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Grabbing the bull by the horns: GIZ skilling initiative targets 8,000 Ugandans

Employment for Sustainable Development in Africa (E4D) is a GIZ programme that seeks to boost local employment and raise incomes in eight African countries. To ensure sustainability of the job opportunities, the programme pursues an integrated approach to employment promotion working on both the demand and supply sides of the labour market and in close cooperation with the private sector. E4D/SOGA (Employment and Skills for Eastern Africa) is a sub-initiative that runs in four countries namely Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania & Mozambique. The focus is for the local population to benefit from international investment projects mainly in the oil and gas sector, and other big infrastructure projects.

Oil in Uganda talked to Nathan Lenzin, E4D/SOGA Project Manager in Uganda about the programme.

Tell us about SOGA

I am the project manager of E4D/SOGA Uganda. I am stepping in here today for my team leader, Christopher Smith.

E4D/SOGA came into play in 2015 and was started as a regional initiative funded by the German, British and Norwegian Governments, as well as Shell, in four countries; Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and here in Uganda.

An electrician trainee at St. Simon Peter’s VTC in Hoima

An electrician trainee at St. Simon
Peter’s Vocational Training College  in Hoima. (Photo Courtesy of E4D/SOGA)

We started off with a nine-month inception phase; making liaisons with the different countries’ Governments. After we had assessed the skills gaps, the labour needs of the industry, the demand and supply and the kind of trainings available, we looked into how we could match the demand and fill the gaps. E4D/SOGA is an employment promotion initiative so it’s all about jobs. We took oil and gas initially as one of the key drivers of job creation in the next couple of years in east Africa and are now also looking at the wider natural resources sector.

Experiences from Ghana, Nigeria, Angola and many other African countries have shown that it took years or even decades for the population to benefit from these resources. So it’s from that background that we understood that something needs to be done to integrate the local population at an early stage; not just hand out revenue money when oil starts flowing, but actually give them jobs.

If you are familiar with the lifecycle of these projects; be it dam construction or a refinery, you know that employment opportunities come early so there’s a peak when thousands of people are needed for construction and then it fades off. There is then a plateau phase when just hundreds of people are needed. So the production phase itself is not labour intensive, but the construction of these plants is.

This is where we are today. There were delays in the industry that we had to tackle in all the countries, not only Uganda. Initially, we thought we could work alongside the industry developments but then oil prices fell and we were all in shock! We hoped this would not be the end of the industry. We quickly discovered that they were just delays and that they actually gave us more time to skill people and bridge that gap which at present, is quite big.

To come back to Uganda, the labour demand will be quite substantial initially and this is what we are working for. On the other hand, I think in Uganda there are roughly 18 million people who are at working age. The Oil and Gas sector is targeting only a small part of this population, which means that if you want to have a sustainable impact on the country, you need to look at a wider range of sectors.

The E4D/SOGA initiative works in a way that it doesn’t target very specialized skills, but mostly craftsmen and technicians. This means we work to build capacities of vocational training institutions in Hoima and Kasese (in the Albertine Graben) so that they can churn out people and graduates that can be beneficial for the mass of jobs that will be needed for construction. We target trades in construction, brick laying, electrical and plumbing which are the ones we see as much needed, not too specialized and transferable to other sectors.

It does not matter whether it’s to work on the refinery or a dam but in the end the jobs that will come up will need specialized training anyway so whatever we can give them as a foundation is the best we can do.

You mentioned ‘thousands’ could be employed during construction of these projects (pipeline, refinery). Have you done studies? What numbers are you looking at training? Are you going to train or help institutions train, say, half a million people? What is the potential?

Yes we do have targets; we want to train 32,000 in the four countries meaning 8,000 in Uganda. It’s more than skilling and training. We want to ensure that these people actually have jobs, which is the harder task. Whether we can place and match a large majority of the people we train will depend on how the industry develops in the next couple of years.

We anticipate that it will come down to the last three years of this programme, 2017-19. Is there potential that these people we train now actually find jobs with Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractors, for example, in 2018? If we consider the current industry timelines we can make it; but if there are a few more delays we might not. So we are looking at projects already existing like the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the Entebbe expressway or other big infrastructure projects. There’s big potential for employment; the more there are delays in the oil and gas sector the more we have to look out for other opportunities.

On the studies, we have looked at the existing ones, rather than producing new ones. There’s the industrial baseline survey of the Joint Venture Partners (JVP) which gives a good overview on the economic sectors and their needs; there is also a very good study by Mott Macdonald, commissioned by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), which is a skills gap analysis, which has been transformed into the workforce skills development strategy and plan by the Ministry.. At the moment I see E4D/SOGA as one of the implementers of that plan. In Uganda, the MEMD is also our political partner and we work closely with its Directorate of Petroleum. GIZ exchanges with them all the plans and there’s a lot of collaboration.

We have few training institutions and you mentioned that you are going to be working with these. Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba (UPIK), for example, has churned out some graduates. What is your assessment of their capacities and how does that help you in your current objectives?

