Working Offshore with Victoria Cameron
Victoria Cameron worked offshore for three years as a Production Superintendent and Stand-in OIM on the Buzzard Platform at Nexen, and has now moved back onshore; currently performing the role of Materials, Inventory and Logistics Manager.
Q: Firstly, how did your working offshore come about? Was it something you had always wanted to do?
I started my career as an Operations Process Engineer, before moving into various similar roles with increasing responsibility. Therefore I worked with and supported the offshore teams.
I always wanted the experience of working offshore, and hadn’t managed to work on rotation whilst I was an engineering graduate. Offshore work is such a huge and vital part of the industry, so I was of the view that missing out on this experience would mean I would not be well rounded in my industry understanding. Particularly because I wanted to continue progressing up the management ladder - if I were to ever be responsible for people working offshore, then it would help if I actually understood what they had to deal with!
Q: In what ways did you find working offshore differed from working onshore?
Quite a big difference in many ways – the pace is faster, with much more teamwork, there is a very strong sense of team spirit, less jargon and more getting to the point quickly. My role as a Production Superintendent was similar to office work in that I spent a lot of time in meetings, video conferences and at the computer. However frequent walk-arounds outside, looking at the facilities and talking to the work parties was refreshing and really helped to keep me sane – especially given the working days offshore are much longer.
If things were not going well, then the feeling of adrenalin and the need to fight through it to think clearly can’t really be replicated in the office. Everyone is in the same boat and you know that others will be looking out for you as well, which really helps and I have never felt this to the same extent onshore.
One very obvious difference was the number of women offshore, it was very rare that I was offshore and there were no other women, but nevertheless we still have quite some way to go until there are sufficient numbers of women offshore. There was a point during a trip where I was Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) and also the only woman on the platform – which both shows how far we have come and how far we still have to go. All of the roles offshore can be easily done by women, in fact more women would greatly enhance problem solving by creating more diverse thinking and approaches. I have never come across a colleague offshore who disapproves of women working offshore and I have always been made to feel welcome. Therefore I think it is simply perception and lack of early encouragement that causes too few women to work offshore.
Q: How did you spend your free time when you were offshore?
After a long day and being around people all day, I liked to have some quiet downtime and phone home – there are phones and televisions in all the cabins and some platforms have individual sky boxes in each cabin too (as ours do). So I could record my favourite programmes and catch up with them in the evening after phoning my husband. My husband was very jealous of this as we don’t have Sky at home! There is also a gym on all platforms, a cinema room and a recreation room with a communal large television and Wifi, in addition to a pool table and/or table tennis. We even have a music room for people to either practice some music or play some tunes with others. Every weekend or so the social committee organised bingo or something similar, which is always fun and half the platform usually takes part. I would always go along to this as it was not only light relief but good to show my team that I’m human and am capable of having fun!
Q: What aspects of working and living offshore surprised you?
The biggest surprise was the people side of offshore life – in every way - the huge team spirit, especially when things weren’t going well and we all needed to pull together to get things done. The way that people look out for one another, ostensibly ‘bantering’ and winding each other up, but really showing concern and helping to look after their colleagues if they were struggling. When working so closely with one another offshore, arguments can quickly flare up and just as quickly disappear, the office environment rarely has the same level of teamwork and mutual understanding that offshore life engenders.
Q: What do you wish you had known beforehand? What advice would you give to others about to or contemplating a position working offshore?
I think that I was quite arrogant about how much I knew about offshore life before taking up a role offshore. I worked in onshore operations before coming offshore and had been on numerous offshore visits. However the reality of spending two or three weeks at a time offshore, of being immersed in offshore life, was very different to my original perception. Whilst I knew that it is a much more straight talking and practical working environment, I underestimated the professionalism and pride that people take in their work. The huge collective effort required to maintain everyone’s safety and wellbeing is difficult to explain until you work offshore – it takes so many forms – both overt and subtle.
Q: How easy did you find moving back to an onshore role?
To be honest I struggled a bit to start with, as with all change it takes a while to settle in. I was very used to being direct and matter of fact offshore , mainly due to the fast paced nature of the work and the need to ensure there is no misunderstanding (in case of either creating perceived pressure or someone interpreting poor instructions with potential disastrous consequences). Communicating onshore and in an office environment often requires a message to be softened. I think this is in part because the onshore organisation structure often does not create quite such a strong sense of teamwork, but also you can go home at night and decompress, offshore you have to face up to the problem and deal with it otherwise you very quickly find that the problem comes to bite you!
I have been back onshore for over 18 months now and I have fully adjusted – I think I will always miss the offshore teamwork and their pride in the work however.