By Peter Stevenson
IF YOUNG Cypriots want to have any chance of being employed in the island’s natural gas industry, they need to leave the country now, the head of the Cyprus National Hydrocarbons Company Charles Ellinas advises.
“My message to you is get out of Cyprus as soon as you can. Go to the UK, to the Middle-East to get experience because without it you will be unemployable,” Ellinas told students at a talk on Oil and Gas Developments in the Region of Cyprus – Job Opportunities and Educational Needs at Frederick University.
Also speaking at the event were Symeon Kassianides, the CEO of Hyperion Systems Engineering Group and Dr Richard Burns, a visiting lecturer.
Since news of the gas find in Cyprus broke local universities have jumped on the bandwagon hoping to churn out gas experts by the time reserves start coming onshore, ostensibly around 2020.
However, the message from the three experts to eager students was clear: when the island’s reserves start to come in, the positions available for locals will initially be mainly for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.
All three agreed that companies coming in would need a lot of motivation to hire local staff. Noble Energy, ENI/KOGAS and Total, the three companies who own drilling rights, are currently contributing €1.5m towards degrees related to the oil and gas industry but the experts say this may not be enough to boost jobs in the short to medium term.
Ellinas believes a large number of workers will be needed before, during and after an LNG plant is built, which could peak at 7,500 people during the construction of the plant at Vassilikos, which is estimated to begin in 2016, with about 700 jobs being created during the operation phase.
“For every job created during construction, three or more other jobs will be also created in the fields of external support, security and supplies,” he said.
However of the expected 7,500 jobs, only about one third will go to Cypriots and that is mainly due to a lack of experience in the construction of LNG plants.
“Most jobs will not go to locals because the necessary experience is not available but with initial preparation many jobs can be provided outside the LNG plant with construction consultancy firms convincing firms like Noble Energy, ENI/KOGAS and Total to maximise Cypriot participation,” he said.
With the operation phase believed to begin in around 2020, Ellinas said that now was the time to begin preparations to educate, train and gain experience.
He said that if preparations such as young people going abroad to seek experience, was not done correctly, ahead of the beginning of construction in 2016 Cypriots could even lose out on the jobs that could be available to locals.
He added that the government, oil and gas industry and academia needed to provide the necessary training in the lower skilled fields needed for construction of more Cypriots were to be employed.
“A gas masterplan needs to be developed, a strategy of cooperation needs to be created between the universities, the government and everyone else who is involved and it needs to be done immediately, we have no time to spare,” he said.
Ellinas said he strongly believed that universities taking the initiative was not enough, and everyone needed to become involved if Cyprus was to make the most out of its natural resources.
“The industry will be around for at least the next 50 years so we need to ingrain it into young peoples’ minds and that starts at schools,” he concluded.
Barnes’ estimate was that it would take 40 years for a Cypriot to be running the show but he said that there were areas in the local hotel industry that could be adapted to meet employment opportunities once things get going in the medium term.
“A construction camp for the workers on the LNG plant will need to provide very similar services to what the hotel industry provides so there are positions which won’t need any training, only to adapt,” he said.
Barnes believes there will eventually be tremendous opportunities for locals even if there are only 100-150 jobs initially. “Even if it’s only 150 jobs, that’s 150 more than exist right now,” he concluded.