There are different levels of schools and the ones we have chosen to work with are the vocational schools.  UPIK is a technical college, and therefore not our main focus although in regards to visibility, it is one of the leading schools in the area of Oil & Gas skilling. Everyone’s expectations concerning the teaching relevance of the school were high and hence the disappointment was big, when UPIK graduates struggled to be taken up by industry. This is something we cannot ignore. There’s therefore need for close alignment with industry needs no matter at what level you are working at, technical or vocational.

I think UPIK was not close enough to the industry players in the beginning. I don’t know why that was not taken care of, but apparently the idea behind it was to just supply these people to the market and they assumed they’ll just be taken up because they have a unique branding. It didn’t work like that. From that we can learn that any training or skills offered have to be closely linked to whatever the market needs.

Coming to the initiatives E4D/SOGA is targeting, for example, HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) and PSV (Passenger Service Vehicle) driver training, they closely target industry needs. It might not seem like such a big deal, but there are going to be so many drivers needed in the extractive industry. We talked to Total and Tullow and they said up to 2000 drivers could be needed and in the next five years this could double. What we are looking at here is a huge opportunity. It’s still difficult to train them to the level where the industry will take them, by the way, but it’s not impossible. We have so many casual drivers in the labour market for which up-skilling is possible. So we want to train and skill up to 800 drivers; in that line we also want to support Ugandan driving schools and train some Ugandan trainers of trainers such that we have some sustainability effect. We are looking at if these people will still have jobs after the oil and maybe our project has closed. We are looking at increasing overall driver training capacity in the country.

I see that you intend to focus on women and the youth but if you look at the oil industry – even the construction phase- it tends to attract mainly men. How are you going about ensuring that women are not left behind? Youth also like fancy jobs. How are you going to interest these groups in these trainings?

By fancy jobs, you probably mean white collar jobs and computer-based jobs. What I have not made clear so far is that we don’t only skill people for the industry jobs on site. There’s definitely a huge opportunity for Ugandans to work on construction sites, but, it’s also realistic that not everyone can get a job with these companies. If you look at Hoima for example, it’s the oil capital of Uganda and the expectations are huge. But since discovery nothing has materialized. So we also have to be careful that we don’t promise that all these people we train will get jobs in the industry. We have to give them tools, knowledge and skills and other means of either becoming an entrepreneur or finding a job in another industry. We do not only focus on welding and construction. As much as we see this as the core for potential of EPC contracts, there are lots of indirect and even induced jobs. Indirect jobs have a multiplier effect of about two and a half more jobs because these people that are employed directly will have to sleep somewhere and buy supplies which will give this whole economic sector a boom. Wherever you go, the sector will be one of the main triggers of economic development in all of Uganda.

We also plan collaboration with a PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) provider where for example tailoring can become a highly specialized skill where women are well placed. But you are right; it’s a very untraditional and hard task to bring women into construction. A colleague of mine from Ethiopia shared with me that at one time, demand for labour in the construction sector in Ethiopia was so high that the firms were struggling to find enough workers. This supply shortage allowed for many women to be taken up successfully into the sector, and onto construction sites. This was great, however, we are hoping whichever jobs women apply for, they will not be closed out from, just because they are women, but will be given equal opportunities. Besides that, as long as women are not physically barred from jobs, they will do them, provided the opportunity is there and pays well.

In actual terms what does SOGA do? Is it going to have a school where it trains people or finances already existing schools, establishes contact with employers? Just take me through the specifics of what you do.

Traditionally GIZ employs people who implement the development work. However, at E4D/SOGA, we are a small team; three people on the technical side, the administrator, a driver and some consultants that come on advisory roles once in a while. This means, that our means of direct implementation of projects is limited. Therefore we work a lot in partnership with government, associations, NGOs, companies and other service providers.

An entrepreneur in Hoima participating in business training

An entrepreneur in Hoima
participating in business training. (Photo Courtesy of E4D/SOGA)

We have a budget for the whole region allocated on a national level and we have our targets. What we do with these funds is, we hire service providers on the one hand and they implement for us like in the case of our HSE upgrading project. In this case we had a tender, companies applied, one came first and now they are implementing the project for us. Another way of implementation is via grant financing, where we select a suitable not-for profit organization that has the experience and capacity to implement the project activities.

For example with the vocational training institutions that we support in Hoima and Kasese, we work with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) who implement on behalf of E4D/SOGA. The project started last month and will run until 2019. In this grant format we allocated the budget to them and in the process of conceptualization we worked out a whole plan of implementation of what the targets are, the log frame, what needs to be measured etc. Because we are such a small team here, VSO would come up with a team located in Hoima. What these schools benefit from E4D/SOGA goes via VSO. We don’t build new schools; we try to work with what is already there. For example we are working with Buhimba Technical College which opened last year and they are looking for their position in the market. They have got a great new school and new equipment but need guidance for example on what courses to offer that everyone else in the region doesn’t.

The other thing that has happened in the past is you have people trained for jobs. However, because there’s no specific database the companies are looking for workers who do not know they are being looked for. Have you considered documenting because I understand Government has a similar initiative? Is it something you are working on with them? How are you going to ensure these people are channelled to the jobs?

