Though the headline sounds illogical, it is true that the lack of expertise in any industry, especially in the highly dynamic ones such as the petroleum industry, should be a motivating reason for strengthening the capabilities and skills of existent personnel and paving the way for more professional cadres to emerge in order to be the right work guidance for the middle-age and fresh employers
The lack of expertise problem has been a headache for years and years, not only in Egypt, but also in almost every country, even the more industrialized western nations such as the United States. Attempts to attract foreign workforce through attractive work packages to compensate for this lack have always been a short-term solution to the problem. What is more beneficial and effective is to invest in the capabilities and skills of each country’s workforce as means to create a large segment of knowledgeable personnel enjoying the needed skills and abilities to join dynamic sectors as the petroleum industry. Although such solution might take years to be attained, this can be considered as the most appropriate long-term solution to end this brain drain and skill shortage.
Asking some young petroleum employees about their opinions concerning the availability of experienced calibers in the Egyptian petroleum sector, they mostly believe that this lack of expertise problem is no longer as major as it was in the past, yet it does exist to some extent.
Mohamed M. Tawfik, Safety Engineer for Onshore Rig at the Egyptian Drilling Company (EDC) – Libya Branch, said that Egypt does have a lot of qualified employees that could possibly develop the industry. However, the immigration of those experienced personnel remains as a weakening factor in the industry. “This is due to the big difference between the salaries of the Egyptian Oil Companies compared to the multinational companies… although it is commonly known in the Egyptian society that the wages of the petroleum sector are considered the highest in the country. But, when compared to the international standards, wages are considerably low,” Tawfik added.
Disagreeing with Tawfik’s opinion about the existence of knowledgeable and skilled employees, Sherif Ali, Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineer that graduated from the U.S and worked in the Egyptian field highlighted, “At an early stage in my career, I worked in Egypt and found out that there were lot of inexperienced individuals who were occupying high sensitive jobs within the oil and gas operating companies. They offset this lack of knowledge by depending on service companies that have the technical know-how and training to do their jobs.”
Ali further explained that even when courses and training are provided, few individuals are keen on applying to these courses and have a real interest in learning and excelling.
Ahmed Mahran, KW Ltd believes that the petroleum market in Egypt has a broad level of skilled staff; however, this does not omit the shortage of qualified people. This shortage of experienced people who have enough knowledge to carry out their duties properly is significantly “aroused in good times as shortage of human resources leads to projects going over budget, not meeting their delivery targets or projects managed by personnel who haven’t got the right knowledge”. Mahran also shed light on the problem of know-how, which does not only lead to poor quality work, but moreover it is a main cause for higher probability of failure that is highly critical.
Giving an analysis about mind immigration, the young engineer said this dilemma at some cases has created a knowledge gap through the shortage of the middle aged personnel who are performing the work through guidance from elder staff and delegation of the younger staff. “The reasons lying behind this skill and experience drainage can be summarized in two factors; the low payments and insufficient professional development and training courses that are highly crucial for any organization and for both employees and employers as the first strengthen their market value through knowledge and trainings, while the latter would invest in their employees as they are the developing arm of their companies.”
Furthermore, Mahran added that there is currently a couple of professional training centers, which are providing the needed courses specialized in the petroleum sector. “However, I think a series of improvements in terms of types of presented courses, their relevance to the industry locally and internationally and their benefit are needed. Yet, such courses should be treated as the source of basic knowledge, which should be accompanied by the real on-job learning for developing the job experience.”
Mind immigration is not the solution
In a short opinion poll, we found out that the drainage of experienced employees in the petroleum industry is attributed to the immigration of skilled and knowledgeable workers, mainly in search for better wages. Many foreign countries, suffering from the insufficient professional workforce needed in highly dynamic industries such as the petroleum one, hunt for experienced cadres and utilize the “shining attractive work packages” to attract experts from other countries, giving them the so-called their lifetime chance to accept the idea of immigration.
Although that some would disagree and claim that local skilled manpower leave in search for better work experience and not only money, recent research stated that nearly 50 percent of immigrated personnel leave left everything behind their back for the sake of better salaries.
In a recent job seeker poll, carried out by Bayt.com, the Middle East’s number one job site, the questionnaire aimed to assess what employees deemed to be the most important factors when considering a job abroad. The respondents selected the desire for money as the first important factor, with 41 percent citing pay as their foremost consideration when targeting a new country for employment. Besides, the country’s employee satisfaction rating and worldwide security were also important factors, along with having family and friends in that country.
