'So don't agree with woman offshore. And yes most men thinks they should not be there!'

I love to hear from my followers especially comments and feedback regarding published blog posts. I recently received a comment from Jenny (Hi Jenny) that in all honesty ruffled my feathers. The comment notification popped into my email account and whilst reading the opening sentence 'So don't agree with woman offshore.' - I initially thought it was a comment from a male follower, sorry for the assumption. This is my first critical and somewhat controversial piece of feedback I have received regarding being a female in the offshore energy sector. I am always proud to state within my press releases and interviews that sexual discrimination is something I am yet to experience - until now. I am genuinely shocked that my first encounter with female discrimination is from a fellow 'sheila'.

I have been brought up in a household of equal opportunities, I have my mother to thank for my offshore career choice as she initiated the idea. I have never been a feminist, I will never be a feminist but I will defend the place of females within the offshore energy sector. It is a male dominant industry but the offshore role is not a 'male role' this misconception needs to addressed and shifted. Offshore is about teamwork, your gender, sexuality or race dont come into the equation. Like I have said previously, I am not oblivious to the fact that I am not your stereotypical offshore worker, but that isn't to say that I am not suited to this line of work. 

'A beautiful women is a beautiful women, but a beautiful women with a brain is an absolutely lethal combination' - Prabal Gurung

We live in a world where you can do both, having career does not make you selfish. There are so many hardworking women out there that successfully juggle a career and a family. My family is the most important thing to me in life and I want nothing more than to one day be a mother, just not yet. About 95% of the guys I work with have families and children that rely on them. People fail to appreciate that they are away from home, missing out on so much to provide for them. It is completely unfair to think of this acceptable for men but not for women. 

So Jenny, thank you for your opinion and feedback it is much appreciated as always. Your comments have reinforced the importance and reasoning behind why I started the blog in the first place. Your negativism will not discourage me, working offshore is the best decision I have ever made and I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and I am excited about my future within the industry. 

The life of a contractor in the middle of a downturn

The harsh realities of 'oilfield money' are still very prominent in many professionals’ lives. I have read relentless amounts of articles on the current crude oil price downturn, the vast majority of which focus on profit loss, production cuts, salary slashing and redundancies. Very few of these articles address or discuss life as an oil and gas professional stuck in the middle of this downturn and the realism of the situation so many personnel and their families are experiencing currently. The number of company closures thus redundancies within the sector is still continuing to rise, so how exactly do these people keep afloat?

I like thousands of other professionals have been experiencing this downturn first hand. It has been a difficult time but you have to try and remain as positive and proactive as possible. There is a lesson to be learnt in every situation no matter how difficult it may seem at the time, this current downturn have taught not only me but others a fair few valuable ones. 

1. Budgeting and Savings

I will most certainly be changing my attitude towards savings and budgeting in the future. A large proportion of the guys I have worked with are the sole breadwinners for their families, the only source of income,  so consequently being sensible with your earnings is vital. A fellow contractor once said to me 'you should save enough of your income to be able to afford a year out of work'. At the time I didn't pay much attention but that message has now really hit home. There are lots of websites, forums and free government monetary advice services available to discuss future spending plans and options.

2. Lifestyle Adjustments

Nothing in life lasts forever and this applies to your job security, an asset that seems pretty non-existent within the oil and gas industry currently. Be prepared to adjust when necessary and don't ever live outside your means. This industry downturn has forced me to take a position onshore within a different sector, this has been a huge adjustment to the system. I like many other offshore workers love working offshore and the lifestyle that comes with it but you can’t be an industry snob, any source of income is better than no source of income. So many of the skills used offshore are transferable and can be adapted to multiple roles within a variety of sectors.

3. Be Proactive

I am a very positive person and a true believer in positive energy, what you put out you get back. Although the current market situation has a very negative feel, this is potentially a great time for you to utilise and use your time productively. If the funds are available then using this time to further your education through additional training and courses is an option. This only strengthens your CV and your position within the industry when opportunities arise again, which they will. 

Keep actively searching but be prepared to broaden your horizons. It is not only a difficult time for experienced professionals seeking employment it's arguably more difficult for those with the desire to start a career offshore. The graduate intake for even the largest organisations was slashed in 2015. BP recruited just 50 graduates in 2015 a huge decline from the 280 employed in 2012. Don’t give up, you might not be successful upon application the first time but you never know where your CV might end up, it may fall into the hands of someone that knows of other better suited roles.

