Gabon: Investing in technical training
To meet a growing demand for skilled workers throughout the Gabonese economy, the government and private firms have stepped up investments in technical education and vocational training.
Strong economic growth, increasing foreign investment and pressure from the government for greater involvement of Gabonese nationals in the economy have created a growing demand for skilled workers. Government efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and gas, which currently account for more than half of the country’s GDP, has widened demand to include skills in areas such as forestry, mining and manufacturing.
While Gabon enjoys a literacy rate of 88%, well above the regional average, the country lacks adequate technical and professional education facilities. A national conference on the state of education, which took place in May 2010, identified obsolete equipment, outdated curricula and insufficient institutions as the key deficiencies in Gabon’s vocational training infrastructure.
The government has subsequently identified technical training as an education priority. Some $416m has been earmarked over the next decade to address deficiencies and align programming with the needs of growth sectors, such as mining and forestry. For example, the state plans to expand its network of elite technical institutions, or grandes écoles, including the creation of the School of Mines in Franceville, the base of the country’s extractive industry, by 2020.
Multinational firms in Gabon are also investing in their own education initiatives or partnering with the government to train nationals in specific technical skillsets. The oil and gas industry has been particularly active in human resource development. In March 2010, the Institute of Oil and Gas (IPG) was created through a partnership between the Gabonese government, the French Petroleum Institute and many of the major players in Gabon’s oil and gas industry, including Total Gabon, Shell, Perenco, Addax Petroleum and ENI.
The institute, which has been endowed with a budget of $12m, will train 60 students per year when it is fully operational in exploration, extraction, refining, and commercialisation. The school graduated its first cohort of 13 students in November 2011, nine of whom were immediately hired by Total Gabon. Construction of the school’s permanent site is set to begin shortly in the city of Port-Gentil, the capital of the country’s oil industry.
In addition to the IPG, Total Gabon has been a major supporter of the Professional Specialisation Centre (CSP), also located in Port-Gentil. The CSP, founded in October 2003, recruits 30 young Gabonese per year and provides them with specialised training in applied skills, such as instrumentation and mechanics.
Many companies in the oil and gas sector also provide opportunities for current and prospective employees to pursue technical training abroad. Both Shell and Total, for example, maintain scholarship programmes for Gabonese nationals to pursue higher education in Europe.
As the economy expands beyond the oil sector, companies in other sectors are also investing in their human resources, which is crucial for buttressing the government’s diversification strategy. While Gabon continues to be dependent on oil revenues, which contribute approximately 50% of GDP, it has put increasing efforts behind the government’s Emerging Gabon strategy, which emphasises development of industry, services and so-called “green” sectors.
The strategy was launched in late 2009 to diversify the economy and protect against future global commodity price volatility, and while the majority of the results will be seen in the long-term, the emphasis on increasing value addition within the country has borne fruit in the broader economy. Olam International, a Singapore-based agriculture and natural resources conglomerate, is one example of an international firm investing in local human resources. The firm has partnered with Tata Chemicals to send 200 Gabonese workers to India for two- and three-year training programmes in a variety of technical areas.
And Precious Woods, a Swiss timber exporter with a long history in Gabon, works with the Swiss government to provide university exchanges and to support two schools in the Eboué region to help train technicians. Other multinational companies, such as construction firm Acciona Infraestructuras, have partnered with local universities to create internship programmes to give students practical training.
As Gabon’s economy continues to grow and diversify, the need for well-trained workers will only become more acute. Both the government and private companies are investing in vocational training programmes and infrastructure to ensure that Gabonese nationals can play a meaningful role in the development of their country’s economy.