MUSCAT, OCT 21 – As many as 5,500 Omani oilfield workers have so far secured alternative employment under the government-led Redeployment Strategy designed to help tackle a wave of layoffs sparked by the international oil price slump, a top official of the Ministry of Oil and Gas has revealed.
Salim bin Nasser al Aufi (pictured), Under-Secretary, said the programme continues to come to the aid of retrenched or laid-off nationals nearly three years since it was launched in early 2015 at the outset of the downturn.
“To date, we have redeployed 5,500 people; you don’t hear about this because we do it quietly,” Al Aufi said at an event hosted by the Oman Society for Petroleum Services (OPAL) to mark the launch of Ta’sis — a programme for entrepreneurship development and SME formation in the Oil & Gas industry.
Speaking at the event, the Under-Secretary noted that the industry, given the ongoing low oil price environment, continues to shed workers who then need to be redeployed. One particular problem being faced in this regard is the challenge of finding suitable alternative openings “that match the existing job you just had, either in terms of location, pay benefits, or in some cases, the contract duration”, he said.
While most of the oilfield projects do have a need for Omani workers, this requirement is primarily for a limited period and not for the “indefinite” duration that many nationals seek, Al Aufi pointed out. “The companies don’t want to employ somebody necessarily for life; they want an experienced person to fill a gap and then let go once the project is completed,” he observed.
Al Aufi cited in this regard imminent layoffs at the Mukhaizna heavy oil and BP Khazzan gas projects as major construction works at these sites near completion. Omanis account for quite a percentage of the workforce — which reached a size of 10,000-11,000 at its peak — engaged in the construction of facilities at the Mukhaizna site. Likewise, construction of Phase 1 of the BP Khazzan project is also winding down as gas production ramps up, he noted.
“As with any construction project, there comes a day when the project is done, as in the case of Khazzan, where we are now flowing gas,” the Under-Secretary said: “Even on the drilling side, things are slowing down a little bit because the wells are proving to be much better than originally thought. Drilling time is coming down drastically as the contractor, together with the company, are doing a great job. Ultimately, we will go down from 10 rigs at present 7 or 6 rigs, all the way to probably 5 rigs. That’s how successful they are. At the same time, they are still drilling the same number of wells, but they don’t need as many rigs. So there will be people looking for alternative opportunities.”
Commenting on another key trend being witnessed in the oilfield manpower market, Al Aufi said: “We have also companies looking for competent and well trained Omanis just to fill a gap. It could be a few months depending upon the project, but without long-term commitment. This presents a challenge because a lot of Omanis come back and say — no, we want jobs on lengthy, indefinite contracts.”
Ta’sis — the initiative launched by OPAL with the support of the SME Fund — will aim to, among other goals, address this challenge, said Al Aufi. The programme aims to support the creation initially of at least two Omani-owned and operated SMEs that will supply well-trained Omani oilfield manpower to companies locally and regionally that have a short-term or long-term requirement. The SMEs — the first of many such businesses to come — will initially focus on creating a pool of competent drilling services personnel.
The programme, if successful, will serve as the “nucleus” of future SME-driven initiatives, said the Under-Secretary. “We need Omanis who will become experts in their field and take this opportunity on board, to develop others, work with other Omanis to try and identify where the opportunities really are and push for those opportunities. Of course, we don’t guarantee contracts. But we will provide some form of funding support from the SME Fund. We will provide you with training support, train you on where the opportunities lie, connect you to companies, and will direct a lot of the companies that need short-term technically capable employment towards the SME companies that hopefully will be formed as a result of Ta’sis.”
Ta’sis will also look at opportunities beyond drilling, he stressed. “We will look at disciplines like mechanics, electricians, welders, pipe fitters, quantity-surveying, and so on. The potential is huge, but the need may be short-term. If Omanis know they will be moved from one contract to another, it provides them comfort,” the Under-Secretary said, adding that, given the size of the market, he foresees opportunities coming to the SMEs that promise to keep their staff busy throughout the year.