The first graduating class from the Uganda Petroleum Institute-Kigumba has gone to Trinidad and Tobago for hands-on training in the oil industry. This is a great opportunity for the lucky 24 students—but shows how much remains to be done for Uganda’s rapidly increasing and largely jobless young population. Vocational training for the sector lags way behind demand, and oil is unlikely to bring direct employment on the scale that Uganda needs.
Moses Onegi had a grand dream. He wanted to become a lawyer and help his Kakwa people, in the West Nile region, to settle land disputes.
He topped his class throughout primary school but struggled to find fees for secondary education. “I took on odd jobs, cultivating in peoples’ farms and fetching water for restaurants and hotels to earn school fees. It was not easy because I often had to miss school,” he recalls.
He completed secondary school but his grades were not good enough for university. Instead, he took a Diploma in Building Engineering, but was unable to find a well paid job.
Then, in 2010, he came across an advertisement for a diploma course in the newly formed Uganda Petroleum Institute-Kigumba (UPIK). Onegi applied and, to his own astonishment, was one of just 28 students selected from more than 1,200 applicants. Now he is on his way to the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago for practical training in the oil and gas industry.
The first intake of Kigumba students found themselves camping in the dilapidated premises of a former Cooperative College. Professor Charles Kwesiga, the Executive Director of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute was appointed chair of the board of the new Institute.
“We had to invest a lot in rehabilitation. With the help of partners, we repaired classrooms, dormitories and also equipped them with scholastic materials and computers,” Professor Kwesiga told Oil in Uganda. The 2 billion shilling (US$ 800,000) annual budget provided by the government was inadequate, he said, but has been supplemented by support from the UK’s Department for International Development and the governments of Norway and France, as well as by contributions from international oil companies.
In early 2010, Norway’s Rogaland Training and Education and Centre, a non-profit organisations that specialises in educational capacity building, helped with devising a curriculum for Kigumba and training teachers drawn from the Uganda Industrial Research Institute. Courses were designed to concentrate on high-level practical skills in areas such as drilling, pipe-fitting and health and safety.
“The students have been fantastic,” commented Markus Laugner, a German national and a veteran of the oil industry who now serves as one of the course teachers. “They are really smart and have worked very hard.” All of the students have stayed the course.
However, with Kigumba’s limited equipment and even more limited scope for offering practical work experience, the first graduating class of 28 students, who earned their diplomas two months ago, were not yet well placed for jobs in the industry. This should be put right by the training opportunity in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Carribbean island nation, according to its Ambassador to Uganda, Patrick Edwards, is the oldest oil-producing country in the world. It discovered petroleum in 1857, started commercial production as early as 1866, and remains the major supplier of natural gas to the United States. The former British colony, where African slaves and indentured Indian labourers were once brought to work on sugar plantations, is now a relatively prosperous country whose 1.3 million inhabitants enjoy a Gross Domestic Product of more than USD 20,000 per capita, along with universal, free health care and education services.
Ambassador Edwards stresses that his government always wanted their own people to work in the oil industry and so developed first class teaching institutions that have also trained tens of thousands of technicians from other countries.
In recognition of the African roots of many modern Trinidadians, the country is keen to assist African nations in developing their oil and gas industries—and is offering practical training for Kigumba students entirely free of charge. Twenty four of the recent graduates will spend six months gaining hands-on experience and come away with internationally recognised qualifications. Uganda only has to provide air fares and maintenance allowances.
Sixty more students, who are still completing their diplomas at Kigumba, will also eventually travel to the islands to consolidate their newly acquired knowledge.
A drop in the ocean
Whilst the generosity of Trinidad and Tobago is a boon for the young Kigumba graduates, many analysts believe that much more must be done to equip Ugandans with the skills necessary to benefit from an expanding oil and gas industry.
Professor Kwesiga says that the government has committed 20 billion shillings (US$ 8 million) to refurbish and equip the Kigumba Institute, but that twice that amount would be needed to do the job properly. Even so, Kigumba is at the cutting edge of vocational training for oil, which has barely begun in Uganda.
According to a World Bank report, only 4 per cent of Uganda’s national education budget goes to support 144 state-run vocational training institutions, and they are widely acknowledged to be in poor shape. One development partner noted recently that “The Ugandan vocational training system is not robust enough to deliver the skills needed and at the quality required for Ugandans to be employed in the [oil and gas] industry.”
With one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the world, Uganda is facing a crisis of rising youth unemployment. According to the Uganda Investment Authority and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, more than 400,000 Ugandans enter the labour market each year, but only about 113,000 are absorbed in formal employment.
The petroleum industry, however, is more capital intensive than labour intensive. Most estimates suggest that no more than 20,000 jobs will be directly created within the industry in Uganda, although more widespread opportunities may arise in ancillary industries—construction, services and even agriculture—as a result of oil-related growth.
All of which underlines the fact that Moses Ogeni and his classmates are among the lucky few who stand a good chance of a technical career in the oil industry. And to judge from their excited mood yesterday as they prepared to leave, they know it.
Report by FW, NY