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Current and Future Skills in the Oil and Gas Industry: Towards the Expansion of Brunei Downstream Energy Sector

13 January 2021

Brunei Darussalam continues to create new economic opportunities to diversify the country's economy. Alongside other sectors, the downstream oil and gas sector plays an important role in reshaping the country's economic landscape and boosting resilience during a time of global oil market uncertainties. The downstream sector recorded a significant increase of 433.5% between Q3 2019 to Q3 2020.

Over the last decade, Brunei Darussalam has made substantial investments in the expansion of its downstream industries to diversify its product portfolio in the oil and gas value-chain. This trend is set to continue in the future, paving the way for growing demand for new skills and technology. 

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Negara Brunei Darussalam in a Titah during the official opening of the First Meeting of the 14th Session of the Legislative Council in 2018 has highlighted the importance of producing highly competent locals to take on higher positions within the oil and gas sector.

Thus, the Ministry of Energy is continuously working with relevant stakeholders to formulate training strategies to enable aspiring locals to fill existing and future skills requirements, ranging from vocational, technical and non-technical streams.

Existing downstream oil and gas activities include the Brunei Methanol Company Sdn. Bhd. (BMC) methanol plant that has been in operation since 2010, and the Pulau Muara Besar Refinery and Petrochemical Plant operated by Hengyi Industries Sdn. Bhd. (Hengyi Industries) since the end of 2019. Together, these projects have contributed to the employment of over 600 locals directly involved in their operations, and even more through supporting activities, such as construction, maintenance, logistics and other services.

BMC has been able to achieve over 90% Bruneianisation over the span of 10 years of operation, through various local and international training programs, including industrial exposure to Bruneian students in their final year of undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering, Mechanical (rotating) Engineering and Process Safety disciplines.

Meanwhile, Hengyi Industries, which is still in its early stages of operation, continues to seek local talent to support its mega operations, which churn out 8 million tonnes of petroleum and petrochemical products per year for sale in the domestic and international market.  

Currently, localisation stands at 40% with 667 locals employed with several more positions to be filled. Long-term aspirations target a sustained increase in local workforce to reach 90%, aligned with Bruneianisation Directive. Many opportunities are available to be harnessed by in the PMB Refinery and Petrochemical Plant within technical and non-technical disciplines, including Refinery Operators, Logistic and Services, Electrical and Instrumentation, Supply Chain Management, Utilities and Administration. To support this, Hengyi Industries had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) in 2013 for a joint-training Chemical and Process Engineering programme with Zhejiang University. Under this programme, 68 students have graduated and been employed by Hengyi Industries, while 34 students are still undergoing training. Hengyi Industries has also collaborated with IBTE and Lanzhou Polytechnic for a Diploma program for Refinery Operators since 2018. Currently, around 100 students are undergoing this programme with the first cohort to complete their studies by April 2021. In addition, Hengyi Industries is also actively seeking interested job applicants and participating in the i-Ready programme with the Manpower Planning and Employment Council. There were 35 i-Ready employees in Hengyi Industries as of end of December 2020.

Further downstream activities include the imminent Brunei Fertilizer Industries Sdn. Bhd. (BFI) plant in Sungai Liang Industrial Park (SPARK), scheduled for its first urea production in mid-2021. Currently under construction, the BFI workforce stood as of November 2020 at over 322 total with around 71% (228) comprising of locals. Efforts are currently undertaken to maintain  at least 67% over the next year during the start-up operation phase and even higher thereafter. BFI has sponsored a total of 161 trainees to undergo a six (6)-month training scheme under its Operation and Maintenance Training Programme at Institut Teknologi Petroleum PETRONAS (INSTEP) in Terengganu, ASEAN Bintulu Fertilizer in Bintulu, Petronas Chemical Fertilizers in Kedah and Gas Processing Plant Utilities in Kertih. Upon successful completion of the training programme, the trainees have been offered full-time employment with BFI before end of 2020.

At the same time, upstream activities continue at a stable pace to support existing oil and gas production while the downstream industry and other economic activities develop.

Together, these activities continue to generate other spin-off opportunities, which in turn, create demand for supporting skillsets and businesses to spur industrial and maritime activities in Brunei Darussalam. Mechanical, Electrical and Instrumentation, Construction, Engineering skillsets, in particular, will be in high demand. However, there are also projected increases in demand for other skillsets to support operations, such as logistics, administration and finance.  Among the existing measures in place to promote the employment of competent locals among upstream and downstream oil and gas companies and supporting businesses are the Bruneianisation Directive, Local Business Development Directives and formation of multi-agency taskforces to further enhance these. In addition, joint efforts are actively being undertaken by the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Education, educational institutions and other agencies to undertake future skills forecasting and develop the necessary curriculum and training programmes to fill these opportunities. This includes creating more platforms to upskill and reskill locals, while also generating interest for these future roles.

The Ministry of Energy continues to work other Ministries, agencies and the private sectors to encourage more local business participation and open up more employment opportunities from energy sector developments.
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