They enrolled in their multitudes: some took loans, using family cocoa farms as collateral to pay for tuition on the back of a promise that they would be the welders, pipe-fitters, electricians and what have you when the US$850million Atuabo Gas infrastructure project began.
But the Chinese contractor of the Gas Processing plant project — SINOPEC — had its own plan: It came with its own skilled labour. But even the Ghanaians who were employed on the project did not include any of the thousands supposedly ‘trained’ by the rough-and-ready oil and gas training schools dotted across the country.
For want of regulation, since oil was discovered in the country in 2007 all manner of oil and gas training schools have been and are being set up — and they are taking advantage of desperate job-seekers.
Mensah Kujo, a resident of the Sefwi Bodi district of the Western Region, even claims his marriage has ended because his wife — a pupil-teacher who invested over GH₵1,000 for him to enrol in one of the botched oil and gas training schools — feels he wasted her money.
“She kept complaining any time she cooked and we were eating. On one occasion, she even said but for something she would have poisoned me; so I felt I could not live with her any longer,” he told the B&FT.
Jobless Mensah’s headache now is how to keep his sixteen-year-old son, the first of his four children, in secondary school. The ex-wife, he said, paid to enrol the son — and he agreed when she said it would be his duty to pay the rest of the fees.
Ebow Hessel Ferguson, director of the defunct training school Mensah attended — Sigma Base Technical Services — admits that he travelled to far-flung villages to convince young men and women to find money and come to Takoradi to be trained for the Oil industry.
“We trained about 2,500 Ghanaians, about 300 women among them, in three batches,” Mr. Furguson — who later came under police and BNI investigation for duping the trainees — told the B&FT in Takoradi.
Three years down the line, the school is nowhere to be found; and with the oil-job dream dashed, 32-year-old Anthony Animah, one of those who paid various sums of monies for the botched training programmes, has gone back to Bonyere, his seaside village, to rejoin the communal activity of dragging fishing nets.
He was busily pulling a fishing-net along with other members of the community when this writer approached him for a chat.
“I still want to work in the oil industry,” he said, “If only government will help us. As you can see, what we are doing here does not pay much.”
The people of Bonyere are proud that the offshore Jubilee Oil Field is closer to their community than any other in the country. Indeed, they think their land is full of oil. They seek to prove this by taking visitors to the site of an abandoned exploration well in a marshy scrubland near the community, where a pool of crude oil collects.
The community is 124 kilometres away from Takoradi, the Western Regional Capital; or 403 kilometres away from Accra. It was initially chosen to host the Gas Infrastructure project, but due to what engineers described as “technical and geodetic reasons” the project was relocated to Atuabo, a nearby community.
The citizens of Bonyere became livid about the relocation because they felt their community was much closer than Atuabo to the offshore Jubilee Oil Field, where the associated gas is produced; indeed, they are till date angry with government over what they see as missed job opportunities — and that is also because of the promises the director of the training school, Sigma Base Technical Services, made to them.
“He came to this village and told us to join the training school so that we would get jobs to do when the project comes,” said Antonia Kanra, a 38-year old woman who said she shelved her orange retailing business to join the school. “
From this community alone, we use to fill three buses and travel to Takoradi three times per week for the training programme. Apart from the fees we paid, imagine the cost of transport and other expenses we incurred for the six-month period.”
Today, Antonia Kanra only has a “certificate of participation” to show for her troubles, which says she “participated in our programme in the areas of welding/pipefitting/fabrication/electricials”.
But she is not sure if it can earn her a job, and indeed it may not because jobs in the oil and gas industry do not come cheap.
“You cannot just get up and say ‘I am training welders’, to what standard? When you get to know the standards, then you put in place the necessary measures,” said Daniel Kwarkyi, a US-trained welding inspector who runs Danest Engineering Limited in Takoradi.
“So the training facility will need to have the equipment; it will need to have the consumables, and will need to have qualified and certified instructors to do the job. When you do not have these things in place and then you put guys in the classroom and say you are teaching them welding, you are deceiving them.”
Indeed, the trainees from Bonyere are not the only ones who feel deceived by Sigma Base and its partner organisation — Harvard Marine Petroleum Training Institute — another school that sprang up in Takoradi in 2011, made as much money as it could from desperate oil industry job-seekers and folded up.
Isaac Abettey, 32, is a native of Takoradi, the oil city — a name he hates to hear. He is a trained welder; he was working with a textiles company in Accra when he heard about the training schools in Takoradi. Since oil was discovered in Ghana in 2007, he has nursed hopes of working in the industry. He thus quit his job in Accra, traveled back home and enrolled at Sigma Base to upgrade his skills. But the director, admitting he could use some know-how, soon recruited Isaac and some of his friends to become “Senior Instructors” instead.
After working for four months, the instructors did not receive the GH₵250 monthly salary they were promised and so they petitioned the Western Regional Labour Office. The monies were never paid.
