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Opinions of Sunday, 9 February 2014

Columnist: Ayamga, Elizabeth Alampae

Job in oil industry for the youth: A mirage or a reality

There is no doubting of the fact that levels of unemployment among young people in Ghana are two to three times higher than among the adult population. In comparison to older workers, the difficulties we face as young people rest largely on a lack of experience, lack of voice, and a tough transition from school to the job market.

Even though our current generation of youth can be said to be the most educated in the historical context, we are still viewed as a risk both by employers and mainstream financial institutions. The unemployment problems facing us as young people are not only a challenge to our personal development but also for the preservation of national and regional stability, economic development, and growth. Work is an important part of every person’s life: it defines who we are and without work we feel socially excluded. For every young person finding a stable job position is a symbol that marks transition from childhood to adulthood. It is an undeniable fact that Ghana abounds in so many natural resources, a number of which have been under exploited for so many years. In spite of all this, youth unemployment has been a great challenge to our economy. This could be attributed to a whole lot of factors including graduates from our tertiary institutions not being able to meet the requisite requirements for jobs on the market. Another important aspect of the unemployment problem is the upsurge of recruitment agencies which exploit and create artificial unemployment in the country.

With the discovery of oil in Ghana, many were the expectations of Ghanaians, especially unemployed graduates that this natural resource, when exploited, will come with massive employment. This to a very large extent led to some of our tertiary institutions introducing courses in oil and gas. Ghana is now witnessing many mushroom institutions some of which we are told are not accredited or recognized teaching modular courses in oil and gas. The big question now is: Are there job opportunities in the oil and gas industry for the Ghanaian youth?

First Youth Oil Confab

YES-Ghana under its Voices of Youth Project organised the first ever National Youth Conference on Oil and Gas on May 7 – 8 2013 under the theme “Engendering Youth Participation in Ghana’s Oil and Gas Economy”. The conference, in my humble opinion, is what the policy makers should have been organizing to educate, inform, enlightened and give the youth insights into the Ghanaian oil and gas industry. The conference had patronage from youth of all spheres of human endeavor and in the ten regions of Ghana. Most of the youth, including myself, were of high expectations thinking that before we leave the conference venue, we would know where and who we are taking our application letters to for jobs. Fortunately or unfortunately, all our expectations were dashed. Speaker upon speaker kept stressing on the important role that the youth of Ghana need to play in terms of policy formulation if Ghana wants to avoid the ‘resource curse’ syndrome. Trust me at that particular moment that was not what I wanted to hear.

Then came the moment I think I have been waiting for. The key note address delivered by the Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, Hon. Joseph Yemin. To the best of my knowledge, he was the only politician who addressed the conference. Hon. Yemin acknowledged the fact that unemployment in the country is astronomically high regardless of the abundant natural resources available. However, government is initiating measures to help curtail this problem. Amongst all the speakers for the two-day conference, he was the only one who said ‘the impact of the oil and gas industry is already being felt across the nation with the engagement or appointment of some Ghanaian youth in the industry’.

This statement from the Hon. Deputy Minister gave me more hope that there could be a job opportunity somewhere that I am not aware of. By the end of the conference, I should be able to collate the names of all the oil companies operating in the country and all available job opportunities that suite my qualification.

Then came the moment of truth where I was made to face reality. The guest speaker on the second day was Daniela Kuzu, Resident Director, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Daniela Kuzu minced no words telling participants how impossible it is to get a job in the oil industry without the required specialized expertise, and the fact that there are no many jobs in the industry. She described the industry as “a unique, complex and competitive” one.

Recognized institutions

Touching on the kind of qualifications that one needs to acquire to get employed in the industry, she encouraged Ghanaians to enroll in recognized institutions, preferably abroad. For example, Kuzu said she will employ someone with a qualification from a recognized institution abroad than a graduate from the University of Ghana. She made it clear to all participants that the oil industry is a capital intensive and risky business so no employer will risk employing you if you don’t have the requisite qualification in terms of academics and practical knowledge. She said many mushroom institutions in the country teach modular courses in the oil and gas industry. She therefore warned participants that those training programs can’t offer jobs for trainees after such short periods of study.

Kuzu opined that Ghanaians need a long time to train their people to take up such opportunities in the oil industry. It is also difficult to succeed in the industry because of competition from expatriates for such opportunities, she said.

She agreed with previous speakers that Ghanaians’ expectations for the industry are too high though job opportunities and revenue from the field now is not enough. In her own words, “gold revenue is even higher than oil” and just as the gold industry did not come with massive employment so will the oil industry. Ghanaians are thus to see the natural resource findings as just basic solutions to economic problems and a step to industrialization. From Kuzu’s speech, I asked myself if somebody is being economical with the truth in order to score political points. If all these issues raised by Daniela Kuzu are true, then where does today’s Ghanaian youth fit in the oil and gas industry in terms of job opportunities? Most of our institutions just started teaching courses and programmes in the oil and gas field. Even after school the chances of our graduates getting a job is very slim because they will be competing with expatriates with qualifications from recognized institutions abroad, which is more preferred.

From all indications, most Ghanaian students studying oil and gas courses/programmes abroad on government scholarships are yet to complete their studies. The same can be said of those studying in our local universities. It is therefore logical to say that the Ghanaian youth are now trying to acquire that kind of expertise that Kuzu talked about.

Can I therefore confidently say that with the exception of the entry level job opportunities, all the other sectors are occupied by expatriates? Do we need to face reality in order to help solve economic problems or we must always play politics with it? May be we should be asking for statistics on the number of youth working in the Ghanaian oil and gas industry.

While you ponder on this, I am still wondering if job opportunities in the oil industry for the youth at this moment are a mirage or a reality.