Iraqi training on the rise

The need for more advanced training in Iraq

Skilled workers in Iraq are not easy to find. Operators in Iraq continue to invest in local language and skills development.
Skilled workers in Iraq are not easy to find. Operators in Iraq continue to invest in local language and skills development.

Throughout Iraq’s energy industry, managers and executives are aware of the challenges they face when it comes to building a local-skilled workforce. Years of political unrest have led to the destruction of academic buildings, the migration of skilled workers and a dramatic hiatus in the development of Iraq’s workforce.

For many of the owners, operators, contractors and other oilfield service companies in Iraq, the most difficult challenge when it comes to operating in the country is finding and developing the right workers.

“Decades of war and isolation from the outside world mean that most people need to be trained in the most basic of skills,” says Dina Adib, general manager of Siraj Naybur, an Iraq based-supplier of electrical products for the country’s oil and gas industry. “They have a thirst for knowledge,” she added.

Chief among the many challenges involved with training, is raising awareness about health and safety, throughout an entire operation. Many managers agreed that there was a lack of understanding about the importance of safety in the workplace amongst the untrained- Iraqi population.

“We had to start from the basics, how to load and strap down cargo and the importance of headboards to address the momentum of cargo during sharp breaking,” says Peter Robinson, Middle East regional director for Bertling, a ship-owning, chartering and transport logistics company with operations throughout Iraq.

Scotland-based Cresent recently launched a training scheme to equip workers in the Rumaila oifield with skills to make their work environment a safer place. Hundreds of employees from Iraq were put through an intensive WorkSafe course to raise safety standards.

The Worksafe programme is designed to assist safety managers with oversight of a facility. The package also includes consultancy, project management, e-learning and classroom-based learning.

As part of the contract with Rumaila, some 750 Southern Oil Company employees will visit Edinburgh, over a nine month period to receive training in WorkSafe Control of Work systems.
The emphasis on local training and development programmes has been felt all over the country.

“We have in excess of 2000 Iraqi employees, and we are going to train them and bring them up to the knowledge and level base that we would require,” said Nial Shepherd, vice president for Weatherford’s Iraq operations.

Despite the many efforts to improve the Iraqi workforce and the introduction of programmes like Cresent’s Worksafe course, the competition for local content remains high. A few operators in the country have admitted that retaining employees may be difficult.

Such managers cite a post-war scepticism about the future of peace and security in Iraq, a feeling that has some Iraqis convinced that the good times are only temporary; leading them to forsake a job with future growth potential for one that immediately offers higher salaries.

Be that as it may, the many companies in Iraq all agree that they are in it for the long haul and have real plans to develop the local teams, despite the challenges. “In five years time, hopefully we can increase our nationalisation programme, and the competence level of our employees,” says Shepherd. “We want to see them taking over some of the more key positions in our organization and give them the opportunity to work outside of Iraq.”

Of course this is also highly dependent on the country’s ability to integrate English into the workplace. In addition to the shortage of qualified workers, the language barrier presents even more challenges for many companies.

“If you’re recruiting welders and mechanics, the English needs to be encouraged and trained. But if you’re recruiting for the junior engineer level, the level of English can be very good, very well educated people who are very good at what they do,” says Peter Day, chief executive officer of Petronor, a private company which is developing the Iraq Energy City, an oilfield supply base in Basra.

Despite all the challenges, it is clear that in Iraq’s uncertain job market, there is plenty of room for locals who remain loyal and go through a company’s training programmes. “Our people are loyal with us, they’ve been with us for a long time,” says Mott MacDonald general manager Hisham Alami.

In numbers:
- 750 employees will visit Edinburgh, over a nine month period to receive training
- 2000 employees the number of iraqis employeed by Weatherford working in the country

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