Working in tense places

Aug. 21, 2006
Our world has become an extremely violent and volatile one-but nevertheless one in which we all must live and work.

Our world has become an extremely violent and volatile one-but nevertheless one in which we all must live and work. Security, once an afterthought in many situations, is no longer guaranteed.

In the oil and gas business, workers in places wracked with tension and strife have more to think about than merely their work. Working in such places requires focus as well on personal security.

The survey

International engineering staffing firm EPCglobal recently surveyed thousands of engineers from various fields about working in the Middle East. EPCglobal received advisement from security consultancy C2i International.

The survey, open between July 31 and Aug. 4, was e-mailed to more than 30,000 senior engineers, with and without experience in such regions as the Middle East, in all fields. The surveys asked respondents what effect the issue of security had on their decisions and what motivated them to work in places of unrest. The surveyors hoped to determine to what extent security in particular colored engineers’ experiences and understanding of such regions.

EPCglobal intended its study’s results “to be of particular benefit to engineers considering traveling to the region for the first time as well as for employers interested in the motivations and concerns of staff.”

The results

The survey received responses from 2,128 engineers. Over half, 1,217, have experience in the Middle East, and one quarter of the total, 466, work there now.

The most common engineering fields included oil and gas 23%, construction 20%, civil 16%, electrical 14%, mechanical 9%, and power 6%.

Preliminary results from the survey confirm that the perception of risk has risen recently, but most engineers would still consider working in the region. “The most encouraging finding is that those with experience in the region are six times more likely to recommend working there than to advise against it,” EPCglobal said.

Other key findings include:

  • The majority of all engineers, 73%, (those with and without experience in the region) claimed to be well or adequately informed about the region.
  • About 65% of all engineers thought the Middle East has become more dangerous for overseas engineers since 2003.
  • Fewer experienced engineers, 59%, thought the region has become more dangerous.
  • About 71% of all engineers think the Israel-Hizbollah conflict made it more difficult for overseas engineers to work in the region. Fewer experienced engineers, 64%, thought this to be the case.
  • The most common single security concern was a direct physical threat from aggrieved groups or individuals, 39%, followed by a collateral physical threat from the targeting of symbolic installations and buildings, 32%.
  • About 84% of engineers with regional experience state that security isn’t the main cause, or wasn’t the main cause previously, in encouraging them to leave the region.
  • About 67% of all engineers with past or current experience were motivated to work in the Middle East by financial reward, 11% to enhance their resumes, and 8% to travel.
  • Of all engineers, 52% thought the media exaggerated the level of danger in the region. That figure rose to 73% for Middle East national engineers.

Tobias Read, EPCglobal chief executive officer, said: “Security is one of many considerations for engineers assessing opportunities to advance their careers overseas. A sense of perspective is, however, difficult to obtain with a focus on conflict in media coverage of the Middle East so we sought the opinions of experienced engineers in an attempt to peer behind the headlines.”

Read said the findings clearly illustrated a difference in opinion between those with experience of working in the region and those without. “Namely, those with experience are less concerned about security than those without in the light of their familiarity with the situation ‘on the ground’,” he said. “Still, the vast majority of those without experience would consider going if they received the right offer, which is encouraging for employers concerned about the effects of negative reporting on the supply of talent.”

Justin King, C2i managing director, said, “The facts show that you’re more likely to come to harm as a result of a car crash than as a result of any other source of risk in the region. Nevertheless, the region is quite volatile in the sense that events there...can heighten ill will against overseas workers for certain periods of time, so be aware of the latest official advice.”