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A Conversation with Tara Mackay

We are so pleased to share our conversation with Tara Mackay, a Maintenance Analyst and Scheduler for Enquest, who shares her thoughts on the importance of industry apprenticeships as a career pathway into the industry, the camaraderie with her colleagues and the unexpected natural beauty of offshore life.

The Facts

  • Tara completed an apprenticeship with OPITO in 2012 and holds an HNC in Mechanical Engineering, a VQ Level 3 in Processing Operations Hydrocarbons – Mechanical Maintenance and a Stage 3 OPITO Certificate in Petroleum Processing Technology.

  • She initially spent two years at college before moving offshore to work as an apprentice Mechanical Technician on Magnus.

  • She currently works full time as a Maintenance Analyst and Scheduler for Enquest.

  • She is a STEM Ambassador Volunteer with OPITO now OGTAP

Did you know what you wanted to be do career wise when you were at school?


During my school years, I wanted to become an architect and had completed my work experience in this field, before realising that, despite my grades allowing for it, university wasn't the path I wanted to follow. My interests were in STEM subjects such as maths, physics, graphic communication and product design, so naturally it was a technical orientated career that I was keen to pursue, but in all honesty, I hadn't even considered the Oil and Gas Industry as an option, and certainly not offshore, as it was always perceived as a male dominated environment.


How did you hear the OPTIO apprenticeship and what was the selection process for this?


Growing up in a rural area and attending such a small school, there was only an awareness of local apprenticeship opportunities at that time. It wasn’t until a friend had commenced the OPITO apprenticeship following a presentation from a representative attending their school, that I’d learned of the incredible opportunity to kick-start a career in the energy sector. The selection process for the OPITO apprenticeship consisted of an initial application, followed by an aptitude test, and if successful, a final interview at OPITO. It’s hugely important to ensure opportunities such as these are communicated with a broader audience to encourage the younger generation to join the industry, and it’s exactly this which has been my inspiration for becoming a STEM Ambassador Volunteer.


 Tell us more about the apprenticeship, how did you find this?


The apprenticeship consists of two phases, the first of which commences at college, working towards an NC in Engineering Systems, before focused study on a specific discipline to achieve, in my case, a HNC in Mechanical Engineering. To supplement the knowledge, practical classes are undertaken such as mechanical maintenance and hand-fitting, allowing for gaining an insight into the work which may be encountered offshore. Additionally, partaking in both theory and practical process classes, provides an overall understanding of the operation of a platform. 


The knowledge and practical experience gained at college is the ideal combination to prepare for the final phase of the apprenticeship which takes place on an offshore or onshore asset, in the role of an Apprentice Technician, via a two-year sponsorship from an energy company. During this time, the experience gained during the day-to-day operations allows for successful completion of an NVQ Level 3 Processing Operations Hydrocarbons – Mechanical Maintenance, and to continue enhancing operations experience, a Stage 3 OPITO Certificate in Petroleum Processing Technology is also achieved. This investment into future career success is highly motivating and makes the apprenticeship a hugely rewarding experience.


Your first offshore platform was Magnus, one of the biggest and oldest in the UK – how did you find this? Were there many other females on board at the time?


Mobilising offshore for the first time was admittedly a daunting experience, even just the prospect of the flight out there. However, the welcoming atmosphere was immediately apparent upon arrival, and promptly settled my nerves.


The size of the platform is definitely overwhelming at first – anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Magnus should recall the seemingly never-ending flights of stairs from heli-admin down to the temporary refuge for the welcome brief, and that’s before even stepping foot out on the plant! It certainly takes time, and a fair bit of getting lost, to comfortably find your way around. 


When I started offshore, there were generally between 1 and 4 women on the platform at any one time, which was honestly a pleasant surprise, but in comparison to the usual POB of 180-200, we were evidently a minority. Despite this, it’s not something that ever really crossed my mind – it’s often said, “it’s the people that make Magnus”, which is one of the many reasons I’m grateful to have commenced my offshore career there. The welcoming atmosphere, the friendly crew, and the sheer amount of time you spend together, it inevitably ends up feeling like a second home and an extended family.


How did you find working an offshore rotation?


In my opinion, the offshore rotation provides an outstanding work-life balance. While the trips offshore could feel long at times, particularly during the winter nightshifts (not seeing daylight for weeks at a time), the ability to travel or spend quality time with family and friends during my time off more than made up for it!


