In foreign hands
20/12/2007 Norway’s domestic labour force is too small, but fabricator Aker Kvaerner Egersund south of Stavanger has solved the problem by going abroad for more workers.
text: Ina Gundersen, photo: Emile Ashely
A sign beside the barge currently under construction at the yard close to the port of Egersund reads “Nakaz wyposazenia ochronnego” – Polish for “protective gear mandatory”.
Just under 700 of the fabricator’s 1 420-strong workforce are Norwegians, with the rest made up of 29 nationalities. A large proportion of these foreigners are Poles.
One of them is 27-year-old Artur Bak, a pipefitter and plate supervisor who has been in Norway for three years. He came to Egersund three weeks earlier from a job in Haugesund north of Stavanger, where he lives with his Polish girlfriend.
“I like working in Norway,” he says. “It’s fine. Everything is just as it should be – even though the weather isn’t that good. But I’ll undoubtedly be going back to Poland one day.”
Aker Kvaerner Egersund is having a busy time. To get the work done, it has to recruit personnel from abroad. Fifteen of the 30 nationalities currently working at the yard are represented by (from left) Solemon Lam-boi (Burma), Oo Zaw (Burma), Mohammed Sedig Safi (Afghanistan), Naglingam Rajendrakuar (Sri Lanka), Patricio Arancibio (Chile), Jan Franzen (Sweden), Igor Myadelets (Kazakhstan), Denis Shuvalov (Russia), May Wenche Hammert, managing director (Norway), Bartlomiej Gluch (Poland), Ariel Czubkowski (Poland), Marius Moskal (Poland), Andrzej Osomlski (Poland), Denis Gacanin (Bosnia), Christopher Dynes (UK), Catalin-Alexandru Dorobantu (Romania), Jos Dekker (Netherlands), Milano Ledesma (Philippines) and Omar Rebwar Mohammed (Iraq).
Aker Kvaerner Egersund is currently working flat out on installing process facilities and utilities on six barges destined for the first development phase of the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan.
The yard will also be building the riser module for the Gjøa platform in the North Sea, which has been ordered by operator StatoilHydro from Aker Kvaerner Stord further north.
These contracts provide work until the early summer of 2009, with the Kashagan job alone requiring the efforts of some 1 300 people.
Although Poles form the largest contingent, the yard’s foreign workforce is drawn from every part of the world. So information is provided in three languages – Norwegian, English and Polish. Town meetings are in English, with Polish interpreters.
“Hiring in personnel makes us more flexible at times when staffing needs are high,” explains May Wenche Hammert, president of Aker Kvaerner Egersund.
“The fabrication sector goes up and down a lot. We don’t need to develop all expertise in-house. Contract staff allow us to cope with the big peaks.
“But the Norwegian population isn’t large enough, so we have to go abroad to secure labour. It’s gratifying to have so many nationalities here.”
A total of 576 people live in the work camp close to the yard. Things usually go well, says Ms Hammert, and she has seen no evidence of cultural clashes. But language can be a challenge.
“Communication has been partly in English, but we now have more and more interpreters. It’s not always so easy for a Norwegian, either, suddenly to chair a meeting in English.
“Different countries also have other ways of working. While freedom under responsibility is normal in Norway, people from abroad may be used to doing what they’re told. That hasn’t caused major problems, but it’s been a big learning process for us all.”
Although most of the contract workforce comes for the European Economic Area, Aker Kvaerner Egersund currently employs 23 Filipinos. Many are graduate engineers.
Emil de Jesus has a wife and a three-month-old daughter in the Philippines, and reports that he returned home for the birth.
“I miss them, obviously. I try to get home for a visit twice a year. If I stay in Norway a long time, I’ll try to get them over here.”
His colleague Joselito Madi says that the working environment in Norway is better than in many countries. He and the other Filipinos have worked at yards in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We haven’t noticed any cultural conflicts, but then we’ve travelled a lot and are used to different countries,” he says. “So we’re happy to be here. Filipinos have no alternative. We can’t live on what we’d be paid at home.”
Hiring engineers from the Philippines started fairly fortuitously at the Egersund yard, reports Per Johansen, who heads its human resources and administration functions.
“We initially got one in via a consultancy company, and were very satisfied with him. Then we hired one of his acquaintances. The jungle telegraph began, and we’ve taken on a growing number.
“We’re now considering whether to employ some of them directly. Most of the ones working here today have very good formal qualifications.”
He notes that the yard is keen to recruit more personnel, both engineers and skilled workers, and could contemplate taking on 60-70 people this year.
“However, I don’t know if we’ll manage that. Even though we’re working hard on recruitment, we can’t find as many people as we want. That’s a challenge for the whole industry.”
The Norwegian labour market has changed radically over the past couple of years, Mr Johansen says. Roughly 2 000 people worked at the yard in its peak year of 2002, but fewer of them required accommodation than is the case today.
“We no longer have the tie-in with the local labour market which we used to possess. The position has reversed completely over a couple of years, and we now have to go abroad.
“It’s no use sitting in a human resources office and waiting for job applications. We’ve got to be much more active than before, and meet people while they’re still students.”
Most of the foreign workers at the Egersund yard hail from the EEA, but not all. Among them are 23 Filipinos, the majority of whom have engineering degrees. From left: Rommel Peralta, Emil de Jesus, Jun-Jun Lomotan, Milano Ledesma, Joselito Madi and Whellem de la Torre.
Read more about some of these challenges and how they could be overcome: