[Our members] want us to be the voice of the industry, to support local talent development and to develop common standards and share best practices throughout the sector.

in figures

Oil and gas industry Omanisation rate:62%

Additional training required for mechanical and electrical technician graduates: 6-9 months

The industry voice in Oman

May 12, 2016

Musallam Al Mandhari, CEO of the Oman Society for Petroleum Services (Opal), sat down with TOGY to discuss the organisation’s changing focus in 2016. He says Opal is looking to develop common standards across the local market, as well as improved co-operation with the national government.

What developments has Opal been involved with over the past 12 months?
I formally joined Opal as the CEO in March 2015 after working within OPAL as a consultant and interim CEO from November 2014. During 2015, we worked on four priorities. We needed to build back our reputation as the voice of the industry, further develop and build capabilities in the industry, manage change internally and improve communication with our membership.  Our efforts in these areas in 2015 is paying dividend.

What are the biggest priorities for Opal moving forward?
Based on the consultations we had with our members we came up with three major issues to be addressed. They want us to be the voice of the industry, to support local talent development and to develop common standards and share best practices throughout the sector. The main aim is to streamline and homogenise the standards across the local market. To date, each one of the major oil and gas companies, including BP, Occidental and Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), has been implementing its own standards across health, safety and the environment. In the absence of government standards in some areas, there is the need for a common set of rules that all the industry players can agree on. In the past, Opal created a road safety standard. We put together a committee comprising of major stakeholders to elaborate a set of minimum requirements. These became the Opal road safety standards which has been made applicable across all operators and companies. Best practices are another area contractor would like to see us further developing. In 2015, we held a best practice event. Several companies contributed their best practices that could be shared throughout the industry. We had around 25 presentations, with 14 companies represented at the event.

What do the major operators look for in your association?
After speaking with the contractors, including Schlumberger, KCA Deutag and Galfar Engineering, we also sought the opinions of the major operators in Oman. The main aim of the sessions we conducted was to define the current status of Opal and determine whether or not the organisation had outlived its main role as the voice of the industry. The answers given by both the contractors and operators all pointed to the three common priorities mentioned before. Both contractors and operators shared the same vision for the role of Opal as the official voice for the oil and gas industry in addition to human capital development and the establishment of common standards and the sharing of best practices. Being a voice of the industry means interacting with the government and creating forums of discussions on issues relating to the oil and gas industry with the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Oil and Gas, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Environment and other relevant authorities. Human capital development means reconsidering previous ways of operations and coming up with solid guidelines to take the local content development a step further. With regards to best practices and standards, we will soon elaborate upon two common standards to work with over the next two years. We will put the road safety standard completed in 2009 under a second scrutiny and will also look at new camp standards following complaints on the absence of standards for camps across the country. What normally happens is that, once such standards are agreed within the oil and gas industry, these are adopted by others as a reference even by government authorities, eventually becoming national standards.


How do you report your progress to the industry?
On 27 March we will have the Annual General Body Meeting where we will be presenting the 2015 progress report. We will be providing our members with a report displaying the key achievements reached so far by Opal. In 2016 and moving forward, we have basically agreed on three pillars: being the voice of the industry, supporting local talent development and setting standards and best practices for the industry. I’ve personally met to date over 40 operator and contractor representatives, which is enough to represent the market and we have agreed a mandate for 2016-2017 to take these forward.

In 2015, you planned to have greater co-operation with the Ministry of Manpower. Has there been any development in this direction?
Yes, there has been. I am now the secretary of the strategic committee on in-country value (ICV), and Opal is also present in the human resources ICV committee. This committee’s agenda falls very nicely with our own goals of human resource development. In 2015, we made two research visits. We visited Brunei and Kuala Lumpur to look at what had been done to support the human capital development within their oil and gas industries. We also visited the UK to look at its apprenticeship schemes. The Ministry of Manpower officials joined us for that visit and we now have them on board with our plan to put together national occupational standards.

What fields are you developing national occupational standards for?
We have selected five skills that we are going to take forward in 2016 and 2017, to start a rapid development program. We have started as a pilot, for example, with the welding trade as we need national occupational standards for this skill in particular. Mechanical technicians, electrical technicians, instrument technicians and industrial design skills will also be targeted in the first phase of the programme. We have connected with both government and private sector colleges and also brought in overseas experts. For welding, we put together a group of nine specialists. Using the UK standards as a base, the group discussed what should be removed or added from there. The same thing was done for Lifting Equipment. We also invited the UK-based Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO), which is recognised across the global industry, to inspect the vocational training centres here on their capabilities and resources, with particular regard to the five skills being targeted.

How is the process of Omanisation affecting the industry?
Overall the oil and gas industry is around 62% Omanised.  For a highly technical area, this is a good achievement.  However, we are still struggling to fill middle management and technical roles with the less skilled roles occupied by Omanis. To get locals into middle management and supervisory levels takes much more time and a higher education level coupled with extensive experience. It’s not hard to overcome this challenge. The industry has good examples to emulate like the Well Engineering function.  This is well-organised with good training organisations and infrastructure. For example, you have international drilling contractor Dalma Energy which has a training centre; PDO has also introduced a centre of excellence in well engineering and drilling, and RAY Skills also a fully fledged training rig, all of which has gone a long way to Omanise jobs in the drilling area to over 80%. Nonetheless, the same cannot be said when considering centres for mechanical technician, instruments technicians or electrical technicians. As of right now, mechanical or electrical technicians, graduates from local technical colleges do not have the necessary depth of training required for the oil and gas industry and as such have to undergo extensive in house training, which can take up to three years, both theoretical and on the job training before they are fully fledged technicians. Thus our efforts to work with the industry subject matter experts and officials from the Ministry of Manpower to overcome this and cut this additional training to a more manageable period of 6-9 months on the job training.

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