Working Offshore with Sarah Clark
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Last year, we posed a number of questions to Victoria Cameron about her experiences of working Offshore as a Production Superintendent and Stand-in OIM on the Buzzard Platform at Nexen.
We decided to get another perspective on this important topic which is pertinent to so many working in the oil and gas industry. This time we spoke to Sarah Clark from WorleyParsons; we asked her the same questions that we had put to Victoria previously.
Q: Firstly, how did your working offshore come about? Was it something you had always wanted to do?
After working on an Engineering & Construction (E&C) contract for over three years, I took a year out of engineering to learn more about the business, which was in 2016. As that year came to an end, I decided I wanted to develop my technical knowledge further before progressing into a management role.
I had identified one of my gaps was in commissioning knowledge. We had three large commissioning projects on at that time, so I used my contacts and enquired about a possible position offshore, which led me to a role as a process isolating authority and running the Process Safety Valve calibration campaign in June 2017.
I had wanted to complete a rotational field role as I think it’s really key in development for engineers, and for someone who wants to one day run a project, to understand the difficulties faced when trying to progress work.
Q: In what ways did you find working offshore differed from working onshore?
Working offshore and onshore is completely different. Days go faster offshore, even though you work longer hours. Onshore I’m contracted to eight hours, will sometimes work nine hours and struggle for 10 hours; offshore I work a minimum of 14 hours. The difference with offshore is being able to go to and from the park, you’re changing your scenery regularly and not stuck behind a desk!
There’s also a greater sense of urgency and when something is going wrong you can feel the adrenaline – which isn’t to say the office doesn’t have that, it’s just a different level of adrenaline rush.
The people are also different. The majority of the offshore workforce have worked their way through an apprenticeship and have a lot of knowledge about the equipment including when it doesn’t sound quite right, which is invaluable and not something you can learn about from a textbook!
The obvious difference is the number of women. On my project offshore there was a higher percentage of women compared to other offshore projects, but still a much smaller number than onshore. The women offshore included myself and three others who are engineers, one is a technician and another five from vendors in the technical roles - an obvious gap in the number of men versus the number of women. I worked with the majority of people extremely well, I felt valued and if I had an issue my management listened. I do feel the lack of women at a technician level is a problem. No one says out loud that they don’t respect you; it’s more subtle, harder to prove and often unconscious bias. For me, it was really evident because my back-to-back was a man in his 40s and we would talk about our team. I’m a people pleaser and want to be liked, but people do take advantage of that, and will throw it back on you when they don’t like something. This has been one of my biggest learning, to take more of a stand and escalate quicker when I think respect is in question. My management team offshore supported me by talking to the individuals in question, but it does affect your moral, experience and your trip. No one should go to work and be made to feel they’re not valued.
I found the time off (two weeks) to be good and bad. I probably procrastinated more on my two weeks off compared to weekends off, because I felt I had loads of time, and it always went too quickly. The impact of your lack of sleep whilst offshore, fuelling myself on adrenaline and coffee, took its toll those first few days home.
Being single, I found it unsurprisingly difficult to meet people and maintaining that relationship once I went offshore, mostly because the questionable Wi-Fi and not having constant access to a mobile.
Q: How did you spend your free time when you were offshore?
Free time is limited. You get up around 5.30am, and work until 8/8.30pm, there’s maybe an hour or so before bed. I’d use that hour or so to shower, read, answer messages and relax. I toyed with the idea of the gym, but often it was just an idea!
Q: What aspects of working and living offshore surprised you?
You’re around the same people all day long, and yet, you don’t really get sick of each other. At least I didn’t. Sometimes there will be arguments, but often this was blown over just as quickly, and you move on.
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’d say if you’re offered the opportunity to go offshore in any capacity do it.
It’s such a great learning opportunity. You simply can’t appreciate everything about offshore until you experience it. The amount of effort it takes to keep the offshore beast continuing to operate; from the staff that look after the wellbeing of the workers, the workforce all the way to the Offshore Delivery Manager (ODM)/Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) including the safety and quality standards we are expected to follow and enforce; everyone works hard and often goes above the expectations.
Q: How easy did you find moving back to an onshore role?
I found this relatively easy. My role offshore was coming to an end, and during my end of year personal development review a couple months earlier, I had discussed future roles with my discipline manager. So when the workload started to run down, the search of a new role started and it coincided well with a new FEED project – which was another gap I had previously identified.