why the government isn't being more aggressive. Welders, pipefitters, painters, maintenance people – Sallah points to the skilled laborers around the ports of Tema and Takoradi and asks what's to prevent them from getting jobs in the oil sector.

"We are already qualified to perform 60 percent of the jobs in the oil industry," says Ebow Haizel-Ferguson, the corporate affairs and community relations director at Sigma-Base Technical Services, a private job-training center in Takoradi. He disputes claims from officials that Ghanaians will not be qualified for wide-scale oil and gas employment before 2020.

Sigma-Base recently held a graduation ceremony for its first class of 913 trainees. The students, trained in welding, pipefitting, electrical work and specialized construction, were participants in a new program intended to create a qualified labor pool for Ghana's new oil industry. With the Sigma-Base training under their belts, the graduates can pursue entry-level jobs with any number of companies servicing the oil and gas sector.

Haizel-Ferguson, who returned to his hometown after working more than 20 years in the Niger Delta, is all too familiar with the so-called oil curse. Although much of the public's attention is focused on Nigerian corruption and missing oil revenues, Haizel-Ferguson wants people to consider the crucial role of employment in making or breaking the resource curse.

As he explains, the Nigerian oil industry failed over the years to provide significant employment for local populations. The lack of job opportunities combined with the demise of fishing--due to pollution from the oil industry--translated into increased poverty and eventually, social unrest.

Haizel-Ferguson does not want to see the same thing happen in Ghana, so along with two partners, he founded Sigma-Base to insure that Ghanaians are ready for oil sector jobs.

If Ghana's oil is going to work towards the country's development, the industry must provide jobs for locals. Local employment is also the key to avoiding conflict.

According to Haizel-Ferguson, Ghana needs to aggressively develop the downstream side of the industry in order to create significant numbers of jobs. Even if Ghanaians replace all the expats now working offshore, jobs on the rigs will remain relatively limited and won't make much of a dent in the region's high unemployment rate.

Both Sallah and Haizel-Ferguson insist that Ghanaians must get those offshore jobs--crucial for creating a sense of "ownership" of the oil industry. But in terms of numbers, it's the refineries, the gas processing and petrochemical plants and the various service providers that will transform Ghana's oil into an engine for economic growth.

Sigma-Base is currently training over a thousand students, including 150 women. The trainers all have years of oil and gas industry experience and a number of them, like Haizel-Ferguson, have recently returned to Ghana from Nigeria.

One welding instructor I spoke with told me that he traveled from his home in the Central Region to Accra, Tema and on to Nigeria in search of work 25 years ago. He worked in the Niger Delta until last year when he decided to return to Ghana. He, too, wants to see the country do oil right and believes his years of industry experience can be put to good use here.

The Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association estimates that the development of a robust downstream sector can create up to 100,000 jobs for Ghanaians. But this won't happen without aggressive policy and action from the government. From local content legislation (laws that give priority to local hires and local companies), to capacity building, training and education, research and development and increased competitiveness of domestic business, the government has to be assertive on many fronts.

So far Sigma-Base is operating without any government support, and Haizel-Ferguson, like many members of the Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association, feels the government is not doing nearly enough.

The graduates of the Sigma-Base program may find work in other industries where their skills are in demand, but Ghana needs to act quickly to steer oil industry development in the right direction.

Since I began reporting from Ghana I've received a number of emails via my website from people asking me about jobs or training. Some people want to know where they can get training or how they can find a job, but most write about scams.

Employment scams are rife in the Western Region. People have set up phony recruitment agencies and bogus training programs. They ask for money up front and then disappear. People are spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars for non-existent jobs and courses.

Both Tullow Oil and Kosmos Energy have posted scam alerts on their websites.

Unfortunately many people in Takoradi don't have internet access. And even when you get to the Tullow or Kosmos website, it's not easy to get information. The Tullow Ghana website has no jobs or employment section. The Kosmos website doesn't supply any information for Ghana, period, and if you want to apply for a job you need to send a query to Dallas.


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