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There are insufficient skills in South Africa to support the development of a shale gas industry, South African National Energy Association secretary general Dave Wright said at a national shale gas conference, in Port Elizabeth, on Friday.
He noted that the country had a small and limited upstream exposure to shale gas and that there has not been a big demand for skills in that sector.
“If we want to develop a science action plan, we need to tackle the skills shortage in three phases and have short-, medium- and long-term goals,” he said.
According to the Academy of Science of South Africa’s (ASSAf’s) latest report on South Africa’s technical readiness to support the shale gas industry, urgent steps need to be implemented by relevant government departments, in collaboration with industry, to coordinate all skills planning initiatives in South Africa to develop a single, coordinated development plan for the shale gas industry.
This, the report said, should include appropriate education and training programmes for artisans, technologists, scientists and engineers at identified institutions.
“The plan should include a strategy to expand interaction and collaboration with the world’s leading professional and academic institutions to facilitate knowledge transfer and establish working protocols based on robust scientific and engineering methodologies,” the report notes.
In the short term, Wright said, the country will have to rely on imported skills.
“Associated with that needs to be an understanding from the companies involved in shale gas exploration and development, that skills and knowledge need to be transferred to local people as quickly as possible,” he said.
Wright noted that the medium-term process, which requires closing the skills gap, should already have started.
“If you look at the skills development planning process in the country, it’s very disparate. The Department of Higher Education and Training has orchestrated a skills development plan for government’s various infrastructure programmes and they have said there is a huge skills shortage. We need to close that gap.”
He added that it was important to identify the full spectrum of development opportunities and plan everything once off.
Coordination and the need to plan for the country as a whole, instead of just looking at individuals, is missing, he said.
“In the long term, we have to get our maths and science at school level up to standard,” he said.
The report, meanwhile, further highlighted that a review of the state of shale gas research in South Africa should be undertaken to provide a baseline from which to enhance local research capacity.
The scope should be broad and embrace all aspects relating to the shale gas industry, including geophysical, socioeconomic and engineering, as well as other aspects.
“Steps should be taken to strengthen the local research capacity to support the shale gas industry by establishing appropriate research chairs and centres of excellence of direct relevance to the shale gas industry,” it said.