Editor’s Comment: Propagate STEM education

While STEM education is slowly gaining momentum in the Middle East, it still has to go a long way in creating required number of highly skilled engineers from the region.

Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals  Middle East.
Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

The refining and petrochemical industry in the Middle East is going through a period of unprecedented transformation. Some of the key elements in this transformation are renewed focus on the downstream sector by prominent players like Saudi Aramco and ADNOC, proposed acquisition of SABIC by Saudi Aramco, the game-changing crude-oil-to-chemicals project being developed jointly by Saudi Aramco and SABIC, the advantage for the complex Middle Eastern refineries as we move closer to the January 2020 IMO sulphur regulation on marine fuels, global investment endeavours by the key Middle East downstream players like the 50% co-investment by Saudi Aramco and ADNOC in the $44bn Ratnagiri refining and petrochemical complex in India, and the drive of industry to incorporate digitalisation as a key enabler.

While all these drives are considered positive in nature, there are impeding issues in front of the Middle East downstream industry, which need short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions. One of the key issues that I would like to point out here is the current status of talent development in region. Massive projects being developed in the region need a large number of highly skilled engineers to implement the project, and later to run the plants. According to the feedback that I have received from the industry players during the last two years of regular interaction with them, talent shortage is a serious concern in the region for major project owners, EPC contractors and technology providers.

While STEM education is slowly gaining momentum in the region, it still has to go a long way in creating required number of highly skilled engineers from the region. The region is blessed with feedstock availability and project finance for mega projects, but lacks seriously on human talent. Expatriate engineers are largely employed in most of the strategic projects in the region. The need of the hour is to create more engineering and science and technology universities and educational institutes in the region, like King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and to include propagation of STEM education as one of the key aims in the national visions of the Middle Eastern countries. At the same time, to attract and retain highly skilled engineers to the region, the project owners and regional governments need to bring in the right ambience for work-life balance around the project locations.

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