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Skilling Uganda: The bigger picture

New sectors and businesses are rapidly emerging and people in the Albertine region must be supported to develop the necessary skills to capitalise on these new opportunities. 

A blind student of tailoring attending internship training (Photo: Courtesy of Living Earth)

A blind student of tailoring attending internship training (Photo: Courtesy of Living Earth)

By Sarah Palmer

As the oil economy grows in Western Uganda, opportunities for local people to diversify livelihoods beyond agriculture are emerging. However, it is not within the oil industry that the opportunities for the majority of people living in the region lie. New sectors and businesses are rapidly emerging and people in the Albertine region must be supported to develop the necessary skills to capitalise on these new opportunities to avoid getting left behind.

Living Earth Foundation has worked with communities in oil producing regions for over 20 years, including Alaska, Russia and the Niger Delta.  Based on this experience we have learnt that the billion dollar investments rarely result in an economic boom felt by the poorer parts of society, it is therefore critical to look for ways in which these benefits can be shared.

There is a wealth of experience and learning from around the world, including countries in Africa already producing oil like Ghana and Nigeria focused on workforce development and how to develop the most relevant skills. Living Earth has brought this experience together into a report Vocational Training In The Context Of Oil And Gas Developments: Best Practice And Lessons Learnt  to share learningat this crucial time, as Uganda gears up for oil production.

The extractive sector is second only to the agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, yet it will never rival agriculture in relation to jobs and employment.  The recent Joint Venture Industrial Baseline Survey for Uganda highlights that whilst expectations for job creation within the oil industry are high, in reality the number of jobs created in oil production are very low.  The survey states that at its peak in the construction phase, the oil industry will create 13,000 direct jobs from projects around Lake Albert, but the majority will only be temporary with only 3,000 lasting for the longer-term.  A recent study of the skills gap for the petroleum related education in Tanzania carried out by Norad draws on international experience and shows that for every person directly employed by the oil industry, at least four times as many indirect jobs are created and ten times as many induced jobs.

According to the World Bank, a strong focus on skills enhancement will be a key factor for African countries to transform their natural capital into long-term economic development. A broad view of skills development is therefore required, which not only looks at the skills and businesses required to support the oil industry and it’s wider supply chain, but also the broader economy – for example the growth of service industries such as hospitality and tourism, and industries related to the growing population such as waste management and energy.  Skills in agriculture and value addition for agricultural produce should not be forgotten in this mix.

Our report highlights the experience that all too often skills development programmes have focused on the upstream (exploration and production) part of the value chain, and neglected the skills required downstream in areas such as marketing and distribution.  In Ghana for example, recent research has shown that the vocational skills training focus will have to broaden away from upstream skills if it is going to have any significant impact on employment.   Therefore, transferable skills have to be central to the vocational trainings in order to best equip the prospective workers with the needed flexibility.

Beyond developing relevant and appropriate vocational skills training courses, there is also a need to improve teaching and learning practice in vocational education.  From recognizing the unique nature of vocational teaching, to exploring ideas such as skills development through informal apprenticeships and addressing the barriers to girls’ participation in a wider range of vocational skills.

Learning from and building on the experiences of others, and developing vocational skills programs with a broader focus and longer term vision than the initial rush to start production, will provide a greater chance for people living in the region to realise the benefits from Uganda’s oil.

Sarah Palmer Living Earth ThumbnailSarah Palmer is a Program Manager for Living Earth Foundation.  Their Jobs and Oil Program funded by the EC, DFID and Comic Relief is focused on improving access to employment, training and decision making for people in Western Uganda. 

editor@oilinuganda.org