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O&G sector should focus on talent development

President and general manager of BP UAE says competition for talented professionals is fierce in the GCC countries

Abdul Karim Ahmed Abdulla Al Mazmi, President and General Manager, BP UAE.
Abdul Karim Ahmed Abdulla Al Mazmi, President and General Manager, BP UAE.

The president of BP UAE, Abdul Karim Ahmed Abdulla Al Mazmi, says the oil and gas sector must focus on talent development as competition in the GCC increases.

The hydrocarbon sector’s contribution to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies is still an important one. According to the financial association, the Institute of International Finance, the industry currently accounts for 33% of regional real GDP. While countries in the region are diversifying their sources of income, the sector still remains a crucial driver for economic development, with oil and gas revenues used for investments in areas such as education, healthcare and infrastructure. In order to ensure this continues, there needs to be a skilled pool of industry professionals and a pipeline of talent that is maintained in the region. However, as a sector, we face a number of challenges in these areas.

Competition for talented oil and gas professionals is fierce in GCC countries. This is the case for international candidates, but is particularly true for national candidates due to the relatively small country populations from which companies can draw from, compared to the large scale of regional projects and their staffing needs.

To put this challenge into perspective, in 2015 BP will be increasing the number of people we employ in Oman to around 500. This is to meet the needs of our 17 billion dollar Khazzan project, which will involve drilling up to 300 wells over a 15 year period and ultimately providing a significant new gas supply to the Sultanate. Some of those we will be hiring as part of this project will be expatriates, but BP is also committed to creating employment opportunities for nationals. Around 70 percent of our in-country workforce is currently made up of Omanis and we are looking to increase this figure in the future.

This workforce will consist of experienced professionals, including technical engineers, supply chain engineers, drilling engineers and subsurface engineers, among others. We will also have a requirement for a high number of technicians and to ensure we have the right expertise in place, we have launched a Technicians Development Programme for Omanis. As part of this initiative, BP is taking over 100 higher diploma graduates from technical colleges and helping to develop them into world-class technicians. They receive both classroom and field experience during the course of the programme, and many of the 60 who have already passed through its doors were able to gain international experience, as well.

Finally, as with most of our projects, there are a number of roles for graduates. However, here once again we face a number of issues. Talented Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) graduates – the life-blood of the oil and gas sector – are increasingly going into alternative industries. The attributes that STEM graduates often possess, including analytical minds and excellent problem solving skills, are valued by a number of non-STEM related industries, including the banking, financial and professional services sectors. These industries are investing heavily in order to attract STEM graduates and a war for STEM talent is emerging, both globally and in the region.

We are also seeing a drop-off in interest among students for pursuing careers in STEM subjects as they progress through the education system. For example, a recent BP and Oxford Strategic Consulting research report that looked specifically at engineering talent among Emiratis found that 34% of Emirati high school students wished to study Engineering at university. It was actually the most popular subject of choice. However, among university students who were polled about their ideal careers after university, only 11% identified a career with a company involved in engineering.

We are focusing on building strong links to educational establishments in the region and provide support to a number of them as part of this outreach. These include the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) and the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute, which are developing the people and expertise needed to sustain the UAEs oil and gas industry. Through these partnerships we seek to broaden our interaction with STEM students and nurture their original interest and enthusiasm for their subjects by showing how their academic work links to practical outcomes in sectors like ours.

We find that there is also often a lack of understanding about what working in a STEM based sector such as oil and gas entails. Globally, many young people believe that oil and gas engineering is poorly paid, dirty and boring work, which is a misconception. The reality is that the sector provides career opportunities with competitive salaries and the possibility of travelling the globe while doing work that is at the cutting edge of developments in science and engineering. The technical complexity of the work we undertake is almost unparalleled in any sector, as is the size of the projects engineers and scientists can find themselves involved in.

Additionally, the oil and gas sector now faces a so-called “skills gap” due to low levels of hiring in the industry in the 90s. As the engineers and scientists from the preceding period approach retirement, there are concerns they will leave a knowledge and leadership vacuum in their wake. In response, a number of companies now run fast-track graduate programmes to develop talent, including BP. BP’s flagship graduate development scheme is called the Challenge Programme. Graduates joining the programme gain wide technical and leadership exposure during their first few years with the Company, and often get international experience as well.

In a bid to dispel some of the myths and ‘raise the curtain’ on the industry, we run a number of internships and discovery days at BP in which graduates can visit our worksites and offices to see first-hand what it is like to work in the industry. Through these work placements we try to show those interested in the sector a clear bridge into employment.

As an industry, it is critical we ensure we can meet current and future recruitment needs. Whilst we face a number of challenges in this respect, there is a real opportunity to overcome them. By pursuing initiatives like those I have outlined above, I believe we can successfully attract, retain and develop the talent we need in the region, thereby bolstering future economic growth and development.

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