Abeinomugisha hinted at the fact that for instance, the refinery contractor [whenever the government finds one], is likely to fabricate the modules from outside the Ugandan borders but before that is done, the database will easily be able to show whether such skills and labour is not available within the country. He said it is important that the money that these companies are investing here remains in the country.
Although Uganda developed its local content management frameworks by picking best practices from other countries that have done well in building the technical competencies of their nationals, the government has been slow in funding the institutions that are supposed to ramp up the numbers of skilled labour meant for the oil industry.
Rossini Silveira, a petroleum engineer who has worked on similar projects around the world but is nowworking with Silveira Group Uganda Ltd, recently toldThe Independent that as things stand, the country does not have the required manpower and if the new first oil timeline is to be followed, then the contractors will have to get that manpower from outside the country, build the refinery modules in bits there and transport them to Uganda on trucks.
Silveira says at least 5,000 people could be needed although at peak time as many as 25,000 workers will be required.
“As things stand now, I doubt whether we have 1,000 trained right now,” he says, adding, “As a country, we have been negligent.”
Prof. Charles Kwesiga, the former principal of the Uganda Petroleum Institute at Kigumba, told The Independent on Sept. 16 that the country has not moved at the desired speed to produce a critical mass of qualified and internationally certified technicians. He blamed the slow start on the oil and gas sector being a relatively new field thus lacking on the country’s education curriculum.
Prof. Kwesiga says the institute has for the last five years collaborated with training institutions in Norway and Trinidad & Tobago for apprenticeship opportunities as Uganda did not have facilities where students could do hands on apprenticeship so as to get certified internationally.
By September 2014, Trinidad & Tobago had trained 103 Ugandans and 11 instructors from the Uganda Petroleum Institute at Kigumba in oil and gas technology.
Kwesiga insists the government remains serious about local content; however, what remains is to get the necessary funding and deploy qualified staff and the technology needed for modern petroleum education. “It was always going to take time to develop the skills set required in the field,” Kwesiga says.
“It is definitely incumbent upon the country to develop the skills at a faster pace by investing in skills development and partnering with those countries that are experienced in the sector, look critically at the needs of the international oil companies and live up those requirements.”
Don Bwesigye Binyina, the executive director of the African Centre for Energy and Mineral Development (ACEMP), also told The Independent on Sept. 14 that both the upstream and mid-stream levels of the oil industry are heavily dependent on the technical and skilled labour and this is a challenge that Uganda faces because the country’s attempts at skills development is way off the mark.
Binyina says an external influx of skilled labour is inevitable because the projects have to go on. That will render Ugandans mere spectators.
“You are looking at the international oil companies that already have other projects around the world and therefore it is easy for them to move their labour but it also increases the cost of business for the oil companies,” he says.
“But what that does is that although the oil companies will still proceed because you have demonstrated that the country has no skills required, at the end of the day this robs the country the net benefits from the sector.”
He adds that with shortage of local skills, what is most likely to happen is that the oil companies will employ foreigners such as Filipinos and Indians even if it means flying them in and flying them out.
Going forward, Binyina says the oil companies and the Ministry of Education and Sports should address the technical skills gap.
“The government and its development partners may have done tremendous work to equip the ministries, departments and agencies with the right technical people but these are not the kind of people that are going to drive the industry in the next three years,” he says.
Oil companies in general are willing to help build a skilled workforce and also to meet other commitments on local content— especially when it comes to developing local talent—because these do not only earn them goodwill from governments but also reduce reliance on expatriate workers.
But an official in one of the oil companies told The Independent on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak on behalf of the company that the engagement between the oil companies and the government has been frustratingly slow which means that when the oil field development work eventually starts, they will have no alternative but to get foreign workers.
The official said as things stand, expatriate staff will play a lead role in the early stages of project developments especially from the Indian subcontinent and Philippines, North America and Europe.
Emmanuel Mugarura, the CEO of the Association of Uganda Oil and Gas Service Providers, told The Independent that Ugandans need to come to terms with the fact that building skills in the oil industry takes time and the government should double its efforts. “Ugandans should not be worried about the next three years; we should be looking at the next 10-15 years because this is an industry that is going to be here for the next three decades,” says Mugarura.
“If you look at the value chain in the entire industry, we don’t have to go for those high technical jobs because there is money in the industry that the industry can provide.
“I don’t think we should panic because when we do so, we will make mistakes. We should have had a plan and we should have religiously followed that plan.”
He adds that besides building more institutes like Kigumba, it is time the private institutions got support from the government to ramp up qualified personnel required in the sector.
But Henrik Poulsen, the vice president of Rystad Energy based in Oslo told The Independent on Sept. 16 in an email that much as local content is important, ideally every job should be performed by people with the right skills and knowledge in order to do the work as efficiently as possible in this next phase of developing Uganda’s upstream sector.