Editor's comment: Talent shortage in downstream industry

The Middle East region does not have viable talent to manage the upcoming mega downstream projects.

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

Is there a scarcity for human talent in the Middle East refining and petrochemicals industry? This question needs to be addressed on an urgent basis. Recently, I had an opportunity to moderate a roundtable of industry experts, which had ‘The Roadmap for a Profitable Downstream Industry in the Next Decade’ as its theme. Majority of the roundtable participants expressed their concern about the available talent in the region to manage the mega projects – planned and undergoing. They were also concerned about who will run these plants, once commissioned.

The region does not have viable talent to manage the upcoming downstream projects. This has to be considered against the backdrop of many talented expatriates going back home. Another reason for the shortage is that many of the major downstream developments in the region are coming up simultaneously. It will be worth mentioning here a question asked by one of the roundtable participants: “How many people are needed to run Al-Zour Refinery and Duqm Refinery?

To be realistic, it will be possible for the project owners to answer this question in terms of the numbers, their expected qualifications and required experiences. But, are these people available in the region? The answer, without doubt, is ‘No’. So, will these project owners be able to bring in enough expatriate talent to the region? When we try to answer this question, we need to consider the fact that all these projects are located in remote places, which do not attract international experts to come to the region.

This talent shortage has to be considered against the back-drop of developments such as Aramco-SABIC ‘crude-oil-to-che-micals’ project, and ADNOC’s plans to create the world’s largest integrated refining and petrochemicals complex in Ruwais.

The region needs to adopt a three-pronged strategy to address the issue of talent shortage: (i) train the incoming workforce properly with speed so that, at least a decade from now, the region has enough local experts; (ii) include and seriously implement STEM education in the national visions; and (iii) make the places surrounding the key projects in the region attractive for expatriates to work and live.

It is interesting to note here that ADNOC recently unveiled a Ruwais city expansion plan to ensure exciting work-life balance.

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