Nothing seems to capture the public imagination like oil. The real impact of the oil industry on local communities in Africa is in plain sight from Nigeria to Chad to Equatorial Guinea and beyond, but this hardly dampens public enthusiasm for the black gold.
In Ghana, things were no different. When Ghanaians found out there was oil off their coast, a sense of excitement spread across the country. Optimistic and at times unrealistic statements from various company officials and ministries added to expectations.
In the Western Region it was the prospect of jobs that caught people’s attention. A burgeoning oil and gas industry could potentially bring thousands of jobs to the distressed local economy.
Francis M.K. Sallah is the Regional Industrial Relations Officer for the General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers’ Union. Lately he has been hearing a lot about jobs, or the lack of, in the oil industry.
Officials say that Ghana’s oil operations can create up to 1000 jobs by 2020. That doesn’t sound like much, but with several new offshore discoveries that number is likely to increase in the coming years. And if Ghana develops the “downstream” part of the industry — the refineries, gas and petrochemical plants that are the industrial by-products of oil production — then job numbers could grow dramatically.
But the development of downstream operations is not a given. And as far as the oil production jobs are concerned, well, the question is how many of those coveted positions will go to Ghanaians?
At the moment, the record isn’t good. One person told me that there are 150 Ghanaians employed in the oil industry here, but other people have told me the number is far lower. I have not been able to verify the numbers. The oil companies are not required to disclose which contractors they hire nor make employment information public. When I’m able to interview Tullow or Kosmos officials, I’ll ask for employment figures, but for now I can only go with what I hear on the ground.
The Ghanaian government says that 90% of the oil jobs should go to Ghanaians by 2020, but some people in the industry wonder why the government isn’t being more aggressive. Sallah says that right now Ghanaians could occupy more than half the posts. Welders, pipefitters, painters, maintenance people – there are plenty of skilled laborers in Ghana, so what’s keeping them from getting jobs?
When I talk to officials, I hear that Ghanaians aren’t trained, that the oil jobs require a highly skilled labor force and that Ghana isn’t ready. But I hear precious little about what Ghana (i.e., the government) is going to do to get Ghana ready or to require that the oil companies hire Ghanaian nationals.
Yeah, I know a lot of jobs in the oil industry require technical skills and education. I grew up around the oil industry. My father was a petroleum engineer. But he started work as a roustabout. My brother did a few stints on the rigs and even I did temp. work at an oil refinery in Wilmington, California. When we’re talking about employment opportunities for the Western Region, we’re not just talking about engineers and geologists – there are lots of jobs in the oil business that don’t require a degree. I’ve looked at a number of employment websites for the offshore oil industry and they all list entry-level jobs.
Something is preventing Ghanaians from getting work and it’s hard for me to understand. After all, the oil men who are hanging out at the hotel bar in Takoradi are mainly working class guys from Texas and Louisiana who are in Ghana via the Gulf of Mexico or E.G. (that’s Equatorial Guinea). What degrees do they have?
Koffi Bentum, a Takoradi-based journalist who hosts a weekly community radio show on oil and gas, told me the oil companies are even buying the food for the offshore crews from the Ivory Coast.
I’m looking for answers. As a naïve, outside observer, I would think that it would be much cheaper and more cost effective for Tullow and co. to hire local workers and use the services of local companies. I understand that when you’re ordering food for crews, you need regular, guaranteed supplies. Maybe Ghanaian catering companies aren’t up to snuff (but they could be). And, of course, you tend to deal with people you know (but laws could make you do otherwise).
Right now, I ask the same question as Francis Sallah: Where are the jobs?