In demand: Boosting energy-related skills and research and development

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The global energy industry is thriving with growing demand for power and a host of downstream products that depend on output in the oil and gas sector. In addition to established markets in Europe and North America, growing economies in Asia are driving tremendous demand for energy supplies. This has in turn increased the demand for a skilled workforce within the industry. Many reports suggest that the supply of labour will be a critical bottleneck going forward, which will raise the cost of hiring skilled and unskilled workers.

The Nuclear Energy Institute reports that the nuclear energy industry will see 39% of its personnel retire by 2016. This will require replacing up to 25,000 employees. Similarly, growth in the energy industry in new markets like the US, Canada, Australia and East Africa will require attracting and training a huge workforce.

Requirements

The Ministry of Energy and Industry’s 2012 Sustainability Report highlights the challenges in developing the country’s energy and downstream industry sector. According to the report, Qatar’s energy and industry sector employs almost 35,000 people with a much larger number indirectly employed in the sector’s global supply chains. The oil and gas sector accounts for the largest portion of this labour pool, representing 40%, or 14,000, full-time employees in 2012. Liquefied natural gas and natural gas operations form another 20%, or 7000, employees. Petrochemicals, mining and related sectors represent 25% of the workforce. The sector’s ambitious growth strategy, with a number of new projects coming online over the next decade, will require increasing these numbers. The government’s national Qatarisation strategy also places additional pressure on developing a skilled workforce. The government’s five-year Strategic Qatarisation Plan calls for recruiting Qatari nationals with a target of 50% of the sector’s workforce. According to the 2012 Sustainability Report, Qatari citizens account for around 25% of the country’s energy and industry workforce. The industry will need to recruit and train at least 8750 people to meet the government’s Qatarisation target.

Other energy-exporting Gulf states also have similar demands. Most young Qataris, however, are not equipped with the necessary knowledge to work in the energy sector. The problem is partly rooted in the lack of educational institutions and research and development (R&D) centres that offer specialised knowledge and training in and related to the energy sector.

The government and major players in Qatar’s energy industry are thus investing in developing education facilities, particularly in establishing vocational training and focused training programmes for specific roles within the industry. The Qatar Foundation is leading these efforts in collaboration with Qatar Petroleum and other energy players in the country. Qatar Foundation’s Education City is the biggest initiative that is expected to help establish engineering, research and training programmes.

Texas A&M Qatar, the College of the North Atlantic Qatar and Qatar University are the main institutes addressing the needs of the local energy industry. Established in 2003, Texas A&M offers bachelor of science degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering, and two graduate degrees in chemical engineering including a master of science and a master of engineering. According to Texas A&M Qatar, 50% of the undergraduate students are Qatari. As of May 2013, the college has graduated 413 students, with Qatari nationals representing 202 students. Qatar University has a larger engineering programme but has a smaller percentage of Qatari nationals.

Research

In addition to core engineering degrees, Qatar is also increasing investments in R&D in the energy sector. Texas A&M Qatar, for example, has a focus on research in traditional oil and gas areas such as drilling, reservoirs, and upstream and downstream segments. The university recently won a large grant from Qatar National Research Fund for electrical research.

It is also developing research initiatives with the Qatar Energy and Environment Research Institute in the fields of solar energy and energy storage with batteries.

Energy companies in Qatar are also investing in inhouse training programmes. According to the 2012 Sustainability Report, 26 companies in the energy and industry sector reported providing over 1m hours of employee training, with an average of 35 hours of training per year per full-time employee. Qatar Petroleum established a Corporate Training Department, which helps meet demand for educating the local workforce by sponsoring Qatari nationals. According to the company’s annual report, it is currently supporting 401 students enrolled in programmes including engineering, petroleum engineering, geology, sciences and business. The company reports that 141 of these graduates joined Qatar Petroleum (QP) in 2012.

Vocational Training

QP provides vocational training programmes and works with the College of North Atlantic Qatar to help train staff. According to the 2012 Sustainability Report, 916 QP employees are enrolled in training programmes in diverse subjects that include clerical preparation, engineering technology, business administration, and IT and lab technician. QAPCO is also partnering with Texas A&M Qatar and has had eight staff obtain masters-level degrees from the university.

Inaugurated in 2009, Qatar Foundation’s Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) was also established to meet R&D needs across the economy. Most of the major energy firms in the country have established research departments at QSTP, including Shell, Maersk, Total, ExxonMobil and Chevron. The Total Research Centre - Qatar, for example, was established to research specific topics related to the energy sector in Qatar and in the broader Middle East region. These include new techniques for metering of oil, gas and water flow in wells and pipes, research on carbonate reservoirs and polyolefins catalysts. Similarly, Shell has developed labs to research topics related to the GTL industry, while Chevron has established the Centre for Sustainable Energy Efficiency, which will develop improved solar power technologies tailored to desert environments.

ConocoPhillips and General Electric are collaborating to examine ways of treating and using by-product water from oil and gas operations, and the Maersk Oil Research and Technology Centre is also researching topics relevant to the company’s Al Shaheen project, with a focus on enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and horizontal well technology. “EOR is important as fields in Qatar mature,” Lewis Affleck, managing-director of Maersk Oil Qatar, told OBG. “The Al Shaheen field is now operating one of the world’s largest offshore water-flood operations. In 2012 we injected some 800,000 barrels of water into the field each day, using around 140 injector wells. Of course, water injection can only help access a certain proportion of the oil from the reservoir, and we’re already piloting EOR techniques that we believe will be important in the future.”

Investments in education, training and R&D provide a long-term solution to workforce needs in the sector, but the shortage of skilled labour is a global challenge that is not specific only to Qatar. Major investments such as the initiatives under way at QSTP and Education City will go a long way towards achieving these goals.

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The Report: Qatar 2014

Energy chapter from The Report: Qatar 2014

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