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TAS advocates skills training for Sabahans
Published on: Sunday, May 14, 2023
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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TAS students taking a helicopter to Malikai Platform, 100km off KK, for their On-Job training.
TAS INSTITUTE of Oil & Gas hailed the day in 2011 when dozens of its pioneer Advanced BTEC (Business Technology Education Council) Diploma grads were snapped up by Shell in one fell swoop, thanks to a concerted investment to raise skills capacity of local.  

Willie Ng, Executive Director and an ex-La Sallian who founded TAS in 2008 primarily and originally to address what he called “serious shortage” of Sabahans employed in oil & gas, recalled that first amazing big hit:  

“It’s one achievement I feel very happy about, that our very first batch of 45 operation technicians produced by TAS were all snapped up by Shell in 2011 to work in the biggest crude oil production platform in the whole of Malaysia – the Gumusut-Kakap platform which lies in 1,200m (3,937ft) deep water with a daily production of 165,000 barrels a day, is the largest offshore operating facility anywhere in Asia, operated by Shell and located at about 100km west of Sabah,” Willle said.

Citing an extra reason to celebrate, he said:  

“All these B40 group (Bottom 40pc or lowest tier income households whose mean incomes are RM2,000 or less) operation technicians trained by TAS actually come from the various interior parts of Sabah.”

Willie Ng: TAS Executive Director (left), Datuk George Bandusena: TAS Operations Director (right)

The Gumusut–Kakap platform–the biggest crude oil production in Malaysia.

One beauty about BTEC Diploma awarded by UK-based Pearson is that it is recognised worldwide and the course takes only 21 months.

In this case, all these grads were already employed by the end of their training.

That’s not all.

A game changing experience. 

Just one week after graduation, they were all flown to Houston, USA, to witness the fabrication of the first semi-sub platform in Malaysia, and after that they were sent to Japan to witness the Top-side of the platform, all of which were eventually mounted in Pasir Gudang, Johor, before it’s towed to Sabah.

That was a game changing experience.

Most of these B40 group students had never even been on a plane before.

The first batch of 45 TAS Institute Oil&Gas graduates in 2011 - all snapped up by Shell to work in its Gumusuk Kakap platform – the biggest Crude Production platform in Malaysia.

What made heads turned was when the Gumusut-Kakap started operation, these local BTEC Advanced Diploma graduates trained by TAS Institute Oil & TAS became the front-liners to operate the biggest crude production platform in Malaysia linked to 19 subsea wells, proving a point.

“So who says Sabahans cannot do it? This B40 group has proven they can perform and deliver, given the opportunity,” Willie reflected.  

Today, that first batch of TAS grads are now earning a spectacular salary in the region of at least RM25,000 per month, and probably more by some, he relished.    

Exemplary countries to look at 

“Look at Germany, they were able to progress so fast because most of them are skilled workers under vocational and technical training,” he noted.

He also cited China and the speed at which 800 million were lifted out of poverty.

It’s skills training.

“You look at all the factories, they go to a technical school to be trained there first, then they come out to the factories. This is why they are so productive, these guys are able to assemble the handphone, the Apple hand phones. 

“That’s what technical vocational training can do, it transforms life,” Willie asserted. 

Whatever one may say about the education system, no country can afford a complete mismatch of what education produces and what the industries need.

“If you don’t have the skilled labour, investors won’t come,” he noted.

Many have noted the paradox about Sabah – a State richest in oil & gas but also the poorest State in Malaysia.

“An area we can help alleviate poverty in Sabah is by uplifting the life of the Bottom 40pc (B40 group) and the only way, we believe, is through education and skill training,” Willie opined.  

Natural sympathy for Sabah and the founding of TAS

Having worked in the oil & gas industry well before 2008, and naturally sympathetic to the all things Sabah, he remembered asking friends very senior in the oil industry: “How come you guys are not employing Sabahans?”

The invariable reply?

“Willie, you tell me, where can we find skilled workers in Sabah, please tell me? If you got any, we will employ, we have no choice!” 

Fair comment but how to change things. 

“Look at Sarawak where oil and gas started in 1908 (on top a hill in Miri) and over a period of time, a lot of training centres were set up and your government didn’t bother to set up a basic centre to train your people!”   

Taking up the challenge to match what oil & gas required

The tip ignited the deep patrioticSabah instinct.   

“So, we took up the challenge with no assistance from any government, with our own money, we took up the challenge that nobody had done before,” he said. 

“The whole idea of staring TAS was prompted by a very serious shortage of Sabahans involved in our flagship oil & gas industries, simply because there was no oil & gas training centre in Sabah, despite Sabah ventured into the oil & gas industry in 1971.” 

Which ostensibly explained why most of those jobs were dominated by peninsula Malaysians and Sarawakians and probably only 20pc were Sabahans, while the B40 interior youths in Sabah were jobless.

“It was because of the serious non-involvement of Sabahans in the prime oil & gas industry that we took up the challenge to set up TAS,” Wille recalled.

Kick-starting with a tertiary partner 

“In order to kickstart TAS and our programme as soon as possible, we teamed up with a university because they had the facilities without the need for us to build up all the hardware while we provided the software by bringing in the BTEC Program developed by Shell, which allowed us to deliver the programme under TAS Oil & Gas,” he said. 

“But over time, we wanted to expand our training program to match what is required by the oil and gas industry. For example, in 2009, we wanted to do BOSEIT – Basic Offshore Safety Emergency Induction Training, because it makes no sense that while Sabah is the biggest crude oil producer in Malaysia yet it doesn’t even have a BOSEIT Centre, which forced Sabahans who needed a safety passport either to go to KL or Miri to obtain it. 