Isaac Abettey and two of his friends — Patrick Kow Abaka and Prince Kwaku Odoom — went ahead to enrol at Harvard Marine Petroleum Training Institute alongside hundreds of other trainees.
Here, the fee for the training programme was US$3,000 per head. While some paid the money in full before the school folded up, others paid various amounts in installments, explained Patrick Kow Abaka who said he now relies on seasonal jobs to keep body and soul intact.
“So as for us, we were beaten twice and silenced,” he said laughing.
Harvard Marine was introduced by one Captain Ron McGrath, an Australian national who is said to have returned to his country. Some of the trainees admit that the institute had a semblance of genuineness until it failed to find them the jobs it promised them before they enrolled.
A visit to the facility Harvard Marine rented and operated from, a one-storey building at Kwesimintsim in Takoradi, showed no sign of activity. Managers of the building said they did not know where the school had relocated to, nor did they know the whereabouts of its director.
Ebow Hessel Furguson of Sigma Base told the B&FT that he facilitated the entry of Harvard Marine into the country, and that his trainees were supposed to have moved on to Harvard Marine to polish up.
Mr. Ferguson’s third batch of trainees were the ones that caused him trouble: when they realized he was taking them for granted, they reported him to the police who referred the matter to the Legal Aid Scheme — a body created by government to provide legal assistance to the poor.
At the Takoradi office of the scheme, officials said the matter has not been pursued to an end because the complainants, most of whom have to travel from various parts of the country to attend the hearing, have grown weary and have given up.
Lack of regulation
But while Sigma Base and Harvard Marine may have folded up, a number of the schools remain in Accra, Kasoa, Sunyani and other parts of the country. The news media is awash with advertisements from these schools enticing people to enrol for courses like Petroleum Drilling, Petroleum Management and a host of others.
“We have to let Ghanaians know that you cannot go and do a short course and claim to be proficient in Oil and Gas,” said Edward Appiah-Brafoh, Principal Human Resource Manager at the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation.
“The proliferation of these institutions indeed has been realised, and such institutions have to register with the Petroleum Commission that they are providing training in oil and gas-related courses; and then the commission has to monitor what they are teaching.”
The Petroleum Commission was created to regulate the upstream sector of the petroleum industry. It is therefore in charge of licencing and the awarding of blocks to exploration and production companies. The Commission is also to oversee implementation of the government’s local content agenda.
But between the Petroleum Commission and the National Accreditation Board, it is not clear which institution regulates the mushrooming oil and gas training schools.
“If an institution comes up to you, one of the key things you can check is whether they have any accreditation at all from National Accreditation or the Petroleum Commission if you have any doubts,” said Theophelus Ahwireng, CEO of the Commission.
“If an institute wants to provide training in the sector we will look at their accreditation. But I think we have warned many times that there are a lot of fake institutions which people need to be wary of — and it happens in many sectors, not only oil and gas,” he said.
While accurate data is hardly available regarding the rate of unemployment in the country, the lack of jobs, even for graduates, has been a source of worry for many citizens. The creation of what is known as the Unemployed Youth Association of Ghana, for many, sums up the gravity of the situation.
Ghana’s nascent oil industry thus holds a lot of allure for young people, both educated and uneducated, because the going perception is that the industry pays like no other. They are therefore ready to part with any amount in order to train for oil industry jobs.
But the oil industry has only just begun in the country, with only one field — the offshore Jubilee Field — producing an average of 100,000 barrels of oil per day. But the prospects are said to be great. Two new fields are expected to follow in 2016 and 2017, while several other international oil companies have been licenced and are undertaking exploratory activities.
All that is dark is not necessarily oil
But while many are eager to enter the industry, those who are already there are not so happy. Upstream petroleum activities have been bogged down by one strike action after another in recent times; Ghanaian rig workers feel they are being given a raw deal since their expatriate counterparts receive far more pay.
Just when an impasse between MODEC — a private firm working on the production vessel at the offshore Jubilee oilfield — and its workers was said to have been resolved, the General Transport and Chemical Workers Union recently threatened another industrial action against the company.
“Management of MODEC are failing to abide by their side of the bargain to get the workers that were dismissed for demonstrating over better conditions of service on the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah back to offshore for work,” said Francis Sallah, vice chairman of the union.
On October 29, 2014, 40 Ghanaian workers of MODEC embarked on an industrial action to protest poor working conditions and remuneration.
The management of the company later terminated the appointments of 27 striking workers, which led to a tussle at the Labour Commission.
Subsequently, 12 other workers of the company withdrew their services in solidarity with their dismissed colleagues.
Other Ghanaian workers in the petroleum sector in 2014 also began a solidarity strike to demand reinstatement of the dismissed MODEC workers.
Data from the Energy Ministry indicate that as at December 2013 a total number of 6,929 personnel were employed in the petroleum upstream sector. This consisted of 5,589 Ghanaians and 1,340 expatriates, representing approximately 80% and 20% respectively.