Sigma-Base Technical Services, a private job-training center in Takoradi, recently held a graduation ceremony (or a “passing-out ceremony” as it’s called here) for its first class of 913 trainees. The students, trained in welding, pipefitting, electrical work or specialized construction, were participants in a new program intended to create a qualified labor pool for Ghana’s new oil industry.
With the Sigma-Base training under their belts, the graduates can pursue jobs with any number of companies servicing the oil and gas sector.
“We are already qualified to perform 60% of the jobs in the oil industry,” says Ebow Haizel-Ferguson, the Corporate Affairs and Community Relations Director at Sigma-Base. He disputes claims from officials that Ghanaians will not be qualified for wide-scale oil and gas employment before 2020.
Haizel-Ferguson, who returned to his hometown after working more than 20 years in the Niger Delta, is all too familiar with the oil curse. Although much of the public’s attention is focused on Nigerian corruption and missing oil revenues, Haizel-Ferguson wants people to consider the crucial role of employment in making or breaking the resource curse.
As he explains, the Nigerian oil industry failed over the years to provide significant employment for local populations. The lack of job opportunities combined with the demise of fishing — due to pollution from the oil industry — translated into increased poverty and, eventually, social unrest.
Haizel-Ferguson does not want to see the same thing happen in Ghana, so along with two partners, he founded Sigma-Base to insure that Ghanaians are ready for oil sector jobs.
If Ghana’s oil is going to work towards the country’s development, the industry must provide jobs for locals. Local employment is also the key to avoiding social unrest.
According to Haizel-Ferguson Ghana needs to aggressively develop the “downstream” side of the industry in order to create significant numbers of jobs. Even if Ghanaians replace all the expats now working offshore, jobs on the rigs will remain limited and won’t make much of a dent in Sekondi-Takoradi’s high unemployment rate.
It is important that Ghanaians get those offshore jobs — that’s crucial for creating a sense of “ownership” of the oil industry. But in terms of numbers, it’s the refineries, the gas processing and petrochemical plants and the various service providers that will transform Ghana’s oil into an engine for economic growth.
Sigma-Base is currently training over a thousand students, including 150 women. The trainers all have years of oil and gas industry experience and a number of them, like Haizel-Ferguson, have recently returned to Ghana from Nigeria.
One welding instructor I spoke with told me that he traveled from his home in the Central Region to Accra, Tema and on to Nigeria in search of work 25 years ago. He worked in the Niger Delta until last year when he decided to return to Ghana. He, too, wants to see the country do oil right and believes his years of industry experience can be put to good use here now.
The Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association estimates that the development of a robust downstream sector can create up to 100,000 jobs for Ghanaians.
The challenge? This won’t happen without aggressive policy and action from the government. From local content legislation (laws that give priority to local hires and local companies), to capacity building, training and education, research and development and increased competitiveness of domestic business, the government has to be assertive on many fronts.
So far, Sigma-Base is operating without any government support and Haizel-Ferguson, like many members of the Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association, feels the government is not doing nearly enough.
The graduates of the Sigma-Base program may find work in other industries where their skills are in demand, but Ghana needs to act quickly to steer oil industry development in the right direction.