Are billion dollar plants good at job creation?

Do giant downstream projects deliver many long-term jobs for locals?

Abdelghani Henni
Abdelghani Henni

The second Saudi Downstream Forum and Exhibition in Jubail last month drew many of Saudi Arabia’s leading figures from the energy and downstream industries together.

One of the principal themes which dominated the keynote presentations was helping the Saudi Arabian government to diversify its economy away from its dependency on oil revenue, and most importantly to create jobs for young people, which is a real challenge facing the Kingdom. This is a task made doubly harder given that we know that many of job positions are being replaced by computerised systems.

I attended a technology event in Italy organized by Honeywell Process Solutions, called Honeywell Users Group. The main objective of the event was to showcase their latest developments, and illustrate how the company can help its users.

I was impressed with the system offerings for downstream players, and at the same time, I was bit worried. As often as I hear about job creation investment in the region, I also hear about the huge leaps toward plant automation which drastically reduces the number of skilled, experienced experts needed on site to run a plant.

Ultimately, technology is stripping away many of the roles involved in running a refining or petrochemical complex. Whenever I visit a new plant in the region I’m astonished by how few people are actually involved on site.

I think that it will be very challenging for petrochemical companies in the Kingdom to be a real numbers-changer in boosting long term job creation.

I think it now is the time for companies to think outside the box, and move further along the downstream chain to capture the manufacturing value of its petrochemical production. After all, in twenty more year’s time how many people will really be needed at a well-run plant?

Abdelghani Henni, editor
e-mail: abdelghani.henni@itp.com

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