University graduates to lose out in oil industry take-off

As the Ugandan oil and gas industry nears take-off, experts say skilling workers for gainful employment in this sector should be concentrated in the country’s vocational institutions rather than its universities.

An assessment done by the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), which is required to establish, maintain and operate a national human capacity register, indicates that out of the 1,600 new jobs that will be generated in the oil and gas industry, 60% will require technically skilled artisans trained at vocational institutions rather than graduates from universities.

The World Bank has already partnered with the country’s vocational colleges which have been selected to become centres of excellence geared towards training Ugandans. The bank has also made vocational bursaries available for over 600 trainees from the Albertine region which is undergoing rapid growth and transformation due to the oil finds, to meet urgent skills needs.

More than US$10 billion is expected to be invested in the first phase of Uganda’s oil and gas industry, which will eventually total about US$20 billion.

As the industry gears up to offer employment, Dr Elly Karuhanga, chairman of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum has said the oil industry has many opportunities, but it requires high standards and therefore training should be at international level.

Betty Namubiru, the national content manager at the PAU, confirmed to University World News that there will be more need for technicians than graduates.

Attending the first Uganda and Tanzania Skilling and Local Content Forum held in Kampala in January, she said: “All our efforts should go into vocational training … So we are trying to see which skills to develop and focus on.

“The nature of the oil and gas industry is such that at one point we shall have a peak employment season and then it will fall.”

The best approach, therefore, was to upskill graduates to become employable in the industry, she said.
However, the founding CEO of the Uganda National Oil Company did not rule out the need for graduates.

“There are two ways to achieve success in this field. You could take a degree path or a vocational skill that is relevant to the sector. We need graduates but we also need technically skilled artisans,” said Dr Josephine Kasalamwa Wapakhabulo in an interview with The EastAfrican newspaper.

Alex Asiimwe, Chairman of the Oil and Gas Sector Skills Council in the Ministry of Education and Sports, said if skilling is to be done professionally updates of the labour market should be available and accessible to everybody.

In an effort to ensure that there is equal opportunity, the government has established a national oil and gas talent register, an online management information system which will capture demand and supply of Ugandan manpower in the oil and gas sector.

Jessica Kyeyune, national content manager CNOOC Uganda Ltd (a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corporation), said the register will permit identification of specific skill sets or expertise to employers seeking talent. On this online platform, employers can post job openings within the industry. Information will also be generated for decision-making.

There is concern that since Ugandan authorities confirmed the existence of commercial quantities of oil around Lake Albert in 2007, students aiming to work in the industry have opted for degree and masters courses.

A youth meeting on 30 January under an association of current and former leaders in institutions of higher learning across Uganda – the Guild Presidents’ Forum on Oil Governance (GPFOG) – observed that young people’s access to information on relevant oil and gas skills is still limited, putting them at risk of studying irrelevant courses.

They also noted that vocational training in Uganda is still weak and government efforts to strengthen it by creating centres of excellence two years before production of the first oil in 2020 was unhelpful.

Guild representatives said lecturers and other trainers were still weak because of inadequate efforts by the government to enable industry attachments that would see lecturers and trainers deliver better content.

The youth said poor regulation of oil and gas training institutes, including the substandard ones that have mushroomed across the country, put them at risk of being exploited and receiving irrelevant skills.

Christopher Smith, the team leader for E4D/SOGA, a joint development initiative by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the United Kingdom´s Department for International Development (DFID), said there was a well-equipped mobile training centre available to increase the pool of internationally certified technicians rapidly and to provide capacity building to host vocational training institutes. Smith said GIZ also links trainees with industrial placements.

All players in the oil and gas industry seem to agree that skilling should be done through private-public partnerships, with industry players working with institutions to ensure the correct skills are produced.

“We need the private sector to inform the curriculum so that the training meets the needs of the industry. People in the oil and gas industry should to be part of the training,” said Namubiru.