4. Don't be naive

This isn't the first O&G industry downturn and it certainly won't be the last. I have only been in the industry for a couple of years now but this downturn has taught me so much. The oil and gas industry is very volatile and we cannot afford to be naive as similar situations will happen again in the future. I have had some great conversations with guys who experienced the last industry downturn in 2008 caused by the recession. 'Swings and roundabouts' is the general conscientious the more experienced offshore workers have on the current situation. 

5. This won't last forever

You have to remember that this downturn is only temporary. No one can predict the future, no one has a definite date or forecast for the future price of crude oil. Fingers crossed that the $30 a barrel plunge is a low of the past. So whether you have been made redundant, lost out on contract work, had your salary halved, thousands of others are in the same boat.  Remain as positive as possible, we have to continue to ride out the storm. 

 All images courtesy of Menno Mulder, Offshore Photographer

 http://www.mennomulder.com/

Eat, Sleep, Drill, Repeat.

I am often asked what it is like working offshore for lengthy periods of time, what's it like being stuck at sea away from family and friends. The usual 8am commute to work, stuck in excessive traffic is something I am fairly unfamiliar with.  Instead my journey to work consists of usually a 10+ hour flight and a rib boat or helicopter transfer. I very rarely work at the same site twice so my 'office' so to speak is always on the move, in some respects my career resembles that of a Gypsy travellers lifestyle. 

Once onboard you are thrown straight away into work mode, as after all that is what you are there to do. You have your vessel safety induction, get the guided tour of your new 'home' for the next 28 days and more often than not depending on timing you go straight onto shift. The usual working pattern whilst working offshore is that of 24 hour operations, 12 hour shifts - midnight to midday or vice versa. There is no such thing as weekends in the world of offshore, in fact all real sense of time goes out the window. You quickly forget what day of the week it is, days merge into weeks and before you know it weeks have turned into a month.

I have come to terms with the fact that my life has no real structure to it. Project dates are forever changing, extending and being delayed so planning and committing to things back at home is always difficult. I am not a big fan of routine so this lifestyle actually suits me quite well. No one day offshore is ever the same, of course my role and duties stay the same but there are so many variables involved. Every location and hole we drill varies, every soil sample we retrieve is different, every insitu test brings back different results your mind is constantly active while you are on shift. As a geotechnical engineer my job isnt glamorous, its physical and involves getting muddy and sweaty depending on where in the world you are. A typical day offshore for me consists of drilling, sampling, testing, logging and reporting. It is important to keep healthy whilst your offshore so I try to spend at least 30mins a day in the gym after shift which is definitely easier said than done. 

Food, the defining element of a good or a bad stint offshore, well it is for me anyways. The power of a decent well cooked meal offshore is incredible. Hats off to the Norwegians, without a doubt they provide the best food on their vessels - Taco Tuesdays, Steak Saturdays and Seafood Sundays, Bueno! It is always within your interest to make friends with the chefs and crew onboard, it's surprising how many chocolate treats, mars icecreams and packets of popcorn you get given if you take the time to be nice and acknowledge them. 

I am all for home comforts during my time offshore. I thought it might just be a female thing but I can assure you some of the guys bring some weird and wonderful things on board too. I have a travel essentials list that I advice all should take when heading offshore:

  1. A pillow - I might be unlucky but they are always flat as a pancake and well slept on.
  2. Your own bedding - the bedding is generally well used and you can't beat the smell of home washing.
  3. Full length Pyjamas - I always find the rooms cold, aircon seems to be a constant setting onboard.
  4. A 3m long Iphone charger - Plugs always seem to be the furthest possible distance away from your bed as possible. 
  5. Barocca - You always need your Vitamin C no matter where in the world you are.

Initially the guys laughed at the thought of carting your own pillow and bedding but many have come round to my genius way of thinking. Some have even taken it a little overboard, I have seen a couple of people pull out Nutri Bullets from their cases!

I find that my time offshore flies by 6 weeks away from home does not phase me in the slightest, but I know that isn't the case for everyone onboard. Like anything in life you have to immerse yourself in the situation and not put energy into the negatives. Yes you are away from home for a lengthy periods of time,  you are probably missing some sort of birthday or social event, boats are noisy and you forget what silence sounds like but I couldn't imagine myself working in any other sector and being as happy as I am when I am offshore.

It has been a while since my last stint offshore due to the current downturn in oil price, onshore work, the 9-5 lifestyle is definitely an adjustment. I genuinely appreciate the memories and experience working offshore has given me to date. I've been fortunate enough to travel to experience some amazing places and cultures all over the world. 