Whether leaving for money or better work experience, we should answer this question first, how well would Egyptian workers operate in a different country and cope with a whole new culture? As a matter of fact, this varies from one person to another and from one country to another; even if we focus on the immigration to Arab countries and though Arab countries enjoy high cultural similarities to a great extent, yet there are definitely many differences. When the Bayt.com survey asked respondents to rate how strongly they believed countries’ cultural norms affected lifestyle and productivity, only 6.3 percent held the belief that a country’s culture had no bearing on lifestyle nor productivity, while the remaining 93.7 percent do believe of the cultural impact on productivity.
“Professionals moving to new countries, for the purpose of employment, expect cultural norms to influence their lives,” said Amer Zureikat, Regional Manager for Bayt.com to the Daily News Egypt, shedding light on the survey’s results, speculating that the diversity of responses seen in the survey reflect the differing mindsets of people working overseas or considering an opportunity abroad.
Leaving money as the factor behind immigration, some academics believe that the graduates of petroleum engineering faculties cannot easily get a job opportunity to apply what they studied for four years as there are no enough job opportunities for them and hence, they start their career abroad. Dr. Abdel Alim Hashem, professor of Petroleum Engineering at the Cairo University’s Mining, Petroleum and Metallurgical Engineering Department, has over 20 years of experience in drilling engineering, well completion and work over operations, petroleum Economics, petroleum exploration and subsurface geology believes the core of brain drain does not lie in the student, nor the university; it is basically due to the lack of opportunities for students to receive practical training internships in oil and gas companies before graduation. “For instance, when I was in Germany studying for my PhD, all students got summer internships and used to work on rigs in all positions for three months. Unfortunately, we do not have this opportunity here. I tried to address many companies several times; most of them did not respond and the remaining few could not provide more than 10 days only as a summer internship for 3-15 students whereas we have around 120 students.”
As a result, fresh graduates are not adequate to join the workforce and keep on seeking for opportunities to gain work experience, which is not easy nowadays, he highlighted.
As a suggestion to ameliorate the standard of petroleum engineering, research…etc to have better experienced workforce, Dr. Hashem recommended to focus on two major items; first to initiate more cooperation between educational institutions and companies, whether private or public in order to provide students with the privilege of getting practical trainings in these companies and therefore, having experienced graduates and solving the lack of skilled Egyptian personnel in the field. Second, he recommended increasing the budget for academic research and studies in the field in order to develop the petroleum sector in Egypt.
Training centers are the key
As mentioned at the beginning, the most effective solution to this brain drain lies in the investments of companies in their manpower. This can be achieved through the training centers, which study the needs of the market and bring the latest technologies and courses needed to ameliorate and develop the employees’ skills and cleverness.
“Training young cadres in the petroleum sector, in their respective specializations, is an essential aspect of the Ministry of Petroleum’s strategy to preserve the evolution in the industry both on the domestic and international levels,” the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Eng. Sameh Fahmy highlighted the importance of training centers. “Training the youth and providing them with skills has become a national objective, not just in the petroleum sector, but also in the IT sector.”
Moreover, these centers fill the gap of practical applications skills as many students are graduating from engineering departments with good theoretical knowledge and memorization skills, but are short of practical experience.
Some believe that the need for training centers is not as a means of compensation for poor learning but as an instrument of enduring technological advancements. Dr. Salah El Haggar, professor of Energy and Environment at the American University in Cairo, stated that “the importance of these training centers is that they continue education for computer engineers and scientists at large in order to refresh their memories and strengthen their skills.” Whether it is a means of reparation for a weak education or simply a way to fine tune the skills of highly educated graduates and to specify their required abilities, training centers seem to provide the answer to many problems in the oil and gas field in Egypt.
Among the training centers currently available in Egypt, we can list the GESCO Training Center, established in 1995 by Global Engineering & Services Co. (GESCO), the Petro Environmental Services Company (PESCo), was established in January 2003 and the Oil & Gas Skills (OGS). The first provides a wide range of training courses, both certified and customized, to the petroleum and industrial sectors in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East. The last seven or eight years witnessed GESCO Training Center’s participation in a number of leading training projects including being selected by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), together with other reputable training centers, to run a training project for 10,000 individual holders of intermediate diplomas and/or holders of technical high diplomas in order to be qualified to work in the future in the oil sector in Egypt or other Arab countries. The second training center, PESCo, provides environmental protection and marine support in addition to specialized oil spill training for offshore, marine and industrial environments.
By Yomna Bassiouni