OPINION: Skills acquired in the oil and gas sector will benefit other sectors of the Ugandan economy

By Bernard Ongodia

A baseline study by oil companies in 2013, followed by a capacity needs assessment by the government in 2014, estimated the number of direct jobs in the oil and gas sector at 14,000.

This figure represents both job opportunities and a skills gap. Education service providers need to be prepared for the task – filling these skills gaps.

The training required in the oil and gas sector is highly specialized since the sector operates to high standards.

This means that if someone is trained in Uganda to become a technician, they can work anywhere in the world. They have internationally recognized skills and qualifications.

Locally, oil and gas companies such as TotalEnergies EP Uganda and its joint venture partners CNOOC (U) LTD, UNOC have already offered significant support to ensure that the vocational training that will take place in Uganda meets international standards.

For example, TotalEnergies supported the Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba (UPIK) in the review, validation and approval of the Institute’s curriculum, to now create a curriculum that meets labor market needs.

With the recent announcement of the Final Investment Decision (FID), the race for the development phase is on, as is the race to accelerate the training of the specialized personnel who will carry out the work.

Uganda is fortunate to have established a National Oil and Gas Training Institute that will help bridge the skills gap at the technical and artisanal level in our emerging oil and gas sector. If a Ugandan today wishes to acquire skills in the field of oil and gas, he can turn to UPIK.

The institute runs two important degrees; Diploma in Upstream Petroleum Operations and Diploma in Downstream Petroleum Operations – each two-year in duration and accredited by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).

Additionally, the institute offers more than nine certifications including; upstream oil operations, downstream oil operations, mechanical maintenance, electrical maintenance, welding, manufacturing & piping, instrumentation maintenance, health and environmental safety, steel erection and rigging, scaffolding.

We are fortunate to have completed all the requirements on time to ensure that these programs are internationally accredited by bodies such as City & Guilds, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB), Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (OPITO) and IFP-Training.

This means that the skills and qualifications of our interns are recognized globally and can therefore be used in the global economy.

Perhaps one of the most important milestones in terms of skills and technology transfer for our Ugandans is a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Institute and TotalEnergies EP Uganda.

The partnership will facilitate the training and skills assessment of the technical staff of the Tilenga project.

The training is staggered so that one year of training will be undertaken at UPIK, with the first half of the training being conducted by UPIK instructors while the second part of the training will be conducted both by TotalEnergies and UPIK instructors.

Those who qualify during the first phase, some of the trainees as well as UPIK trainers will advance to France for another year, for further training which includes; practical activities in oil and gas production plants.

After a year of training and exposure, trainees have the opportunity to be hired by TotalEnergies EP as part of its Tilenga project.

After this training, Ugandan students can rest assured that they will eventually become technical personnel such as; production operators, mechanical maintenance technicians, electrical maintenance technicians, instrumentation maintenance technicians, inspection technicians and laboratory technicians.

In order to produce human resources that will meet the skill requirements of the labor market, it is important that technical institutes adopt a demand-driven curriculum and competency-based training model. Of this number, at least 60% of the student training period must be practical for it to be valid.

A recent report by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation recommends targeted technical and vocational training efforts to address skills gaps in close consultation with industry associations, as a way to address cross-cutting constraints to private sector.

Over the past 13 years, a total of 462 Ugandans have enrolled in oil and gas degree programs, while 579 have enrolled in international professional qualifications at UPIK, representing 1,041 trainees so far.

These courses are designed in such a way that if you are taking a one-year international professional course, you will spend 9 months at the institute with several on-the-job orientation sessions in the industry, and the remaining 3 months will be devoted to do on-the-job training with industry.

Of the 579 international vocational course trainees, the majority are in health, safety and environment (HSE), which is a very critical element in oil and gas operations. The institute has embedded HSE in its culture, which is why most UPIK graduates have easily found jobs as safety managers in different sectors of the economy.

It is important to note the ripple effect of these skills on other sectors of the economy. For example, we have seen our graduates work with Kiira Motors Corporation, the sugar and brewing industry, hydroelectric projects among others.

Undoubtedly, oil and gas holds many benefits for Uganda, but the most important will be the acquisition of specialized skills, competences and technologies in a unique and internationally important sector.
Bernard Ongodia is director of the Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba (UPIK).