Ashley Thomas, is in his 3rd year of the Oil and Gas Technicians Apprenticeship Programme (OGTAP) in the Process Operations discipline.
He is currently based on the Clair Ridge Platform – BP’s newest North Sea Asset, located to the west of Shetland on a 3/4, 3/5 rotation.
How did you find out about the industry apprenticeship scheme?
I first found out about the apprenticeship scheme after being given a very informative presentation and talk from a previous apprentice, and the head of recruitment of OPITO during my time at Peterhead Academy. This initially interested me in the modern apprenticeship itself and the career development opportunities it possessed, however I sought further information and attended the 'Energise Your Future' event held at the AECC by OPITO.
What inspired you to apply?
Having spoken to OPITO's CEO John McDonald at the 'Energise Your Future' event and a relative who is an Operations Supervisor for BP, I took a keen interest into both the Oil & Gas Industry and the Oil & Gas Technical Apprentice Programme. Along with John's informative insight, and my relative's captivating explanations of key Oil & Gas concepts such as process optimisation and production efficiency, growing up right next door to St Fergus Gas Terminal cemented my keen inspiration into working in this industry. I felt this apprenticeship would springboard my career into one with a balance between social experiences and working away from home.
What were your perceptions of the oil and gas industry before starting?
I perceived the industry to be completely focussed on the extraction and production of Oil & Gas with little to no regard of Health & Safety. I thought this because I'd heard the horror stories of Piper Alpha and Deepwater Horizon, and had also been told about the horrific accidents involving helicopters heading to and from offshore. I couldn't have been more wrong as I have learnt that Health & Safety is of the utmost importance within this industry and have understood some of the control measures in place to prevent such tragedies occurring again.
What has been the best element of the training so far?
I've enjoyed being a part of a huge new BP project and being able to see the various stages and processes that are undertaken prior to a platform becoming 'Hydrocarbon Live' - including hook-up & commissioning (HUC), leak testing, segregation isolations and equipment service tests. I’m extremely grateful to also be witnessing a platform being started up for the very first time, including first oil being produced.
What has been the most challenging part of it?
The most challenging part of the training has been coping with being away from home comforts for 3 weeks at a time on 12-hour day and night shifts. I’ve had to come aboard a platform having never previously being offshore and not knowing a single person on it – a huge milestone of character building for myself.
How do you think your apprenticeship will prepare you for entering the working oil and gas industry?
The Oil & Gas Technical Apprentice Programme combines the necessary theoretical learning with vital hands-on practical skills required in today's oil and gas market to fully develop the potential of apprentices and prepare them for the working environment. I will be fully prepared as I have built a strong understanding of various processes undertaken within the industry, and how to operate, fault-find and maintain the equipment that make it possible.
How does being on the industry training scheme help you compared to your peers in terms of progressing your career?
Day-to-day I work alongside some of the most experienced and knowledgeable Oil & Gas professionals. Working on a brand-new installation hoping to produce first oil in December 2018 is huge to my career progression, and it is certainly an experience not many people are lucky enough to encounter. Working with BP for two years of training on the Clair Ridge will provide me with the foot in the door I will require to secure future employment with a company at the forefront of this industry. These are some of the many reasons why this course has a 93% achievement rate compared to the national average of 65%.
What is your ideal job after you finish your apprenticeship?
My ideal position after completing this apprenticeship is to be a fully qualified Operations Technician based offshore. I hope to then either work abroad or to climb the career ladder, eventually ending up as an Offshore Installation Manager – OIM.
Given the current climate of job losses within the industry, why would you encourage young people to enter the oil and gas industry - what are the rewards?
The Oil & Gas Industry will always require fresh-thinking and new innovations from the next generation of the workforce. I would encourage young people to not be repelled by the current economic climate and to instead focus on a particular position they feel their personality and qualifications match.
What advice would you give to young people thinking of entering the industry after you?
I'd say always seek a challenge and look to further yourself - I've been told this industry may end up taking you all over the world so certainly be prepared to work out of your comfort zone! If you are motivated and dedicated enough the experiences that you could encounter within this industry would be second to none.