With two decades of experience in the oil and gas sector, Blair Ferguson is now focussing on building the skills within Trinidad and Tobago’s energy industry as well as forming partnerships with other countries to export Trinidadian expertise overseas.
The Report Company: Can you give us an overview of the main activities of the group?
Blair Ferguson: The Kenson group of companies is made up of four major companies: two operations and maintenance companies, a school of technology and an engineering and fabrication company. The core competency of the Kenson group is operations and maintenance in the upstream oil and gas sector. Our two operation and maintenance companies take care of major accounts such a BP, Repsol and BHP Billiton.
The genesis of the school was to build that core capability and develop our local operations and maintenance personnel. With the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the mid-1990s we had to find some way to build that capacity to meet demand. One way was to do site-based specific training programmes, but we found that we had to do something a little more than just a training programme and that is where we sought some kind of accreditation for students in school. We had to look for a body that was internationally acknowledged by all the major companies.
We sought out the Nova Scotia Community College to provide us with that internationally-recognised accreditation and built a strategic alliance with them to help develop our programmes. Following the implementation in Trinidad of the government-assisted tuition programme which meant that the government would pay for training, we had to go through the process of getting the programmes accredited and with that in mind City and Guilds came on board. Being UK-based, they fit perfectly in that slot for us for international accreditation. The majority of the companies that we work with are based in the UK, like BP and BG, so we saw it as a strategic move to partner with City and Guilds
City and Guilds was able to give us the capability to take individuals directly from school, leaving with the minimum requirement of maths and English, and put them into our diploma programmes which are specific to the oil and gas industry. These are one-year programmes which aim to reduce the learning curve for those individuals stepping onto the facilities. We built a training simulator in 2006 and we now turn out individuals using that simulator as a practical tool.
“We see a great opportunity in East Africa. There is a unique relationship between Trinidad and East Africa. They call it south-south cooperation and we have been doing this for over 100 years.”Tweet This
TRC: Do you see opportunities to expand internationally?
BF: Certainly. We see a great opportunity in East Africa. There is a unique relationship between Trinidad and East Africa. They call it south-south cooperation and we have been doing this for over 100 years. You will find that countries tend to want to do business with only the first world based companies. East African leaders saw a great relationship between Trinidad and their nations with regards to oil and gas. They saw something that they don’t see much in the world which is a vibrant upstream sector.
We now have an MOU with the Ugandan Petroleum Institute which states that we will deliver programmes there. In the medium term we will have our lecturers there doing training and also building their lecturers’ capacity. In the long term, we will partner with them in their institute.
We are adding e-learning to our programme so we will have specific components in mechanical process done online on computers and then we will possibly have the students come to Trinidad to do major practicals, see the industry, work on a rig and then go back home. Building the Ugandan instructors’ capacity is something we are presently working on.
TRC: Do you plan provide customised trainings and courses developed for the specific needs of corporate clients?
BF: As much as the needs might change, the process is the same. If we have to go into any form of customisation it will be based on the unique designs of our clients’ facilities.
“The core competency of the Kenson group is operations and maintenance in the upstream oil and gas sector. Our two operation and maintenance companies take care of major accounts such a BP, Repsol and BHP Billiton.”Tweet This
TRC: Are you looking at any other potential partnerships?
BF: There are countries that are interested. One of our biggest challenges is that to drive this as a private company it’s costly. We chose Uganda because of the relationship that exists; their president is very close to Trinidad. The opportunities are there for other areas but we need to build our base first. Other countries want to work with us. However I don’t think we are taking advantage of that opportunity in Trinidad. We are working through the chamber to see if we can get everyone on board. I think that is the future of Trinidad. We have very porous borders when it comes to companies setting up shop in Trinidad. It’s one of our weakest points with our development; we have made it too easy for companies to come in here so we are now being pushed overseas because there’s not much here for us in the upstream sector at this point.
The biggest challenge with our type of training is getting experienced lecturers. Hopefully we can get our ageing technicians to see a new future in leaving offshore and moving into developing that capability globally.
TRC: How many lecturers do you have?
BF: We have 22 lecturers right now. We are doing our best to try to encourage more individuals to come and teach however we are not just lecturers, we are also assessors, so it’s a lot of paperwork. Because of that, you need meticulous individuals and that is a challenge.
TRC: Kenson celebrates 20 years of operations in 2014. How do you plan to build on this milestone?
BF: We aim to review our strategic outlook by the end of this year. Leading into our twentieth year what I can say is that we see the school as the tip of our spear going internationally and globally; it is our first company to go anywhere. We want to continue to foster those relationships in East Africa.