Apr 13, 2021 News
…build national capacity to demand ‘high-end’ jobs from ExxonMobil—Prof. Terrence Blackman
By Gary Eleazar
Kaieteur News – Ever since Guyana discovered billions of barrels of oil back in 2015, there have been intense public debates over proposed local content policies and possible legislation.
There has, however, been little focus on building domestic capacity in order for Guyanese to be able to engage the industry in a meaningful way, or to prepare them to take on ‘high-end’ jobs that will emerge over the coming years in the still nascent industry.
This supposition was vocalised this past week by Associate Professor of Mathematics at the Medgar Evers College in New York, USA, Professor Terrence Blackman, during an interview on Kaieteur Radio’s Guyana’s Oil and You.
Driving home his message, during the Kiana Wilburg-moderated programme, the professor recalled an activity at which government officials spoke and adumbrated that people get themselves prepared for the coming oil boom.
Questioning rhetorically however, Prof. Blackman asked, “What exactly is the preparation? If I am in Fifth Form at St. Rose’s (High School) and you come to me and say to me, prepare for oil, what exactly should I be doing?”
The Guyanese born, US based professor, noted that there exists currently in Guyana, a situation that has to be remedied and charted using a clear plan with baseline data.
Underscoring the paucity of information with regard to Guyanese’s preparations to not only meaningfully engage but benefit tangibly from the industry, the Professor posited, “What we want to be doing is investing in the development of an oil and gas technical training infrastructure.”
He was adamant that such a move must be guided with firm demands and negotiations with the oil majors such as ExxonMobil, the Stabroek Block Operator.
According to Prof. Blackman, the Guyanese administration needs to have a “conversation with ExxonMobil saying, here is how we want to place our people, (and) here are the places [where] we want our people; we don’t want them all sitting in the kitchen.”
He was adamant that the administration must be in a position to say to the companies that it is presently training a corps of Guyanese, “so that they can take on some of the front-end jobs for the management of this industry.”
Prof. Blackman posited that’s “the way in which I would like to see us approach the local content not to be enamoured by the targets but to be enamoured by really figuring out how we ensure that young Guyanese boys and girls have the skills to participate in a meaningful way.”
This, he said, is in order to ensure “they are the environmental engineers if we want to do an environmental impact study, that they are the reservoir engineers, they are the people who are sitting there on the rigs.”
Professor Blackman said too that Guyanese must be trained to become the buyers and sellers of the commodity “in the global marketplace.”
According to Professor Blackman, “there needs to be a clear conversation on what are the jobs we are preparing people for and we have to have the infrastructure in place.”
He underscored that in coming up with a clear strategy for developing such a plan, there would need to be baseline studies to determine from ExxonMobil and others, exactly what types of jobs will be in demand.
Prof. Blackman used the occasion to reiterate that the ExxonMobil led operation in the Stabroek Block, given its depth and distance out in the Atlantic Ocean, is “an extremely sophisticated operation, not something you or I can do in a short space of time.”
As such, he was unwavering in his position that while there is need for targets to be set with regard to local content, “we want to set the targets for how we participate.” He qualified this position by pointing to the paucity of information in the public domain as it relates to preparing for the oil and gas sector.”
He said, “…we want to have a real clear conversation on what are the jobs that we are preparing for and to have the infrastructure in place for Guyanese participation.”
Guyanese, he said, must be told “here is the set of opportunities; here are the pathways; here’s what you do today or tomorrow.”
The professor warned that the development of local content ideals cannot result in lofty objectives on paper while Guyanese, “just get to be the cooks and help” and not the engineers.
Notably, Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, over the past weekend oversaw the commencement of a Natural Resources Apprenticeship Programme, where he too lamented the paucity of skills in the natural resources sectors, including in oil and gas.
Addressing the young interns, Minister Bharrat noted that there seems to be little interest in joining the extractives sector, noting that they are opting instead for business-aligned career paths.
He lamented, “…I don’t know if they don’t see it as fashionable or in trend. But they are more into the business, accounting field.”
Lack of Skills
He noted, however, that this only redounds in a disadvantage to the said industries.
Acutely aware of this and determined to keep the negative effects at bay, Minister Bharrat said efforts were directed at establishing the Youth in Natural Resources Initiative.
He underscored that the local Natural Resources sector currently lacks enough skilled Guyanese workers to offset the demands of the industry and the apprenticeship would provide ample opportunities to show young people how exciting and rewarding the sector can be.
He cited, as an example, that several extractive industry companies have indicated their interest in underground mining and that Guyana is at a “complete disadvantage” since there is no Guyanese qualified enough to approve or monitor this unique form of mining.
“These are all questions that as young people, you have on your mind and we are hoping that with this programme, that we can answer some of those questions…That we can guide you to the path where we think you can make a difference, that you can make a contribution.” This, he said, is the whole idea behind the Youth in Natural Resources Initiative.
The Youth in Natural Resources Apprenticeship programme is slated to last three weeks.
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