Experts warn of institutions manipulating unsuspecting Ugandans with degrees that are scarcely relevant to the sector, writes Edward Ssekika.
Think of any course with “oil and gas” in its name and you are likely to find it selling like a hot cake in Uganda. The logic is that as Uganda edges closer to oil production, a degree in an oil and gas course is a sure way to get a job in the most sought-after industry.
But that may not necessarily be the case. Industry players have told The Observer that actually, Uganda needs skilled plumbers and welders more than degree holders. Kevin Hughes, the operations manager in charge of training at OGAS Solutions Uganda, said the country’s biggest challenge was that universities concentrated more on the ‘academics of oil’ as opposed to practical trainings.
Makerere University, for instance, has geology, petroleum engineering and other petroleum-related courses. Hughes argues that while these courses are good, the next phase of oil development needs fewer university graduates, compared to diploma or certificate-holding technicians.
“Training institutions that are starting bachelor’s and master’s in oil and gas should know that there are not many white-collar jobs available for the industry; it is not about degrees, master’s and PhDs like other sectors,” Hughes said.
Wei Chai, the corporate affairs manager of Cnooc Uganda, agrees, arguing that Ugandans risk losing money in mock courses.
“The general public should inquire from the respective government authorities before making a commitment to invest money in such courses,” Chai said. “Uganda is a nascent oil nation [and] the education system needs to be strengthened in terms of compliance to oil and gas certification requirements and on-the-job practical training. Focus should be given to the technicians.”
Yet Yvick Robin, the operation manager of Specialized Welding Services (SWS), believes that in terms of training for the required manpower for the sector, Uganda is lagging way behind. He said when his company wanted welders here, it took them more than five years to train them to the satisfactory standard.
“If Ugandans don’t train, companies will either import workers from elsewhere or [workers] will come here [and] marry Ugandans [so] that they become citizens and get the jobs,” he said.
But where can Ugandans go for training?
Besides universities, Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba [UPIK] is charged with training technicians to work in the sector. Kigumba enables students to also acquire internationally recognized certifications. Bernard Ongodia, a principal geophysicist at the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department(PEDP), says the government has secured a World Bank loan to open another technical institute in Nwoya and upgrade Uganda Technical College Kichwamba.
However, there are also private institutions where Ugandans can go for certified skills in oil and gas. These include OGAS Solutions and the Norwegian Petroleum Academy, which has a local subsidiary here. It is fully certified and a member of the Energy Institute-UK and the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC), among others.
Dr Ben Manyindo, the executive director of Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), says vocational institutions in Uganda can seek partnerships with internationally-recognized institutions, just like Kigumba has done with City and Guilds of London and the American Welding Society, among others.
Manyindo calls for a separate institution that can handle skills and competencies. He says that while UNBS, through its Technical Committee-TC 16, is handling standards for the oil sector, this doesn’t touch the skills aspect. Meanwhile, Hughes says Uganda needs to domesticate international skills, competences, and certifications and calls for a coordinated approach to handle the issue.
World Bank Support
Ogondia denies that government seems uncoordinated on the issue. He reveals that with support from the World Bank through the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project, government looks to training the much-needed artisans and craftsmen for the sector, as the country enters into the oil-production phase.
He adds the WB will support government to ensure that oil-host communities fully benefit from the oil sector. In a five-year project to cost $153m, the WB will contribute $145m while the rest will be funding from government. The project, expected to end in 2019, has three components and UPIK falls under the third component, which is skills access and upgrading of Business, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) also known as Skilling Uganda.
Elizabeth Ninan, the World Bank’s senior education specialist, told The Observer that under the project, Ugandans would acquire international skills needed in oil and gas.
“The skills component will finance the upgrading of selected institutes which support the objectives of the Skilling Uganda strategy, including Uganda Petroleum Institute in Kigumba and Uganda Technical College Kichwamba…,” Ninan said.
Some $27m is to be spent on equipping Ugandans with necessary skills. Already, the Skilling Uganda taskforce has been established, headed by David Lukwago with a wide range of membership, including oil and gas players. Through this WB project, government envisages the establishment of the Skills Development Authority (SDA) to handle skills needs.
The project is also expected to offer scholarships to oil-host communities in the Albertine graben to study technical oil courses to enable them fully participate in the sector.
“It will also finance the costs associated with improving curriculum, testing and trainer competences to internationally-accredited levels to ensure that training standards improve to those required by private sector employers,” Ninan explained.
Ultimately, for a Ugandan who wants to acquire relevant skills to scoop a job in the oil and gas sector, a university degree is not what they need. Institutions such as Kigumba and Kichwamba or the Norwegian Petroleum Academy could be the answer.
This article was supported by African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).