Oil & gas safety trainingIn spite of the economic challenges that thousands of sugar workers have faced across the industry, some are trying to attain alternative skills to secure their livelihood. These sentiments were expressed Monday by three former employees of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), who were among 22 men who successfully completed the inaugural oilfield safety and operator training and development course.From left: Leowood Paul, top performer Mark Bihkhari, Vishwapremi Ramkellawan, and Duvendr LallaA graduation ceremony was held at Houston, East Bank Demerara (EBD), where Mark Bihkhari, Dexter Vangronigen and Courtney John respectively received top honours for their outstanding performance. The nine-week course was facilitated by international marine and petroleum training academy TotalTec Oilfield Services.All graduates were praised for their relative quick grasp of the concepts and practical aspects of programme. However, the spotlight was on the three former sugar industry employees, who showcased much resilience having to adopt a completely new career path in the wake of the downsizing of the sugar industry.Former La Bonne Intention (LBI) fitter machinist Vishwapremi Ramkellawan told the media that he was severely affected by the closure of his workplace after seven years of employment. The father of two noted that despite some challenges, he used the skills he knew as a basis for his development.“I went to GuySuCo training school and [this] made it a lot easier comparing to the others that didn’t have GuySuCo training. I left and go into the mining industry, because I’ve seen the decline in GuySuCo and now I’ve made the transition from mining straight into the oil and gas industry,” he stressed.“I have two children and a wife and [closure] affected us a great deal but as a man, you have to stand up and go and get what you have to get for your family to survive and that’s why exactly I did,” Ramkellawan said.Duvendr Lalla, who said that he was hopeful to start his family, was a 15-year veteran in the mechanical department in the sugar industry. Noting that he found out about the training in the press, he jumped at the challenge and even encouraged some unemployed colleagues to apply. He said too that his training at the Port Mourant Centre was an asset in his oil and gas training. Observing that he received half of his severance pay, Lalla told Guyana Times that he was saddened over the fact that he dedicated his life to the sugar industry.“From school [I went] straight into sugar – my whole work-life experience is from GuySuCo and it is sad to know that it has come to an end, but hopefully one door close, a better one open and you just have to take it step by step from there and hopefully I’ll develop my skills in oil and gas,” he expressed.Lalla hopes that he would be one of the graduates selected for further training in the oil and gas sector in Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.His younger colleague, Leowood Paul, who had worked three years attached to the field lab, said too that the training was “a great experience to be part of something new”. The programme comprised 56 separate theory and practical base modules that focused on areas including emergency response, oil and gas preparation and platforms, and counterbalance forklift truck operations.TotalTec Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lars Mangal said as Guyana prepared itself for oil production in 2020, Guyanese need to be trained in the basics of the industry so that locals could be able to access jobs both onshore and offshore.Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman praised Mangal for returning to his homeland to impart his oil and gas skills to others. Organisers announced that a batch of 50 more recruits was currently being trained and expressed hope that future batches would include female participants.Earlier this month, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), an international trade union confederation, through its General Secretary Sue Longley, wrote President David Granger expressing strong concerns over the downsizing of sugar. In its letter to President Granger, the IUF, which speaks on behalf of 10 million workers through its 422 affiliated unions in 131 countries, said it was aware that the sugar industry “…has made substantial contributions to your country’s national life and development … Its role as a national institution cannot be diminished, especially recognising the absence of alternatives at this time”. In its end-of-year statement, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) highlighted that come 2018, there would, in fact, have been 5000 sugar workers who would be left unemployed if Wales was factored into the current numbers.