“But we needed a faster decision-making process in order to meet the requirements of the industry rather than many layers of approvals, so we decided to have an amicable separation and moved to Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP East),” Willie explained.                                           

Grown & branched out   

Operating as a sovereign with a freedom to make decision, the move to the Institute of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) building in KKIP proved to be a boon.   

TAS has since grown, it has branched out from the BTEC Advanced Diploma Technician program to certification of competency for the various oil and gas operators like the National oil company, Multinational oil companies, meaning from a first BTEC approved centre to train operations technicians for oil and gas, the first Basic Offshore Safety and Induction Training (BOSIET) OPITO Centre (SEQU-TAS), TAS Institute Oil & Gas has expanded, not only training students in oil and gas operations but eventually  to a training provider to Oil majors  both locally and internationally, certifying the competency of existing operators’ personnel.

Mission: One-stop Skills training centre across the board 

“What I would like to emphasise more on is TAS has contributed to the development of skilled workers in the oil and gas industry across the board, not just in the B40 (Bottom 40pc of income earners where the mean income was RM1,849 in 2019 for the households in this lowest tier group), because we have also trained graduate engineers for the national oil company, who however do not have the hands on experience, so they enrol in TAS’ BTEC Advanced Program to gain the hands on experience that would save time and save costs to their employer,” Willie said.   

TAS has set a mission is to become one-stop training centre for oil & gas.

A sign that it is a recognised provider is TAS has just won a contract from a National oil company to train all their existing operation technicians who are currently working in oil and gas, for competency.

‘Who says Sabahans cannot do it’  

“Additionally, TAS Institute of Oil & Gas is globally recognised. We have won the Bronze Medal for BTEC International award, so this has proven that Sabahans can deliver. 

“Imagine our Centre had to compete globally on the delivery of BTEC qualifications specialising in oil & gas, when we won the prestigious Bronze medal. This means TAS is recognised by the world and I am happy to say that all our trainers and all our employees are Sabahans, who says Sabahans cannot do it?” Willie beamed.

He highlighted time saved and benefits in TAS’ skills training versus only academic training.

TAS 10th graduation ceremony officiated by the Chief Minister.

 “One point I want to emphasise is BTEC is an A Level vocational and skills qualification. After Form 5, you are qualified to enrol in the Diploma course, and within 21 months you are already qualified whereas to pursue a degree means two years in Form 6 first, plus another four years in university – six years. But a BTEC grad is working and earning already in 21 months,” Willie pointed out.   

Double verification for competence: Internal & External 

“Our verification process is very stringent, we have our own BTEC qualified internal verifiers who assess and check the students’ work followed by external verifiers from the UK who assess for standards and competency,” Willie noted.

“One experience I would like to share is when the external verifiers come to our centre to interview the students on competency, there were times when we extended the normal courtesy: Can we bring you out for lunch? They would say cannot, they don’t want you to influence them, you say we want to buy dinner, also cannot. After their work is done, they go back to the hotel, the next day they come back. After the verifications are completed, they sit down with us and related the findings and so far so good. In fact, one verifier testified in a written remark rated TAS Institute ‘one of the best training centre’,” Willie noted. 

An outstanding case of ‘Corrective maintenance’ from a TAS student   

A big asset is that TAS students are trained in both Preventive Maintenance and Corrective Maintenance.

Citing an outstanding instance of Corrective Maintenance, Willie thinks TAS Institute of Oil & Gas is ”special”. 

“Our students and trainers have been trained to trouble-shoot for problems and solutions.”

Citing one example, one of its trainees who was posted to an on-the-job training (internship) in a renowned international turbine manufacturer General Electric (GE). While there, there was a turbine problem where they were given 36 hours to fix the problem.

There were engineers down there but it was the TAS Institute student on-the-job training who pin-pointed where the problem was and the problem was fixed in 20 hours! 

So, here is a case where one of the power stations decided to employ the TAS student even before he graduated because he impressed. 

“This incident means that we are not necessarily trained in oil and gas. If people don’t want to work in oil and gas, they can work in power stations, in electricity companies or other production companies because they have the similar equipment,” Willie pointed out.              

‘Safety first’ 

It stands to reason that the mantra ‘Safety first’ probably is more critical on oil and gas platforms than anywhere else, given its extremely inflammable nature.   

“We drill our students about the importance of safety. They must answer all the questions during individual interviews what are the industrial safety that they must culture themselves, not only to ensure they are safe, but ensure all colleagues are safe and very important, that their principal’s assets are protected at all times,” Willie said.     

Plans and dreams 

“Our plan is to move beyond Sabah, TAS is not going to stay just locally,” he said. 

“Our dream includes a plan for career progression. For example, welders, we want to move them and uplift their skills to another level, such as certifying them to be underwater welding specialists so that in time to come our dream is that TAS will be the most integrated training provider in Malaysia.

“Even now, if not the most integrated training provider, TAS is probably Number three training provider in the country able to provide BTEC technician courses in oil & gas safety courses.” 

“In Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) safety standards, there is no other,” Willie asserted.             

The hope is to extend its skills training benefits to even more marginalised lower strata of society. 

“In the process of expansion, our training sector will branch into to the lower end skills sector – those who are not academically inclined, probably with just Form 3 standard certificates who may not be good in studies but good with their hands who can be trained up to be riggers, scaffolders, painters, plasterers, which are widely used in offshore industry – places which need to be maintained 365 days a year non-stop because the reliability of the platform must always be maintained at all times . So we are expanding the training sector to accommodate the lower skills sector, “ Willie concluded. 


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December 20, 2014