Decommissioning platforms or a decommissioning workforce?

Is the offshore industry heading towards a skill set meltdown?

The topic of decommissioning is often in the spotlight and a growing emphasis is being put on decommissioning strategies of aging assets. I have been interested in the decommissioning process since university; in fact it was the topic of my dissertation.  Over the next 30 years it is predicted that £30bn worth of decommissioning work will take place in the North Sea alone. Unfortunately the decommissioning of platforms might not be the only element of the offshore industry that faces being 'taken out of service'.

During my career I will see the decommissioning and removal of many aging platforms, that is inevitable, but it would be utter sacrilege if the vast amounts of knowledge that skilled industry personnel have built up over the years gets decommissioned also. The offshore workforce is an aging workforce and many individuals are opting to hang up their tools in favour of an early retirement, at a crucial point when these aging platforms need specialist care and attention.  

It appears that little change in the offshore demographic has occurred since 2006. The 2015 UK Offshore Workforce Demographic Report indicates that the average age of the offshore worker has remained static at 40.8 years old. The offshore workforce and the amount of personnel travelling offshore since 2006 has continued to rise year by year yet the workforce demographic has hardly fluctuated. Many articles hail that the aging workforce myth has been dispelled but statistics seem to suggest otherwise. The current industry downturn affecting hundreds of thousands of individuals across the globe will have dramatic effects on offshore demographics.

Due to the recent plunge in crude oil price, 65,000 jobs have been stripped out of the UK oil industry alone. These cost-cuts could lead to more acute skills shortages in the future. Companies need to be careful that they tread lightly to ensure that key workers possessing important skills remain within the industry to transfer their knowledge to the younger generation of workers. Another aspect of cost-cutting that gets my alarm bells ringing, links back to the devastating events of Piper Alpha. Although I am familiar with the accident due to research relating to my dissertation, many of the younger generation workers unfortunately aren’t. Piper Alpha occurred multiple years before I was born, in a period of industry cost-cutting as a result of the 1986 oil price plunge. Piper Alpha is responsible for the impressive offshore safety culture we have today, but those possessing the knowledge and memories of Piper Alpha are aging and departing the industry.

Times are tough, I am experiencing this downturn first hand. Unfortunately I have not been contracting offshore for a few months now, I have had to take a position onshore within the civil engineering sector to pay my mortgage. The downturn is forcing individuals into an impossible situation, pushing them away from the offshore sector into a variety of onshore roles which offer a greater element of security. The current state of the industry is deterring individuals especially the younger generation away from a career offshore. This year record numbers of students across the UK applied to attend university, the skilled workforce the industry needs is awaiting.

I am a younger generation worker with two years offshore experience in search of a position. Daily I scour through various offshore oil, gas and energy recruitment sites and it is disheartening to see very few if any suitable positions. The majority of the current vacancies are targeted at experienced personnel with 8+ years’ experience. So how exactly do you gain experience if the role requires multiple years of previous experience? 

I feel very fortunate to have spent the past two years within the offshore sector and I will not let this downturn fade my passion for the industry. The 2015 UK offshore Workforce Demographic Report also highlighted a drop of 1.2% in the number of females working within the offshore industry. Women currently make up a mere 3.6% of the offshore workforce, the industry is still heavily male-dominant and the gender gap needs addressing. If executed correctly industry leaders could bridge this growing age and gender gap in one foul swoop. The women’s role within the workplace in other industries has dramatically change over the past century, but unfortunately the Oil and Gas industry is somewhat stuck in the 1940's with regards to female employment patterns, but that is a topic for another blog post.

Bernard Looney, BP’s vice president of Development stated during the Offshore Energy 2015 conference that “We need to emphasize that this is not a sunset industry, but a fast-paced, technological advanced industry that is both exciting and evolving. We need to state how proud we are to work for this industry and how rewarding it is for all involved”. This is a statement I completely agree with and I’m looking forward to brighter times, when the true positive image of the offshore oil and gas industry is portrayed again. Unfortunately 2015 has been a year of many industry negatives but the fantastic memories I have created during my two years offshore still stick with me. We are fast approaching the New Year, 2016 will hopefully be the turning point this industry so desperately needs.

There is only so much you can learn from a text book, the on the job knowledge, advice and experience is crucial as part of any career development. The aging generation of offshore workers are role models that I myself and many other young professionals aspire to be like.

 All images courtesy of Menno Mulder, Offshore Photographer

 http://www.mennomulder.com/