By JOANNE LIM
WORKING in the oil and gas industry poses many challenges to those who dare risk their lives for a “unique” career experience.
Engineers working in offshore oil rigs are confronted with hazardous materials everyday, including vessels, pumps, valves, heat exchangers, contact towers, compressors and flare systems.
Despite being the only woman on the offshore rigs in Miri, Norliza Mohd Nor has embraced the demanding job of assistant drilling supervisor, leading a team of 30 male drillers.
She finds the job schedule (working alternate weeks) the most enjoyable part of her job, not to mention a handsome salary of almost RM4,000 monthly, including offshore allowances.
She was hired two months before completing her Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering at the Texas A & M University in 1991.
Norliza, then 25, joined Shell immediately upon returning to Malaysia after graduation. She admits that it was not a “usual” working environment at the rigs.
“When I started in 1991, the job was male-dominated and it was challenging for me to manage others’ expectations. I had to make sure it did not jeopardise the professionalism in my work and not let that get in the way of doing my job,” she says.
Looking back after 11 years in the oil and gas industry, Norliza says the experience has been fun yet stressful with the heavy responsibility she has had to handle offshore.
“Yes, you’re a woman, probably the only one, but it should not affect your technical ability and the way you make sound judgements,” she says.
Now, at 36, Norliza is a sub-surface adviser for the Peninsular Malaysia Business & Shell Non-Operated Joint Ventures. Her work involves working on offshore rigs, corporate planning, economics, and project evaluation.
For team mate Anuar Talib who started in 1990 as a drilling supervisor, working with Shell Exploration & Production in Miri has been enjoyable.
“The worst part of the job was not having time for my family, especially when my first son was born in 1992. I couldn’t be with my wife during delivery because my colleague did not turn up for the crew change,” he recalls.
Peninsular Malaysia Business & Shell Non-Operated Joint Ventures manager Kenny Leong talks about the challenges he faced when he first joined Shell 10 years ago as a pipeline engineer in charge of building huge pipelines that take in oil and gas from offshore.
“I missed my family a lot although it was only a two-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur,” he says.
On the oil and gas industry job market, regional recruitment manager Leslie Hayward says there are opportunities for everyone at Shell due to its various fields of specialisation, including Human Resources, Exploration & Production and Information Technology.
“There is no set of personality boxes that one can tick and be assured that the person would be a “Shell person”. However, it would be key to have confidence, self-discipline, enthusiasm and good personal skills to excel in this industry,” he says. “On top of that, the income is excellent. Let’s just say, I’m not complaining.”
Commenting on the public’s perception of rig workers, Anuar chuckles: “Don’t be conned by what you see in the movies, we (oil rig workers) aren’t all loud mouthed and rough.”
The following is a Q & A with Norliza:
What qualifications drilling supervisors need?
You need at least a Bachelor of Science in Engineering or any other applied science to qualify for this field.
However, experience is not very necessary as there will be a series of training courses for technical graduates to mould them in specific areas which will take about three to five years, covering different modules and on-the-job training.
What does an offshore drilling supervisor do?
I was a part of a two-man leadership team, leading 90 to 110 people in offshore drilling wells to find oil and gas. One of my responsibilities was to ensure the equipment was running in the right sequence.
Delivering wells is a task requiring focus, coordination and constantly thriving on highly challenging and stressful events.
If anything goes wrong, you are responsible for rectifying the problem and handling the situation appropriately. Job delegation is also an essential part of the job, as well as seeing to it that tasks are carried out properly.
What kind of personality suits this career?
It is important that you are open to challenges because the job is rather dangerous and there are risks of explosions and accidents anytime if something goes wrong. A person who is vivacious, extroverted, steadfast and motivated would fit the job personality profile.
What’s the worst about your job?
Being on-call 24 hours seven days a week is a challenge as operation does not stop at the rigs. The problem is not getting enough “solid” sleep because you’re not sure when you are even able to sleep.
On top of that, there’s the anxiety and anticipation over the outcome of a project as all the pressure is on you.
And the best part?
It’s really a great job, especially when you are not married because being away for a week is not really an issue. With the next week off, you can enjoy plenty of activities, meet a lot of people, go out with friends and pursue personal interests.
I have a flexible work schedule; it’s not the usual nine-to-five job behind an office desk. It is fun as I am working with friends more than just colleagues.
You also get a sense of achievement after completing a project. That in itself is fulfilling and inspires you to tackle the next project.
What is the income range?
A fresh graduate with no experience can start at RM2,500 with a monthly allowance of RM1,500. An assistant drilling supervisor can earn up to RM12,000 a month after 10 years of service.
It varies according to the business and increases with experience, performance, qualification and job location.
What are the career prospects?
There are vast opportunities at the international level, subject to one’s job performance and mobility.
Joining Shell has been an adventure to me. Prospects are excellent, and Shell allows me to have a say in charting my own career prospects.
Employees have the opportunity to work in any part of the world; it is an open market where applications can be made through the intranet.
Those interested in working offshore, especially women, must not limit themselves just because they think it’s a male domain or it’s too difficult. Sometimes we create our own barriers. Don’t let people tell you what you cannot do. Set out to do it and prove them wrong.
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