Saudi setting up shop

ONE of the Middle East's largest engineering contractors is setting up shop in Australia with the oil and gas market firmly in its sights.

Saudi setting up shop

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Nasser S Al Hajri Corporation has launched its Australian arm NaSAH Australia and a second company OGM Technical Institute.

NaSAH will be going after oil and gas engineering work while OGM will be working with TAFE colleges to help build up a pool of local skilled labour to service Australian projects.

Former Austrade senior trade commissioner Peter Linford has been appointed chief executive officer of both NaSAH and OGM.

Linford conceded the company would initially be too small to tackle most of the projects that are on offer within the oil and gas sector.

He said NaSAH would instead be seeking to collaborate with other companies.

There should be plenty of opportunity for the company. Australia historically has had one or two oil and gas projects on the go at any one time. Even then, the projects were often in different phases so workers could move from one to the next.

"There could be up to 13 projects coming on at the same time," Linford said.

The other problem the industry faces, particularly in northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory is in attracting blue collar workers from the eastern states. The Queensland oil and gas opportunities are that much closer to home for them.

Given NaSAH's Middle Eastern parent has 65,000 employees on its books, Linford is acutely sensitive to the issues of local content.

He said jobs would be advertised in Australia first and only if the position could not be filled locally would the company look overseas.

"Suitably qualified Australian workers will get first crack at every job on contracts we win in Australia but we go into each tender process confident in the knowledge that, if we cannot fill all positions from the local workforce, we have a substantial and highly qualified external pool of labour to draw on," he said.

A fair proportion of that external pool is made up of Australian expatriates so repatriating some of those expats is certainly an option.

Besides, Linford said, it was a lot cheaper to hire locally anyway.

He said it cost about $40,000 on average to bring a foreign worker into Australia by the time the visa costs, overseas recruitment costs, and the cost of landing them here and acclimatising them was taken into account.

On the TAFE front, Linford said OGM would act as a supplier of information on where the job shortages were and provide funding to help establish the courses needed to meet them.

"We'll talk to the industry about where the gaps are and talk to TAFE about what courses they should be focusing on," he said.

Speaking like the trade representative he once was, Linford also is keen to export TAFE's skills to some of the regions NSH is operating.

He would like to see TAFE setting up training courses in the regions workers are from so they can go to the Middle East as skilled workers, removing the needs of agents.

One odd aspect of NaSAH's and OGM's launch was the presence of former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh.

When pressed on his role with the company's Waugh said he was an "ambassador" and that his role with the company was "sort of open at this stage".

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