Some five young Ghanaians who were enrolled by the Petroleum Commission at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), one of North America’s leading technical institutes, to train as professional welders for Ghana’s booming oil and gas industry, are making steady progress in their studies.
The students started the 10-month program in July 2019, and are expected to end the training by April 2020, and return to Ghana as internationally accredited and certified welders, to work in Ghana’s booming oil and gas industry, and also transfer the knowledge to others.
Wearing identical tan leather coats, red and black caps and welding helmets, the five young men work side-by-side in the shop at NAIT’s Souch Campus at Edmonton, Canada.
Hand-picked from technical schools across the country by the Petroleum Commission after going through series of applications, tests and interviews, the students are pioneers in a training program aimed at giving Ghana’s best and brightest the welding skills they need to work in the country’s growing oil and gas industry.
28-year old Bright Oduro, one of the trainees who left his wife and young child to participate in the 10-month program, says “My job is to train and make Ghana proud.
When I return, I’ll be working and teaching. That’s my dream – I want to take my knowledge and share it. There are a lot of youth in Ghana who would love to do this job” he noted.
Ignacio Garcia, who works with NAIT’s Corporate and International Training office, and has worked with the Ghanaian government and CPI Training, a project management firm with operations in Accra, says the goal of the program is to equip the students to return to Ghana and work, while imparting others with the knowledge acquired.
“NAIT’s role is to train this group of students up to international standards. The oil and gas sector in Ghana is expanding, but most of the advanced welding is handled by foreign companies importing their workforce, leaving few [skilled] jobs for the local welders. These young men are extremely bright, so the potential down the road is for them to be leaders in the industry” Ignacio Garcia explained.
Some of the students had some basic welding skills before arriving at NAIT, but had never trained formally or worked with advanced equipment, says Marcelo Mena, the welding instructor teaching the Ghanaian students.
“These young men are extremely bright, so the potential down the road is for them to be leaders in the industry” Mena added.
“They’ve impressed me so far with their willingness to learn, though it took them a while to overcome their deference to teachers and start asking questions. In their culture, you don’t challenge leaders or elders, so it took them some time to understand it was okay to ask me to repeat or explain” Mena noted.
Staff from NAIT Corporate and International Training took the students to buy their matching jackets, work boots, gloves, safety glasses and other gear when they first arrived, and introduced to their meals.
Mena also took the students to a local African restaurant where they were thrilled to find familiar food and music.
“They were so happy, they were dancing like crazy,” he says with a laugh.
One of the trainees, 30-year old Abdul Rahman Dayankrah, says “Mena has been the best instructor”.
“I’ve learned so much from him. It’s a privilege to find ourselves at one of the best technical [institutes] in North America. The focus on occupational safety has been particularly helpful and eye-opening for them” Abdul Rahman Dayan noted.
Bright Oduro, the other student, says he had “long dreamed of coming to Canada, even before the opportunity came from the Petroleum Commission. Frankly speaking, I didn’t have any hope that I would be selected,” he says.
After their time at NAIT, the students will spend a month in Nisku earning their certification through the Canadian Welding Bureau.
“When they go back home, they want to make sure they’ve got those credentials,” Mena says.
No longer strangers in a strange land
The welders live in a five-bedroom house within walking distance of Souch Campus. They share their home, their workspace, and sometimes, a longing for friends and family back home.
“They’ve all had their moments,” says Mena, who can tell when homesickness hits them. He too was a newcomer to this country, arriving from Chile in 1976. He’s encouraged them to try something uniquely Canadian each weekend, like eating poutine, or going to a NAIT Ooks basketball or hockey game. They’re already enamored with West Edmonton Mall, he adds.
“We are a family; for real … We take care of each other.”
“He’s like a father to us,” says Dayankrah.
His fellow students, who were all strangers to each other before they were chosen for the program, have become more than friends.
“We are a family, for real,” he says. “We take care of each other.”
Other Petroleum Commission training programs
The Petroleum Commission, which is responsible for regulating, monitoring and managing all the Ghana’s oil and gas exploration and production, is not taking anything to chance, as long as local content participation in the country’s oil and gas sector is concerned.
Aside from this welding training program in Canada, the Commission has also collaborated with Saiwest Limited, an integrated service company in oil and gas industry, to train over 20 Ghanaians across the country as welders at a facility in Takoradi.
In January 2019, MODEC Production Services Ghana JV Limited (MPSG), a Japanese firm supported 16 Ghanaian nationals to travel Brazil and learn from best practices and impact the knowledge acquired to the country’s upstream sector.
The beneficiaries were selected from different departments in the extractive sector and spent six months to get hands-on training in Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSOs).
They were trained in FPOSs maintenance, operations, and management and upon their return to Ghana; the trainees are expected to impact their knowledge to others in the country’s oil and gas sector, with the aim of building a much stronger local content for the nation.