Building a knowledge-sharing culture in Africa

The key to successful local skills development is the proactive promotion of tailored knowledge sharing in-country, rather than attempts to export learning formulas from other countries.

The key to successful local skills development is the proactive promotion of tailored knowledge sharing in-country, rather than attempts to export learning formulas from other countries. This can be seen in South and East Africa, which are important areas for new oil and gas activities. The emergence of a new generation of African technical professionals is on the horizon, and not too far in the future. How their skills are developed is a focus area for governmental authorities and companies alike, as large efforts will be made over the next few decades to resource the jobs which will be created.

Money will be spent and learning and development will happen in some form; this is inevitable. The question is: will this be done efficiently and effectively or not? The answer lies in the approach that is selected.

Most people see the benefit of knowledge transfer and indeed local content policy is now commonplace. This is based on the fundamental premise that petroleum resources belong to a nation and its people; it follows that it is reasonable to expect the resources to be developed for the benefit of the communities of those nations.

Within the industry, local content requirements are designed to ensure the majority of goods and services needed at each phase of the oil and gas life cycle are locally supplied. There is more to this than just increasing the percentage of local employees, and international oil companies are compelled to actively engage with the local workforce as part of their operations.

The need to draw on expertise from the global talent pool is clear, and the wish to replace that global assistance with a workforce of locally-based, home-grown, talented individuals is equally clear. But how? This is where the attitude of existing training providers comes in.

When an opportunity for new training business comes along in a country, there is a strong tendency for providers to take their current off-the-shelf materials and simply implant them in the new environment. This will be in spite of the fact that the materials will have been developed in another country, for another culture and perhaps even for a completely different purpose.

The extreme case is a major multinational which exports expertise developed from offshore developments, and runs training courses in countries which have only land-based activity. Strange but true.

The latter is a perfect example of un-tailored training, and there is much of this around in the training business. Standardized capability matrices are another example – written once for one marketplace but exported globally. Profitable but not optimal.

Skills requirements for a country are not entirely generic – every country and every new development area has specific needs which are a consequence of the initial human resource, the technical need in question and the scope of the developments. For in-country skills development, one size does not fit all.

Tailored training providers are aware of this so will generally advertise their products with strap lines such as “tailored for you.” However, it is always worth investigating what this really means in a course context – it should be more than just changing the front slide of a PowerPoint presentation to add a new date and country location.

The hard truth is that implanting existing material is profitable and easy; developing truly tailored solutions requires more time, effort and skill and is therefore intrinsically less profitable.

A more positive model of skills transfer, and a large scale one, is the role the Norwegian government took in developing local content in the early days of Norway’s oil and gas industry.

The country had a highly educated workforce with technical competence in manufacturing, shipbuilding, and engineering but no domestic oil and gas industry. Predominantly through Statoil, the government ensured that technology and expertise from international oil companies flowed into the Norwegian oil and gas industry and stayed there. Knowledge was indeed transferred and built on to develop innovative new technologies tailored to the local offshore environment. Norwegian companies now export that expertise internationally, where appropriate.

The characteristics of the approach are to focus on the in-country need, develop a tailored approach to skills development, and do this while planning for the long term. These characteristics play out on a smaller scale too and revolve around having the right attitude to skills transfer. It is often about forsaking short-term financial gain for the long-term nurturing of talent. The aim is to achieve a similar model of transfer and local development for the long term in the emerging African businesses.

There are several approaches to knowledge transfer: tutored classes, links with universities, blended learning techniques, secondment opportunities within partnered licensees, and drawing on specialist consultancies for expert knowledge. Identifying the different approaches to knowledge transfer is a necessary step in order to choose options – but these are just the tools, not the solution itself.

Based on the logic of the positive model described above, and also our own tutoring and training experience gathered throughout almost 25 years designing and running learning events across the business, we argue that the key at the working level is the promotion of a knowledge-sharing culture; one in which the instinct of all parties involved is to share for the benefit of others.

This culture is most likely to develop when providers and seekers include individuals who are passionate about the principle of sharing, irrespective of monetary gain. The onus on management is to ensure that these individuals are at the forefront of the knowledge transfer activities, whatever form these take.

Such a culture at the working level – something which training providers can control – fits neatly into the larger scale positive model of long-term planning described above. It should be noted that “long term” refers to skills development of individuals in the country; the role of the external training provider is to transfer knowledge, then exit.

Mark Bentley

TRACS Training Director, AGR

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