Game Changers: How Athletes’ Sports Skills Can Help Promote Economic Development in Ghana’s Oil Industry

By David Lavallee and Ruth Lavallee

The Ghanaian oil sector stands on the cusp of an unprecedented skills crisis and there is an urgent need to find innovative solutions. The significance of human capital is escalating and will eventually surpass financial capital in terms of economic drivers within the oil industry  [1]. Sustainable growth depends on Ghana’s workers having the competencies that employers need in an increasingly skills-driven economy. There is, however, significant skills gap in the industry and the shortage of skilled workers will only become greater in the coming decade [2]

Identifying untapped skills within the existing workforce could be one way to help address these issues in the oil sector. Workers who previously competed in sports to an elite level could be a relevant group to consider as evidence shows how athletes develop a wide range of skills while playing sport that can be adapted in employment contexts [3]

Efforts to understand skills gaps frequently lack an industry-specific focus [4]. Methods that can compromise data quality and completion rate have often also been employed, including using lengthy surveys with little variation [5]. We addressed these limitations by assessing the extent to which a set of specific skills a person learned in one domain (sports) is useful in their current role in an industry (downstream oil industry) through a series of visual diagrams indicating incremental degrees of overlap (see figure). We specifically invited individuals currently working in the oil sector in Ghana who had previously played elite football to evaluate the degree of usefulness of different skills identified as important in the industry. The workers collectively represented every one of the major job roles in the downstream oil industry [6].

The transition from elite football to the oil industry demonstrates the adaptability and transferability of a number of key skills acquired in high-performance sports to professional settings (see figure). This is particularly notable, considering the seemingly unrelated nature of the two fields. However, the skills developed in elite sports are directly applicable and beneficial in the complex operations of the oil industry in several ways.  

‘Collaboration and Communication’

Elite football necessitates constant, effective teamwork and clear communication among players, coaches, and support staff. In the oil industry, these skills are crucial for coordinating complex operations and ensuring safety. Effective communication can prevent misunderstandings that might lead to costly trade and operational errors or accidents, while collaboration fosters a cooperative work environment where team members support each other to achieve common goals.

‘Leadership and Strategic Planning’

Leadership and strategic planning are also highly transferable skills. In football, players often take on leadership roles, guiding less experienced teammates and making quick decisions under pressure. These leadership qualities are invaluable in the oil industry, where managers must lead diverse teams through complex, long-term projects. Strategic planning in football involves devising game plans, analysing opponents, and making real-time adjustments, all of which are directly relevant to management and operational strategies in the oil industry.

‘Decision Making and Risk Management’

Decision making and risk management are critical skills in both sport and industry. Football players constantly make quick decisions under pressure that can affect the outcome of a game. Similarly, professionals in the oil industry must make informed decisions that balance potential gains against risks, especially in environments where safety and financial considerations are paramount. 

‘Negotiation, Creativity, and Emotional Intelligence’

Industry-specific skills such as negotiation, creativity, and emotional intelligence also score highly among former football players now working in the oil industry. Negotiation is essential in securing deals, trading, managing contracts, cash flow management, and resolving conflicts both on and off the field. Creativity is often underestimated in sports but is crucial for devising new plays and strategies. In the oil industry, creative problem-solving can lead to innovative solutions and improvements in processes. Emotional intelligence, the capacity to understand and manage one’s emotions and those of others, is vital in maintaining team morale, handling stress, and leading effectively.

By recognising the potential of these key skills from domains such as elite sports, the Ghanaian oil sector can help address the immediate shortage of skilled workers and bolster the industry’s human capital. Such an approach not only bridges part of skills gap but also contributes to the adaptability and resilience of the workforce in securing sustainable economic development.  

This project is led by Abertay University in Scotland, in collaboration with the Ghana Chamber of Bulk Oil Distributors and is supported by International Science Partnership Funding.


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