FEATURE: Learning the ropes and ties in Kenya’s young Oil and Gas sector

During my touring at the 3rd East Africa Oil and Gas Summit and Exhibition one stand caught my eye in a very special and unique way, it was however not in terms of decoration or its products of which I must state was in no way inferior.

Approaching the stand I would tell the occupants in light blue company shirts were much younger than the many delegates I had met and were way also much younger than myself.

As curious as I always am I approached one young man Tobias Okoth a student at Makerere University who has just completed his petroleum engineering course at the institution and who is now an intern at Merrick & Company.

During my interaction with Okoth I learnt that two other students were also attached in the firm and are currently carrying various special projects in the country.

As I earlier noted what caught my eye the special and unique way the company was running its operations.

Having spoken with many graduate students in this sector I have learnt that despite the talk of the minimal human resource available in the industry that a number of qualified professionals still lack employment.

Not very long ago I met with a number of professionals who had just returned in the country having graduated with various Masters degrees from various universities in the United Kingdom and who have since remained jobless due to their lack in experience.

A discussion that arose when I sat down with George Gachie Geomatic graduant from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology who says despite the institution releasing 38 professionals only 2 have been absorbed in the sector so far.

In this industry the application of our skills are in much demand. Currently the country is discussing on the construction of the pipeline a project that cannot be carried out without geomatic engineers and professionals with expertise in geospatial information systems,” says Gachie.

This approach by Merrick & Company as I learnt is influenced by a former University professor in charge of internship training, Richard Boehne who is currently the vice president of international business and has long believed in tapping the mind shift and innovation sense in young people at an average pay.

Given the current speed at which the oil and gas sector is growing many international companies have set base in East Africa with the aim of pinching a piece of the market with the company also eyeing the market.

For Merrick & Company however the entry strategy into the market is much different.

Whereas other companies invest in offices and employees Merrick has a different take in localization and partnerships with focus in working hand in hand with these partners without necessary expanding physically in the region and thus will rely on such local professionals.

“We offer high value solutions, localized, to meet our customer expectations. This is as we see the success of our partners and customers as a Merrick achievement thus we committed to making that happen,” says Boehne.

In respect to the planned production of oil and gas in the region there is a growing demand for engineers who will be required in the first phase to develop various feasibility studies and cost models, this is where local expertise comes in.

As Boehne points out there are surely the availability of the basic skillset of engineers needed as there remains a deficiency in professionals with experience in petrochemicals.

IMG_20141017_131438

From Left: Tobias Okoth, Richard Boehne (VP, international business), Elizabeth Gichuki, Peter Dixon (VP, Energy)

The students have thus gone over this hurdle with the possibility of employment thereafter.

“This internship programme has exposed me to the real world experience. I am a better person with on the work training as well as experience in this promising industry,” says Okoth.

A view shared by fellow intern Jewel Zawadi an electrical engineering student from Moi University who has her sight now on the oil and gas sector having been exposed to it through the internship.

“Truly speaking I had never thought of ever working in the oil and gas sector. In our learning institutions there is little or no advice on the various new sectors that old professions like us can engage in,” she says.

According to the company’s regional representative Elizabeth Gichuki the company had targeted more interns than it received and will be seeking more interns in the coming quarter.

“We have agreed that we will be taking in several students from different disciplines and different institutions every quarter. We have had challenges in getting interns in the past but we are determined to achieve our dream,” says Gichuki.

“Our aim is to build Students who understand the local environment,” she adds.

The company is also arranging for exchange programmes in future where interns wil be moved to ongoing projects in East Africa so as to ensure they gather more experience in the fields of specialization.

“We strive to build capacity in Africa and more specifically in East Africa,” she concludes.

Author: Samuel Kamau Mbote