Vocational needs: Technical training institutions are on the rise to meet labour demands

As a source of technical knowledge and skills, the six regional colleges of technology and one higher college of technology run by Oman’s Ministry of Manpower perform a crucial role with respect to the nation’s labour market. The diplomas, higher diplomas and bachelor’s degrees they offer have enabled Omanis to engage with the new technologies that the sultanate’s expanding economy has embraced, and many nationals working in the frontline disciplines such as the production of oil derivatives, iron pelletising and the port industry, embarked upon their careers with a qualification from one of these tertiary institutions. In addition to the aforementioned core sectors, Azzan Al Barram, a general manager at Horizon fitness, said finding specialists such as sports professionals is difficult as well: “The major challenge is finding skilled employees. The Ministry of Manpower could benefit by expanding training for physiology and physical education.”

Operators

However, the labour market requirements of Oman’s increasingly diverse economy have created a demand for vocational education that the nation’s technical colleges alone cannot supply. Lawrence Alva of the National Training Institute said vocational training is necessary to keep up with globalisation: “The professional training industry is obliged to bring Omanis up to a skill level where they can compete in the open market, which is becoming more globalised by the day.” The training sector, therefore, has evolved over the years to include not only the Ministry of Manpower institutions, but also a range of specialist bodies, some of which are government-run, while others are partnered with the state and some operate completely privately.

At times government ministries have undertaken the provision of vocational training without private sector involvement, such as in the 11 institutes of nursing associated with the Ministry of Health (MOH). Most of these were established in the 1990s, at which time the sultanate was investing heavily in health care infrastructure and seeking to provide new job opportunities for citizens. The MOH also operates the Institute of Health Sciences, the Oman Assistant Pharmacy Institute and the Oman Institute of Public Health.

Private Support

Elsewhere, government-led initiatives have established vocational centres, which have subsequently succeeded in attracting private sector support – both in terms of financial contributions and accreditation of educational programmes. An early example of this partnership was established by royal decree in 1983, known today as the College of Banking and Financial Studies, and operates under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Central Bank of Oman. It is presently supported in part by private institutions such as Ahli Bank, National Bank of Oman, Bank Sohar and the Oman Housing Bank. International sponsorship, meanwhile, has been secured from heavyweights such as HSBC, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, State Bank of India, Habib Bank and Qatar National Bank.

Just as important as external funding is the international accreditation it can offer its students from institutions such as the University of Strathclyde, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment.

Oil And Gas Training

The technological demands of Oman’s oil and gas sector have created a high demand for vocational schooling to serve the industry. The Ministry of Manpower’s Higher College of Technology in Muscat, the second-largest educational institution in Oman with nearly 10,000 students, has a comprehensive oil and gas programme through its engineering department. The courses cover areas such as fundamental principles in science and engineering and their applications, safety practices and procedures, drilling engineering, electrical technology, and fluid mechanics, and include a period of on-the-job training.

Private sector institutions, meanwhile, offer similar syllabi. The National Training Institute, for example, offers courses in basic engineering, electrical maintenance, and specialised health and safety programmes (such as chemical hazard and electrical safety). Yet more training is offered by potential employers within the oil and gas sector, and state-run companies play a leading role in training the labour market. Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), for example, runs the Oman Technician Training Programme placing up to 200 students from the technical colleges for a six-month course at either the Mina Al-Fahal Learning and Development Centre or the Fahud Learning and Development Centre, followed by 18 months of on-the-job training at one or more of PDO’s locations within its Block 6 concession. The programme is run once or twice a year, depending on business requirements, and the trainees who partake in it are assessed against the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation’s engineering maintenance standard at level two.

Global Partnerships

Other training programmes operated by PDO rely more explicitly on private sector input. One of the most high-profile and central to the nation’s status as a producer of hydrocarbons from complex subsurface geology, is the Middle East Learning Hub, a Shell initiative run in collaboration with the state-owned giant. Inaugurated in 2006, the facility gives technical development training to Shell staff and PDO employees, as well as other joint venture companies in the Middle East, Caspian region and South Asia. The centre’s permanent access to private sector expertise provides a useful blueprint for further knowledge-transfer initiatives in the technically demanding field of hydrocarbons production.

Similarly, Oman’s growing tourism sector, has already tapped into foreign expertise in establishing the Oman Tourism College by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 2001. Now operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Manpower, it is an internationally accredited diploma-granting college affiliated with the International College of Tourism and Management and the Salzburg Tourism School of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. It has a number of programmes, including a foundation course in English, IT, numeracy and study skills, and extending to a number of industry-specific studies such as front office and housekeeping, tour-guiding, guest relations, and restaurant and hotel management. The college also has tailor-made courses to groups of staff based on one of its existing courses or an entirely new design, services that have been used by some of the sultanate’s most visible institutions, such as the Intercontinental Hotel Group and Royal Court Affairs – the agency that supervises many of the public-facing departments of the administration, such as the royal yacht, gardens, farm, catering and aircraft.

Further Demand

At the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) conference in Shanghai in 2012, undersecretary of the Ministry of Manpower for TVET Muna Salim Al Jardaniah pointed out that recent years had seen a rapid rise in labour demand from the private sector – with the number of Omanis working for private firms rising by an average of 8.5% annually between 2000 and 2011. Indeed, “citizens need to understand the benefits of vocational training rather than live off of the government stipend, which leads to the classic minimum wage trap,” said Al Qassim Al Harthy, executive director of the Polyglot Institute.

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The Report: Oman 2013

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