Diaspora who left Kenya jobless but came back as manager in oil Industry

Erick Odongo, the training manager of the newly established Oil and gas division of the KK Group, left the country six years ago as a jobless Diploma holder from the then Mombasa Polytechnic, now Mombasa Technical University. He says he was lucky to land a job opportunity in Middle East on a Sunday after missing the cut on another job interview on a Saturday. He had studied instrumentation and control engineering, part of the wider electrical engineering.


When he ended up in Saudi Arabia in 2008, he switched to Environmental, Health and Safety career line after a now valued advice from a workmate at world’s oil giant Saudi Aramco – the Dhahran based Saudi Arabian national oil and gas company. To make the transition he had to study for an EHS international diploma from UK’s 35-year old independent National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH). He moved to Afghanistan three years later where he worked as an EHS specialist for two different international companies before coming back home for his current role at KK Group. But before he got a job with KK, he had tried and failed to secure a job with two other companies with local operations.

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How did you end up in the Middle East?

In 2007, there were job advertisement in the dailies and also on the radio by two companies looking for Kenyans to work in Middle East. The first interview was on Saturday which I failed at the third stage. But I got the one on Sunday. Back then many companies were looking for Kenyans to work there. I don’t know why.

Reports of working environment there have been largely scary. How was your experience like?

I was lucky I ended up in an international company following international standards. I never heard that somebody was frustrated or mistreated. We had our own apartments. So once you leave the company, you go to your house. We had many people from other countries from Africa including Ghana and Uganda.

But I think you must not just go to any company in the Middle East. You must know the company you are going to work for. Those who suffer go through agents and some of them are out to make money. IT is better to go directly through the company you are going to work for.

Why did you then change your career to EHS from instrumentation and control engineering?

I changed my career because I noticed health and safety is more represented worldwide than instrumentation and control engineering. I got my experience while working for three international companies. I held various position as a health and safety specialist especially as a coordinator. We used to do training for all new employees.

What are these companies you worked for in the Middle East?

First I worked for Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia between 2008 and 2010. Its one of the biggest oil and gas producing companies in the world. While there, the company helped me to gain experience and knowledge.

In 2011, I joined Dyncorp International which is a US international company. I joined it because they had a contract in Afghanistan. I was employed as a environmental and health safety coordinator for this company. I Worked there until July 2012.

Then I moved to ATCO Frontec which is part of ATCO Group which is Canadian international group of companies dealing in oil and gas, engineering and waste management. I worked there in the same capacity(EHS coordinator) until I came back home.

How did KK know about you?

KK called me when I was working for ATCO. It was surprising to receive a strange call from Kenya because this was not usually the case while in (Afghanistan). We first did a phone interview. When I came back I did a physical interview conducted by my boss Bill Lay (the head of KK Oil and Gas division and former CEO of CMC Holdings and General Motors East Africa).

I think they came to know about me through Linked In through which the other two companies had contacted me.

I had earlier received two other calls from Tullow Oil and Base Titanium but I never got the job.

Why did you leave a job with a well established firm to come and join a startup division, and did you have to make some sacrifices?

It’s always better to join a company which is setting up structures because you will always know and appreciate where the company has come from. It’s easier to change structures so they comply with market trends.

Outside there the pay was higher and you don’t pay taxes. The salary is lower here but it is satisfying to work in Kenya.

So what does your work at KK oil and gas division involve?

Currently we train people in health and safety courses that take a short period of time like a week. Before you join the oil and gas industry, you have to be trained in this field first. We are going to move to technical areas that will take three months, a year or even three years very soon. This is because we have to bring in (training)equipment. When that happens, we shall have people shifting their careers to specialise in technical(oil and gas)courses. We may have some people joining right after completing their KCSE course.

Whom are you currently targeting?

Our targets are not companies in oil and gas industry alone but all companies in the country. Health and Safety cuts across all of them. And even within the company, all people have to be trained in health and safety right from the CEO at the top down to the bottom support staff.

We have received so many inquiries from different companies and individuals since we launched KK Training on March 4. We have been trained some of them in their tens.

Exactly when do we have KK Oil and Gas division start training people in technical areas within the upstream oil industry which has recently attracted a number of international players who say Kenya has little capacity?

We could move there this year. We are importing the (training) equipments. Some of them are very expensive. They are being imported from countries like Canada. We will also be bring in the experts as well who will train our trainers. We have 10 trainers who are internationally certified.

Do you agree with the assumption that the country lacks experience in this field except for support roles?

We have a few Kenyans with experience working outside. But generally we may not have that much experience. For a few who have it, they will demand much more salary because they are very few. So the gaps for Kenyans who don’t have experience is ecstatic and we are trying to fill it.

Of course most of the equipment like the drilling rigs are manufactured abroad and so those from where they are produced will have an advantage over the Kenyans. For us to gain experience, they have to travel abroad before they come back and take up the jobs.

From your short experience back home in Kenya, do you think the opportunities have aroused interests in Kenyan youths, majority of whom are unemployed?

So many guys want to train in oil and gas industry. So I can foresee many of them coming forward because they want to get that experience. So many of them will be changing their careers like I did. In fact, somebody recently called saying she wants to change her career to something to do with oil and gas.

And why do you think you are the right institution to prepare them for the opportunities in future?Who has certified your courses?

We have certification from three international bodies. These are the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health of the UK, the International Association of Drilling Contractors of the US and the Oil and Petroleum Industry Training Organisation of the UK.

We don’t compromise on quality. For example, the same courses I used to train people abroad, are the same courses I have brought here.

Even if the oil is not yet viable, guys are already working in Turkana and Lamu. The companies there need people. Those with experience but working abroad need to come to Kenya because those companies need them. They should bring back their skills and and experience. The companies are saying Kenyans are not experienced and so they bring experts from other countries like Ghana, Nigeria, UAE, US and so forth. They pay them more.

How do Kenyans compare to people in the Middle East whom you have trained before?

They are almost the same but you know Kenyans are more educated. The people in Afghanistan for example have the experience but little education. On the contrary, Kenyans have education but less experience and that means that when you explain something to them, they catch up faster. It’s generally easier to train Kenyans than the other guys in Middle East.

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