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Tue 15 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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National drive

EXCLUSIVE: Mubarak Amer Al Mehairbi, manager of ADNOC's group national's recruitment department on the challenges and rewards of localising an NOC engineering base.

National drive
Mubarak Amer Al Mehairbi, manager of ADNOC’s Group National’s Recruitment Department.
National drive
Huda Al-Ghoson.

EXCLUSIVE: Mubarak Amer Al Mehairbi, manager of ADNOC's group national's recruitment department on the challenges and rewards of localising an NOC engineering base.

Deploying national resources in the most beneficial way to the local economy has long been the mission statement and goal of the region's giant national oil companies. Effective strategies and efficient execution have become the de facto mantra with regards to oil and gas reserves and production, but more than ever before that mindset is being applied to an underused asset above ground - the national talent pool.

The drive to recruit, train and retain GCC Nationals into the state-run oil companies has shifted gear recently. In the past it was not uncommon for regional energy companies to engage in job creation schemes in order to balance its remit of both delivering economic and social gains to the resident population.

However, just as the drive for efficiency in drilling, production and distribution has seen NOCs transform into slick companies on a par in many cases with their international counterparts, so too has the focus shifted in attitudes and expectations for its workforce.

"We have never had problems with the demand side from ADNOC and its group of companies, there are plenty of positions and important roles that need to be filled within a major oil and gas company. However, it is our strategy to redress the balance of skills-based jobs on the engineering side that in the past were almost exclusively filled by expatriate workers," explains Mubarak Amer Al Mehairbi, manager, group national's recruitment department, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

In the past the key upstream disciplines including chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering roles were filled by expatriate labour. Al Mehairbi says that a decade ago as little as 1% of these roles were being filled by local talent, but this is now being reversed by an aggressive recruitment and training campaign with ambitious targets.

"The first goal we set ourselves was to localise 50% of the engineering positions by 2004, in accordance with our competency assurance programme (CAPs). The programme has been very successful and we have since passed that target and we are aiming to achieve 75% in the course of 2009," he says.

The department has been operational since 1999, and Mehairbi says the key challenge has been to engage promising students at an early age, and encourage them to follow an education path that will take them to the world's leading engineering universities, and now the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi.

"It remains very difficult to find the people with a suitable background. Even though we have achieved a lot in terms of increasing awareness and the profile of careers in oil and gas, the talent has to be fostered from a young age as the key skill sets necessary for an engineering degree are obviously taught at a young age."

With this in mind the group national's recruitment department (GNRD) has been engaged with education authorities and schools themselves to help develop and tailor a suitable syllabus programme to equip UAE nationals with the required understanding.

"We are aiming to fill 1300 engineering positions every year, so recruitment and training has to begin at least five years before we hope to see those graduates available in the workforce."

With the help of the Petroleum Institute the company is comfortably meeting its annual targets, most crucially armed with the necessary skill sets. However, that's not to say everyone succeeds."It is fair to say the drop out rate is quite high, but we attribute this to the toughness of the programme. We are chasing quality, so we have a very demanding set of courses. It's a big jump from college programmes to the standard of work we expect, so to improve this in the future we are introducing bridging courses to help the students adapt and prepare adequately for the PI courses."

The package for graduates joining ADNOC is very competitive, typically exceeding the remuneration and benefits on offer by international oil companies, says Mehairbi. "We looked around the GCC and compiled a detailed study of packages to ensure we were offering a suitable and desirable career plan to our recruits. Healthcare, accommodation, and the education assistance benefits are important factors.

For our employees, school and university fees are met for all dependents. This is better than many of the competing packages, which usually come as a lump sum or are limited to a certain number of children, with ADNOC, this is not the case."

With regard to direct remuneration, graduates joining the engineering programme can expect good salaries with ADNOC. "It varies quite widely from position to position, but an offshore gas engineer could be in the region of 50,000 dirhams per month," says Mehairbi.

Job security is an additional benefit ADNOC recruits can expect. Whilst IOCs and EPC companies have been hit hard in 2009, reducing headcounts and slashing budgets, ADNOC has not laid staff off. Not being beholden to shareholder's dividend expectations certainly has its advantages.

"ADNOC projects are ongoing and our demand for talent remains very strong. I think maybe people will be looking more favourably on careers in oil and gas considering the fallout in real estate and finance sectors," he says.

Whilst the demand for jobs is focused on Abu Dhabi, Mehairbi explains that the recruitment net is cast nationwide, with a disproportionate number of offshore engineering positions filled by UAE nationals from the Northern Emirates.

"This is because the offshore package suits their family and social needs very well. They spend two weeks offshore, followed by two weeks off. Most of the offshore engineers actually come from the Northern Emirates because the shift-schedule means they do not need to commute or travel large distances very often."

With such lofty goals, Mehairbi says the male-dominated upstream business must embrace the talent the UAE's women have to offer, if they are to achieve their targets.

"We are extremely keen to get more women involved. We have the Arzanah College specifically catering to this need, and in 2010 and 2011 the first batch of female engineers will join the industry. We have a very successful stories with ADGAS and ADMA with women involved in the decision making process and senior management."

ADNOC is making good on its promises and opening the doors of opportunity to Emirati's with its comprehensive recruitment campaign. For the next 30 years at least, the major constituent of the world's energy supply will come from oil and gas. There are few more exciting or pressing challenges for young engineers to grapple with, and careers with the regional majors have rarely looked so rewarding.

Career Tips from Saudi Aramco

Huda Al-Ghoson, recently appointed general manager of Saudi Aramco's training and career development department offers her advice for securing a promising future:

"To succeed in a competitive world, young professionals need to establish order and discipline at the beginning of their career to help them focus on items of substance and raise their own and their manager's confidence in their abilities.

They should take the time to develop their technical knowledge and understand the business of their companies. They need to pursue continuous self-development and be willing to venture in new territories. They should take the time to observe before acting, and not to be discouraged or disheartened by setbacks and failures.

Young professionals should find a way to learn from their mistakes, and stick through the tough learning period. Sometimes the best teachers are the negative experiences."

Jobs Galore

For exciting information on the latest job opportunities in the Middle East's upstream business, and key recruitment tips from leading regional consultants and employers, log on to ArabianOilandGas.com, online home of Oil & Gas Middle East.

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