The traditionally male-dominated oil industry in the UAE is about to undergo the biggest transformation in its history – the introduction of female Emiratis.
Oil companies have signed agreements with the 219 women undergoing training at the Petroleum Institute (PI), Abu Dhabi, to work in the industry after graduation. The recruitment marks a significant shift in the industry – since PI opened its doors in 2001, it has never had a woman graduate.
The sea change comes as oil and petrol companies struggle to fill key posts due to a global talent shortage. The women at PI are undergoing a four-year course and half of them have completed the first two years.
“As of now, few female Emirati engineers work in oil fields and on oil rigs. However, we have more than 200 female students who have signed agreements with their sponsoring company – the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) – to work for them after completing their engineering courses,” said Mohammed Abdul Rahman, head of admissions at PI. “Our female engineering students are involved in practical oil field analysis and supervise the development of onshore and offshore oil and gas installations. They also design, plan and manage safe and economical recovery of hydrocarbons.”
Historically, there have been few Arab women working in oil fields due to cultural prohibitions, remote locations of work sites in the desert and offshore, and difficult and male-dominated work environments.
Adnoc, which currently has 3,000 employees, is facing a staff shortage and has begun recruiting women to work in the field and in technical positions. It has also been promoting women internally – in 2004, UAE national Bhadria Kalfan became the first female manager for the Adnoc Group. “We have started enrolling female students for petroleum and chemical engineering and other related fields. They are getting scholarships from Adnoc. If the scholarship is for four years, the students agree to work four years with the company after their studies,” Rahman said.
As the price of oil has gone up, so too has demand for engineers and the salaries offered. A petroleum engineer fresh out of school can expect a starting salary of at least Dh20,000 a month.
Ali Al Sayegh, senior production engineer at the Fateh field, said: “Through Young Professional Training Programmes of the Society of Petroleum Engineering, we are trying to attract more UAE men and women.”
Ahmed Al Ahmedia, manager of the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia), said the introduction of female Emiratis into the vital oil industry was welcome news.
First Emirati female drilling engineer
The first Emirati female drilling engineer has said she is thrilled to be in charge of her first project for Dubai Petroleum Company (DPC) – the offshore Fateh oil field.
Hend Al Delail (pictured above), 23, said she enjoys being a pioneer. “This is the first oil well of my career and I am thrilled about the pre-drilling work that started this week. I am proud to be the first Emirati female drilling engineer. I have learned a lot in the past four months and hope to continue my challenging career in this field.”
Trained in information technology, Al Delail is also a part-time student in a MSc programme in petroleum engineering at the Heriot Watt University in Dubai’s Academic City.
She acknowledged it is a challenge to juggle her offshore work, home life and college work without taking weekends. “The nature of work makes me spend two days in the offshore drilling field. My family supports me, but this career is my own choice.”