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Oil Industry Analysis: Skills gap haunts local content dreams

lcAfter oil was discovered more than six years ago, the subject of “local content” became an industry mantra as the country resolved to give locals preferential access to jobs, services contracts and other opportunities in an industry known for its disproportionate reliance on expatriate labour, especially in its early stages in most countries.

But the story of welders shows the wide gulf between reality and aspirations, and exemplifies the barrier other craftsmen and professionals face as they seek to enter the industry.

In Takoradi, about 70 “professional” Ghanaian welders were hired for a welding job at a power plant. On the project was Daniel Kwarkyi, a US-trained welding inspector and educator, whose job was to ensure the work was foolproof and not likely to cause a future disaster in an industry where explosions occur at will.

The Ghanaian welders, with significant years of welding experience, put in an effort; they had a go at the job, eager to prove that they were the best hands around. Halfway into the job, however, the expatriate contractor became livid: the welders could not weld to the required standard.

A compromise was reached and expatriate welders were brought in to complete the job. In the end, everyone was happy.

“Yes, we had to agree to bring in expert welders from outside, and we didn’t go far, just Egypt. We brought in 35 of them and they were marvellous,” said Mr. Kwarkyi, who runs Danest Engineering Limited in Takoradi, a company that carries out welding training and consultancy services.

“Even our own welders understood everything and they were happy that these guys (the Egyptians) had come. But we need to learn from these experiences. Now that the oil industry has started, why don’t we set up a system like that, bring in all the experts to help train our people from the universities, polytechnics and so on to handle such jobs?” he asks.

The 70 Ghanaian welders, he says, are representative of the kind of welders Ghana currently has to offer the oil and gas industry. Although they may have been welding for years, Ghana’s welders are mostly informally trained, and are often not trained to any code or specific qualification.

To bring home his point, Mr. Kwarkyi likens the situation to what pertains in the world of driving: “In driving, you only need a licence B to drive a Tico car, but if you have to drive a Yutong bus across the border to Burkina Faso you have to have a licence F and you still have to be trained on that thing before you can do that job.

“So if our welders have been welding for all these years, doing burglar proofs, welding articulated truck bodies and so on without any code, that’s ok. But the oil and gas industry does not operate like that; the code says you have to be qualified and because they are not used to the requirements of the code, when you give them a code test they cannot do it.”

Additionally, he says, “there are new processes coming up in the industry, like the Gas Metal Arc Welding, Flux-cored Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, apart from the Shielded Metal Arc Welding, which are all processes used in the industry, and you need training on these because these pieces of equipment are not common.”

A training system, he reasons, needs to be set up based on the code, using the specifications for the qualification of a training facility.

In welding, there are agencies and authorising bodies like the American Welding Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Petroleum Institute. South Africa also has the South African Institute of Welding, which regulates work over there. Ghana has no such body.

“And all these bodies have codes or standards by which welding is done. For instance, if you work on wood structures, the American Welding Society demands that you have a certification called KWSD 1.1. For pressure vessels and piping, the code governing it is the ASME9. Then when you build cross-country pipelines, that is, say, from the Western Region Nzema area to Takoradi Aboadze, you build according to a code known as ABI 11,” Mr. Kwarkyi explains.

“You cannot just get up and say I am training welders; to what standard? When you get to know the standards, then you put in place measures. So the training facility would have to have the equipment; it would have to have the consumables and would have to have qualified and certified instructors to do the job. When you do not have these things in place and then you put guys in the classroom and say you are teaching them welding, you are deceiving them.”

A lot of deception, it appears, is already going on across the country with all manner of people setting up what they call training institutions. Sadly, desperate young Ghanaians, seeking careers in the petroleum industry, are falling for it.

“For about three years now, I have been trying in the country to find a certified welding inspector and nobody has come,” says Daniel Kwarkyi, who also hints that “we would need between 500 and 1000 welders – I mean welders who are qualified to do code work – within the next five years.”

But the training does not come cheap. At his own training facility, which has 24 standard training booths, Daniel Kwarkyi charges between GH¢9,800 and GH¢24,500 for the four major welding programmes that run for between 14 to 35 weeks.

The training is not cheap anywhere in the world, he says, and left to their own fate, many would-be welders, for want of resources, would go without the training.

“Even in the US, the government sponsors a lot of the training. What the government of Ghana should do is to identify this need, and then identify people who are ready. It’s hard work; it’s not work for the faint-hearted, so identify people who are ready to learn. Now pay their fees. It could be a loan which they pay back when they start working, just like it is done with the Students Loan Scheme.”

With the entry-level salary at around GH¢3,000 per month in the industry, Mr. Kwarkyi believes paying back the government for the cost of their training should not be difficult for beneficiaries.

He adds that: “The government should set up a body that would look for people who are prepared and ready to learn. As for those already in the system who already know how to weld, I would say that, it would be nice if somebody could sponsor them so that they do short courses to be upgraded to the code.”

Source: Basiru Adam/ B&FT

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Reporting Oil and Gas project was launched on 4th June 2009atTakoradi, Western Region, Ghana by Penplusbytes (PPB – www.penplusbytes.org) with the vision of providing a one stop online information and knowledge about Ghana’s oil and gas sector
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