Brunei Darussalam: Looking local for human resources

While Brunei Darussalam’s Energy Department is pushing for full localisation of human resources in the oil and gas sector, firms say the transient nature of the industry and a lack of experienced locals makes this a challenge.

In mid-October, Pehin Dato Yasmin Umar, the Minister of Energy, said recent directives aimed at ensuring Bruneian staff members comprise the majority of employees are an obligation, not a goal, for oil and gas firms. “I cannot accept that some of the companies that have won contracts in Brunei and are worth more than $100m still employ a workforce of only 11-20% Bruneians,” he told a local news website.

Under the “Guidelines for Directive 2 on Local Business Development Framework (LBD) for the Oil and Gas Industry”, issued on February 1, companies would only be eligible to compete in industry tenders if at least 50% of their workforce is Bruneian. Localisation drives have seen some success in the past. In 2008, 73% of the 4379 staff employed by the oil and gas sector were Bruneians. However, Pehin Yasmin noted in April that this had dropped to 50%.

Industry leaders told OBG they face a number of issues, including limited numbers of suitably qualified technical people. “The Energy Department’s objectives regarding Bruneisation are absolutely right, and Bruneians deserve to be employed,” Jason Hammond, the territory manager of Riyan Cameron, told OBG. “Staying ahead of the curve is the objective we set ourselves, and it’s a challenge to meet those increasing requirements. The sector has already started to feel the shakeup, and we know exactly where we need to be in the near future. ”

In October, the government told oil and gas players that those who do not comply with the LBD would not be awarded new contracts or extensions of contracts. The Energy Department at the Prime Minister’s Office has set a target of a 70% increase in “local participation” over the next five years and to have 80% of employment localised by 2035.

The department has stressed that the localisation policy is not anti-foreigner. "This is not trying to be against them. All we are saying is, you’ve been winning the tenders, so it's only fair that we ask you to please do something about your local business development obligation," Pehin Yasmin said.

Some companies are beginning to find ways to comply. While speaking with The Brunei Times in October, Jennifer Puk, a personnel manager at Amarco, a regional offshore marine contractor, said that her company has almost 80% local staff. “If it is possible, we are pushing for 100% localisation within the next five years.”

Brunei-based Amarco has launched apprenticeship programmes that will help the company evaluate suitable candidates, including a two-week orientation session, a six-month on-the-job (OTJ) training on a vessel and a two-year apprenticeship.

Tan Kah Wee, a control and automation engineer at Petrokon, a domestic oil and gas firm, said the company was placing local employees alongside experienced foreign employees for knowledge transfer. “Our company provides a lot of training and we will send them for OTJ training and courses to gain more knowledge. We are really interested in local people and willing to train them,” said Tan.

As the private sector pursues its own methods to achieve the government’s targets, the education sector is also stepping up to the plate. In February, the Institut Teknologi Brunei (ITB) will increase the ratio of local students in its civil engineering programme, as well as through its twinning arrangement on Petroleum and Chemical Engineering Articulation degree programmes carried out with Australia’s University of New South Wales.

Dato Dr Hj Omar Hj Khalid, the former vice-chancellor of the ITB, told local media in August that the energy industry requires many mechanical and electrical engineering graduates, highlighting that mechanical engineers are in “great demand” among Bruneian industries. However, a number of oil and gas employers have stressed that Bruneians who do not possess a degree but have a positive attitude toward working in the industry still have the opportunity to gain employment in the sector.

The government’s efforts to localise human resources in the energy sector should produce Bruneians with highly valued expertise. However, the authorities will also need to keep its diversification priorities in mind when designing training programmes to ensure that other sectors benefit from improved education offerings.

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