What it’s really like working in a world-class power plant in Myanmar

The first thing that strikes anyone approaching the Myingyan power plant is its size. Given that it can generate enough energy to meet the power needs of over five million people, its scale is hardly surprising. But what do its over 70 strong workforces actually do inside it? To find out what goes on at one of Myanmar’s largest combined cycle gas turbine plants and to discover what a working day involves for those who are generating all this energy, I caught up with six of Myingyan’s employees who think of Mandalay region’s mighty power house as home.

There is often an assumption that when international investment funds a major project in Myanmar the bulk of the jobs created, especially the most skilled jobs, go to foreigners. But at Myingyan, a hiring policy which gives priority first to those in local community, followed by those in the region and then applicants from elsewhere in Myanmar has yielded impressive results.

Around 95% of employees hired at the plant are Myanmar citizens of which nearly a third come from the surrounding community. The opening of the power plant has even provided the opportunity for a couple of them who had found themselves having to work overseas to return to the area in which they grew up, and to bring their talents and know-how with them.

Hiring locals was a priority for Sembcorp, the global integrated energy, marine and urban development company headquartered in Singapore that built and operates the Myingyan power plant.

As Naing Naing Aung, Myingyan’s human resources manager explains, “whilst it might have been easier to have imported Singaporean experts to fill key roles, international expertise is instead being put at the service of Myanmar hires to help them develop the skills to take on many of the key responsibilities themselves. Developing their skill sets is the long-term sustainable solution that will ensure custodianship of an asset which, after 22 years of operation by Sembcorp, will be transferred in full to the Myanmar government.”

Among the beneficiaries of the range of training programmes is Kyaw Swar Win, who has the responsibility of helping to maintain plant machinery. He accepted a job offer at Myingyan having previously worked as a mechanical engineer doing equipment installation and maintenance for a smaller engineering company. “We have a technical trainer from Singapore who trains us weekly on different topics about the power plant,” Kyaw explains.

Learning on the job is the rule, not learning after dark. As Kyaw smiles, “the good thing about training is that it is conducted during work hours.” There are other benefits too, “free breakfast, lunch, and the plant is very close to my house so I can live with my family. I don’t have to worry about living expenses and food every day.” His ambition is to become a maintenance manager.

Hein Min Lwin was a farmer and as village head of nearby Hnan village he visited a labour office to see what broader opportunities might be available to him in the area. This led to him joining the power plant’s security team. “Working in a big power plant is so cool,” he says, as he goes about his daily job inspecting the buildings, equipment, access points and checking permits. He feels that working at such an important place has given him not only regular income but also respect from his neighbours. “My ambition is to protect the company for as long as I still work here,” he says, adding, “and I plan to work here very long.”

The support and interest that their own community displays for the neighbourhood power plant and those who work there is a recurring theme amongst all who were interviewed. The word “proud” comes up repeatedly when asked about how they see themselves – and how their family and friends see them – for being part of a major international company and working at one of the nations’ largest and most efficient power plant which is providing the region with the energy upon which households and industries depend.

As Poe Nadi Soe, who is employed as a warehouse assistant to keep track of equipment and stores being moved around the site puts it, “working in the power plant gives me so much pride. My co-workers are really friendly, and they give me a lot of support. I have received a lot of support for my role and development and I like the family-type culture here.”

Having previously worked in a liquor distillery before moving on to an engineering firm in Singapore, Aye Nyein Thu finds the breadth of her current role much more fulfilling. “It is very exciting to be working at a power plant” she says. It certainly offers variety. Her daily responsibilities include conducting the morning health, safety and environment briefing, monitoring plant performance, preparing board and management reports, and setting up a computerised maintenance management system which provides automated alerts to replace parts or ensure timely maintenance and inspection.

Living nearby at Sarkhaar village, the plant is but a short journey for Aye Nyein Thu. But it has provided her with the opportunity to travel far and wide in the quest to improve her knowledge and understanding. Training trips that Sembcorp has sent her on include visits to examine how power plants of similar configurations operate and exemplify best practice in Oman, Vietnam, and Singapore. These are experiences she finds invaluable. There is an assumption that a power plant is a masculine environment, but as an engineer Aye Nyein Thu finds Myingyan to be a workplace that respects aptitude.

With over twenty years’ experience at Sembcorp in Singapore, the opening of the Myingyan power plant provided Yazar Myo Thein with the opportunity to return to Myanmar. As the deputy-plant manager, he explains his philosophy. “I have cultivated a culture of learning from mistakes,” Yazar affirms, making clear the value of practical real life training as well as understanding theory and that some of the most informative experiences come from adversity. “I conduct sessions where my staff have to present lessons learnt during shutdowns in order for everyone else to learn and not repeat mistakes.”

Positive experiences also provide inspiration and Yazar believes that the Myingyan power plant, which is a pioneer as Myanmar’s first independent-financed power plant (IPP) can take inspiration from Phu My 3, the Sembcorp majority-owned power plant that was the first IPP of its kind in Vietnam.

Now celebrating 15 years of commercial operation, Phu My 3 was recently awarded the First Class Labour Medal by Vietnam’s government in recognition of its contribution to the country’s development. “I have the goal of outperforming Phu My 3,” Yazar beams.

Poised to take over as Myingyan’s chief plant manager, he will shortly get his chance to turn a dream into reality.


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