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Building competence in petroleum upstream sector

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
The graduates of the Takoradi Technical University
The graduates of the Takoradi Technical University

Last Wednesday, I found myself heading towards Takoradi for the graduation ceremony of Takoradi Technical University's (TTU) 150 young men and women under the Petroleum Commission’s (PC) Accelerated Oil and Gas Capacity Building (AOGC) programme.

They had successfully completed courses in Instrumentation, Production, Electrical or Mechanical Technicians with TTU and City and Guilds International Vocational Qualifications Level III certifications.

I hardly turn down an opportunity to visit this charming old city, home to one of my favourite music stars, Kofi Kinaata, with its iconic market circle and flowery variation of Fantse, among others, and whose name apparently is rooted in a combination of the Portuguese word ‘Taccarada’ and a local word ‘Ntakor’.

An ice-cold drink with some grilled, spicy chicken on the terrace of the Best Western Atlantic Hotel as one watches the waves in the distance is one of those simple delights I cherish and look forward to whenever I visit Takoradi.

AOGC programme

One of the pressing issues flowing from the oil blessings that this country has received in the past decade or so has been how to ensure that Ghanaians participate fully and meaningfully in the oil and gas sector, beyond peripheral supporting activities such as catering, security and transport services.

With a teeming youthful population and the growing importance of a skilled work force anchored on an effective Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system, it appears almost negligent to fail to give young persons the training to fill gaps in the petroleum sector, for which foreign labour becomes an imperative.

It was against this background that in November 2017, President Akufo-Addo launched the AOGC, intended to enhance the capacities of Ghanaians to enable them to obtain requisite and internationally recognised certifications to work in the highly specialised petroleum upstream sector.

The government realised a dearth of qualified Ghanaian technicians for available job roles in the upstream oil and gas sector and the AOGC was aimed at addressing this mishap.

Beneficiary graduates

In September 2021, a group of 150 young Ghanaians were selected out of 3,000 applicants after a rigorous screening process to be trained as process, instrumentation, mechanical and electrical technicians at the Jubilee Training Centre of the TTU over a period of six months.

They were all first degree or HND holders with various engineering backgrounds.

As part of their training, the trainees also underwent internships with AOGC partner entities to enable them to meet the requirements of the City & Guilds International Vocational Qualifications (IVQ) Level III.

Upon completion of the programme, they are now ready to be engaged as specialist technicians on FPSOs, drill ships, marine vessels and fabrication yards, among others, anywhere in the world.

The training does not come cheap, according to PC’s CEO, Mr Egbert Faibille Jnr, whose outfit picked the bills for the 150 beneficiaries.

It cost $7,500 to train each participant, in addition to payments made to the TTU, monthly stipends of GH¢1,000 per participant and the provision of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to each trainee, among others. The total bill came to about GH¢5.1m or $680,000.

Deputy Minister Andrew Mercer, who stood in for the minister, was interested in when the PC would recruit its next cohort of trainees.

It appears the PC would like to catch its breath for a little while.

It was a delight to watch the proud young men and women, all first degree or HND holders, march up to be presented with their scrolls, knowing they were ‘hot cakes’ on the market and not having to worry about whether, where and how they would find work once the gowns and hoods came off, the thrill of the ceremony wore off and they retired to bed at night.

But what was perhaps more remarkable was the sight of their work overalls and boots peeping out from beneath their academic gowns, with the tassels draped gently on the side of their hoods perched atop their heads.

It gave a sense of authenticity to the process, that truly, these were skilled, technical men and women without an affinity for the niceties of elegant suits and shiny ties and who were quite happy to get their hands dirty, so to speak.

Success stories

In its five-year history, the AOGC has not only been about last week’s graduates.

Earlier, five young men were selected and trained in Advanced Steel Welding at the world-renowned Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), Canada, leading to their certification by the Canadian Welding Bureau and the American Welding Society.

The training was sponsored by Baker Hughes Ghana Limited (BHGL) at a cost of $250,000. They have since been deployed at the Kikam, Takoradi and Kumasi Technical Institutes and the Kumasi Technical University as welding instructors.

When Energy Minister Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh visited Canada last year, he had the opportunity to interact with management of the institute and also to assess at first-hand their training and learning facilities ahead of the training of the first batch of Ghanaian instructors in Millwright Technology, Fabrication, Pipefitting and Instrumentation.

There have been the incorporation and formal launch recently of the Ghana Institution of Welding (GIW), which will champion the development of welding standards and advance the science, technology and application of welding and fabrication and its allied professions in Ghana.

The GIW will operate under the aegis of the AOGC.

Further, Aker Energy provided $5m in sponsorship for the building of a world-class welding and pipe-fitting centre on the TTU campus.

Our TVET story

Africa’s tragedy is that of being the youngest continent with the highest percentage of talented youth, but without the capacity to optimally convert the abundant stock of energy to employable skills.

This dilemma should challenge us to discover and activate the missing link in our value chain: namely the content of education; and more specifically the lip service we have paid to technical and vocational education all these years.

The AOGC is a significant step towards addressing this contradiction beyond the government’s several other key TVET initiatives since 2017, particularly under the Education Ministry through the Commission for Technical and Vocational Training (CTVET).

The programme is certainly going places and with time, will make a huge impact on providing young people with the skills and competencies needed to play key, strategic roles in the dynamic oil and gas sector.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng.
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