In the Field Training

Most of Africa’s oil producers and many of its explorers have now, to varying degrees, passed national content regulations and laws. Ensuring that natural resources generate more than direct revenues, but also increase local employment and capacity, is a challenge faced by governments and businesses across Africa. In Cameroon, an oil producer since 1977, local (or national) content has been mandated by law since the passing of the 1999 Petroleum Code. AOP spoke with the operations manager of Gulf Field, an institute that aims to increase the number of qualified petroleum workers in the country.

While Cameroon has made strides in advancing national content on paper, progress still needs to happen on the ground, says the head of the country’s first authorized training institute.

“The laws put in place are not really effective, except for a few international companies established in Cameroon which insist on doing the right thing by training personnel before they are hired,” said Ngam Bennett, operations manager for Gulf Field University Institute of Petroleum, Mining and Management Sciences. “There are people able to work in Cameroon, but because of a lack of training and a lack of the certifications, actually getting hired becomes the problem.”

The Petroleum Code, passed in December of 1999, sets out local content provisions in sections 76 and 77, requiring that Cameroonian contractors be given preference for construction and supply of goods and services, providing they are able to match the quality of services of international companies, and that qualified locals should be given hiring priority.

Unlike nearby countries like Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, Cameroon does not have set percentages and quotas for local content provisions, making implementation of the local content requirements more subjective.

The real problem, Bennett states, is the mindset and a lack of actual training. “The stigma that it is impossible for Cameroonians to exploit the petroleum resources in Cameroon still exists,” Bennett said. “This prejudice does not just affect the general population, but it is even found at the government level. People find it very difficult to believe that a Cameroonian is able to drill a petroleum well and then engage in production. That is the biggest challenge.”

The second challenge, he states, is there are not enough professional teachers to educate the locals. And, even when teachers are available, there is not enough money for Cameroonians to pay for training. The local content regulations are a step in the right direction, but implementation and training are the next steps.

Gulf Field Institute, created in 2012, provides training in engineering, accounting, banking and finance, business management, marketing, insurance and risk management. The school has 400 students and graduates about 180 students every two years. Its output does not meet the demand for trained locals in the country, says Bennett.

If, he says, more people were given access to the right certifications and accreditations, the demand for qualified employees and local companies able to do the work is there. “In the past, we were always led to believe that petroleum studies and expertise was a thing of the Western world, and foreigners here exploited the resources without consideration for the local population or the environment,” Bennett said. “But as the demand for natural resources continues, we have come to realize in Cameroon that we need to harness our resources ourselves.”