Very valid question; we call it matching. Internally we talk of skills development, enterprise development and between the two is the matching point. The database you are talking about is part of that. We have a variety of possible solutions but we are yet to settle on the most ideal because, as you said, Government and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) have designed this national talent register (NTR). We are currently figuring out how we best go forward, without duplicating a database that might come into existence soon. I don’t think MEMD and the Labour (Ministry) have already agreed on who exactly will do what.

So how do we keep track of these 8000 people? We have to find an internal way of doing that. The national talent register is mostly for people that actually can work on construction sites or the refinery or where the EPCs start looking. We are meanwhile learning a lot from Q-Sourcing, one of the private hiring and training organisations that have already been established in the market. There’s a lot to learn on how to manage databases and how to place trainees in companies and have them retained in the long run.

In the end, the database is just a means to an end. We at GIZ want to be able to call a statistically relevant number of the 8000 trainees and find out their experience with the job hunt; were the skills they received relevant, was it easy for them to get an interview in their field? And if the responses are positive we can say our skilling was successful. I’m totally aware that it will not be smooth. There are lots of challenges. We have been in touch with KCCA on their database where they registered between 5000-6000 people and have been able to match only about 10% so far. So the challenge is huge. The programme needs to find a way during the implementation to ensure that jobs are there for the trainees and that we know where the jobs are, so that people don’t have to come out of training and wait. That is what we have to avoid.

The other challenge, which the Auditor General’s report captured, is that companies have not been meeting a certain percentage of the local workforce they are supposed to employ. Government and other stakeholders say the workers are there but companies are picking expatriates. Once you have trained these people will there be a component of lobbying oil companies and what’s going to be your relationship with them?

Our relationship with the IOCs so far has mainly been on a working level where we have mainly been in touch with the local content departments. We have been in contact with them since the beginning and they’re very aware of that issue and don’t take it lightly. I’m not going to talk for them, but in the end what we saw is that there is a commitment and they see the benefits of it. E4D/SOGA’s role here is to give IOCs and maybe in the future EPCs some sort of guidance. The trainees the programme supported are people that they can rely on, that have a certain foundation in skills. We shall continue lobbying for local content, which Government is also doing strongly.

The Directorate of Petroleum is very aware of this issue and it actually comes up in all our discussions with them. The best guarantee for that is to get the skilling of Ugandans right, which is a national task; then there won’t be need to hire an expatriate because someone local can do it much cheaper. To hire an expert from abroad is usually a last resort, really. Some people tend to say big companies like to hire expatriates, but it’s expensive. You have to cover so many costs like transport, relocation, insurance, etc. Hence, they really prefer to hire locally if they find the right person.

Are you satisfied with the way Government has made interventions towards skilling for oil and gas? There have been disagreements between Ministry of Education and MEMD over who controls what and the focus gets blurred in those fights. What more support can Government give you to ensure you meet your objectives?

Actually, recently I was in one meeting where both Ministries of Education and Energy were present and it seems there are some information gaps between the two. There is need for harmonization of standards, so that everyone knows what is actually needed in regards to skills in the Oil and Gas sector and that is the direction Uganda needs to take. In my view this is sometimes not so clear.

As E4D/SOGA, we try to get the skilling part right and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a university, technical or vocational school. What matters is, do people have the right skills? I think Government really know what to do, but has implementation challenges. I think the policies are very good. I don’t think they are why Uganda has local content issues. Policies are in place, so now you really need to translate that into the actual implementation. Like how do you bring the law on the ground? There might be some issues with some companies trying to dodge the law but that is not always the case. In the end, what it boils down to is, are there enough people that can do the job? And this is something we have to work towards together. Everyone has to work in the same direction and harmonization, coordination and collaboration are key.

You said you started towards the end of 2015 and are about to make a year. What sort of achievements can you point to?

We started at the end of 2015 but only managed to harmonize our strategies with the Government’s. The actual implementation could only start mid-2016 . So far, 30 companies have been trained in HSE and they are now well informed and placed to win tenders because they have better HSE standards and practices. This is still ongoing so we don’t know the final results yet. We can likely say more about it at the end of the first quarter next year. Of course if you are a company you need to see how training affects your quality or bidding rate, for example, if you are better placed to win contracts.  That is something we need to monitor and the other thing I have not talked about yet is Living Earth Uganda which we work with in the Albertine Region on entrepreneurship and business development. They are currently training 325 entrepreneurs and farmers in the region in record keeping, financial issues, marketing, and business development.

What challenges do you foresee in regards to outputs?

One is that 8000 people is a very ambitious number. We have planned our interventions along certain assumptions which are based on some things we cannot control. Some of the risks I see are; because of some economic developments, people might not find the jobs they expect. But then again the safeguards that GIZ puts in place are geared towards trainees being able to also find their own or create jobs. Another challenge might be selection of beneficiaries or students. For some programmes you might not find enough interested people if you don’t pay for everything.

Questions put by Haggai Matsiko