By A. Bacchus
I was sitting in a class recently when a colleague expressed in utter vexation, “they’re giving all the jobs to foreigners.” The conversation was delving into industries and the policymaking in Guyana, and like the new-norm, oil and gas was the hot topic. The young man in question was speaking about what he perceived as lack of opportunities for Guyanese to work offshore on the exploration and production vessels. However, from the inception, stakeholders have repeatedly said that the offshore oil and gas operations are capital-intensive and not labour-intensive.
The oil and gas industry is a very technical one, and Guyana is still-to some extent—very new to it. We have a skills deficit, one that institutions such as the University of Guyana are seeking to address. What is important to remember is that the job opportunities lay in the oil and gas service industries. Tom Mitro, a Senior Fellow at Columbia University last year told a Caribbean forum, “The oil companies, with the likes of ExxonMobil, Hess etc., is not where the main employment is…The oil and gas sector, something like 70 percent of the jobs are in the so-called oil service companies and the oil contracting companies.” Similar sentiments were expressed by Trinidad’s former Minister of Energy, Kevin Ramnarine who said that Guyana has at least another 10 years of exploration, in addition to production, and the next decade will be a crucial time for Guyanese to tap into the opportunities that are arising out of the service sectors.
And, indeed, the service industries have been providing opportunities. SBM Offshore was contracted by ExxonMobil to build, lease, operate and maintain the Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels for Guyana’s oil production activities offshore. Already they have delivered two FPSOs—the Liza Destiny that has been operational since 2019 and the Liza Unity which arrived last month and is scheduled to become operational in 2022. The company has been employing locals in crucial positions for their local operations and is gearing to have Guyanese take up key positions offshore as well. An important point to note that the Liza Destiny FPSO has capacity for 120 persons to be onboard at a time—so production itself requires a small number of workers.
Meanwhile, Laurinda Tseng, who was SBM Offshore’s Supply Chain Manager in 2020, said that the company’s intention is to really ramp up to a point where there is going to be a mix of expats and nationals. But the target goal is to ensure that they convert the office facility to be a local and sustainable operation. SBM Offshore’s Head of Operations for North America and the Caribbean, Michiel Heuven had said that in Brazil, 80 percent of their workforce is made up of locals, while at some onshore locations, up to 100 percent local content can be found. “We see the same over time for Guyana, for the Caribbean, we believe that it is possible,” he had stated.
And the company has held firm to that objective, employing 24 technicians who were trained to work on FPSOs in 2020. The company also deployed seven Graduate Engineers to the Netherlands, where they will be trained to work on the Prosperity FPSO, and then move onto Singapore for practical training. Last week, an ad appeared in local newspapers, announcing the launch of the Trainee Technician Programme, an initiative geared towards providing special training to “semi-skilled mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and production technicians as well as those with technical and engineering diplomas and degrees from all regions who possess certification from a recognised institute.”
It is important that we not lose track of reality and fall prey to uninformed narratives. The jobs are there; but like most jobs, there are necessary qualifications, and two years into production, Guyanese are slowly acquiring those qualifications and skills.