As with any working pattern, there’s pros and cons, and although the rotation suited me perfectly the majority of the time, there were instances where it was challenging. It’s of course difficult being away from loved ones, missing important events, etc., but with mobiles and Wi-Fi, it’s certainly easier to keep in contact than it would have been in previous years, and due to the close-knit nature of the offshore community, there was always someone to talk to if you were feeling down. Additionally, the quiz nights, competitions and celebration of holidays offshore ensured spirits were kept high!


In 2019 you moved from Magnus to Heather, how was this asset in comparison to Magnus?


It was undeniably a bittersweet experience leaving the Magnus - an emotional goodbye, but having only ever been on the one asset, I was eager to embrace the challenge of another. With starting afresh, the nerves inevitably crept back in prior to my first trip, but Heather immediately felt like home and an extended family again.


As a considerably smaller asset, with a lower POB, there were noticeably less women, but similarly to Magnus, it’s something which never played on my mind. Either I was extremely lucky with my colleagues (and friends) on both assets, or there’s a similar camaraderie of the crews on all offshore platforms – I suspect it’s a bit of both!


Despite being operated by the same company, it was both interesting and valuable to experience a slightly different culture and way of working, particularly when it was confirmed the asset was commencing the decommissioning process.


In 2020 you moved to an onshore role, how did this come about and do you miss anything about working offshore?


As a result of the COVID downturn, redundancies were announced within the company, of which were the role of mechanical technicians on the asset. During the redundancy consultation process, I expressed my interest in the onshore vacancies, to which HR identified the role of Maintenance Analyst as being in alignment with my skills and experience. Hence, I undertook the application and interview process, and ultimately secured the role.


Having spent my career offshore up until this point, I was nervous starting afresh again, unsure of what to expect of the onshore working environment, but quickly realised it’s the same close-knit team here too. One thing I do miss about working offshore though, is the location of the platforms – they’re unexpectedly beautiful places to work, with the uninterrupted views, sunrises/sunsets, diverse sea life, and even the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but admittedly, I don’t miss the long commutes out there, or the delay days quite so much!


Initially, I expected the biggest difficulty to be missing the extended periods of time off, and while I would still be delighted to have four and five weeks off at a time, I’m now incredibly grateful to not be away for any life events, holiday seasons, etc.


Tell us about your role since you moved onshore?


While I was excited to start this new chapter of my career, it was a shock to the system transferring onshore during COVID lock down – it’s a huge contrast between the bustling offshore environment and working in isolation at a desk in your own home, especially moving into an entirely different role within a new team.


However, as with offshore, I was incredibly fortunate with the most helpful and welcoming team, despite only having met virtually for a full year! It was both challenging and rewarding learning the role of Maintenance Analyst within the Magnus Maintenance Team, and my prior experience on the platform proved beneficial during this process. Experiencing the onshore side of operations for the first time was extremely interesting and allowed for gaining a completely new perspective within the industry.


The role itself encompasses responsibilities such as management and execution of data change requests within the computerised maintenance management system, ownership of the performance standard review process, supporting verification scheme delivery via liaising with the independent verification body to drive identified improvement opportunities through to closure, etc. This role has also developed to include accountability for the maintenance scheduling process, through effective management of schedules in alignment with priorities and resource availability, which has allowed for gaining additional skills and proficiency in new systems, as well as further collaboration within both the onshore and offshore teams.


Where would you like your career to progress to in the short and medium term?


In terms of career progression, I’m keen to continue development within the maintenance team, expanding my skill set via delving deeper into the scheduling and planning process, gaining additional knowledge and experience through working with those who are experts in the field, and taking opportunities to provide cover for these roles.


Additionally, spending several of my offshore years in the voluntary role of Safety Representative ignited a passion for safety which I’ve been eager to develop. Hence, I commenced self-funded studies in the month prior to starting onshore, to achieve my NEBOSH National General Certificate, and keen to continue educating myself, I’m currently working towards the NEBOSH National Diploma. There have also been training opportunities within the company which I’ve undertaken to become an internal auditor and investigator, as Health and Safety is an avenue which I’m highly enthusiastic about pursuing.


Do you have any advice for anyone considering an apprenticeship or a career in the energy industry?


The dynamic nature of the energy industry makes for an incredibly engaging and rewarding environment to commence a working career. It’s an excellent line of work for both personal and professional development – the lessons learned and skills acquired can be utilised in all aspects of life.


As the industry is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the energy transition, now is a particularly exciting time to be amidst the change, with new innovations and prospects always on the horizon. So, my only advice would be to seize any opportunity to become an integral part of the ever-advancing energy sector!

The OPTIO apprenticeship that Tara did, now OGTAP (soon to be APTUS) is currently open for applications. You can learn more about it here: []


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