Sam Ash is 20 years old and is currently in his final year of the OGTAP apprenticeship and his second year of the on-the-job stage of learning, with about 6 months until the apprenticeship is finished.
I am an apprentice mechanical technician. During college I studied a mixed discipline NC which included fundamental aspects of mechanical, instrumentation, electrical and process engineering. This theory was supplemented with practical training in basic electrical and mechanical maintenance through which I gained an SVQ (Scottish vocational qualification) level 1 (Mixed) and 2 (Mechanical) in performing engineering operations. In my second year at college I gained an HNC with an A pass as well as a certificate in process of hydrocarbons level 1 (POH1) which covered the basics of process operations and the day-to-day operation of a hydrocarbon plant from the perspective of an Operator. I am currently working towards an SVQ level 3 in mechanical process engineering maintenance during my on the job training phase.
Which college and company are you training with?
I went to college at NESCOL in Aberdeen with the practical training taking place at ASET. I am currently sponsored by Nexen Petroleum and work on Nexens Scott platform.
How did you find out about the industry apprenticeship scheme?
I found out about the scheme through friends who had gone through it and highly recommended it. I had been aware of the scheme for a long time and knew it was highly sought after and had a very high % of trainees being taken on into employment at the end of it (A lot higher than most university degrees), I therefore stayed on in school to 6th year to achieve my Highers and give me as good a chance as possible to be accepted into the scheme which, fortunately, I was.
What inspired you to apply?
I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn on the job and gain hands on understanding of mechanical maintenance whilst supplementing it with a strong theoretical background. To me it sounded like an incredibly well-rounded learning experience which would allow me to thoroughly learn my trade. The prospect of being paid to learn these skills made applying to the scheme even more appealing to me. I realised that the OPITO apprenticeship not only offered great experiences and qualifications but it also meant I wouldn’t leave the scheme with debt (unlike university) and also, potentially, offered a great job at the end of it.
What were your perceptions of the oil and gas industry before starting?
Prior to entering the industry I always thought of it as one of the most cutting-edge industries in terms of technology. The idea of working in a challenging environment excited me greatly and the challenges associated with this really drew me to the offshore part of the industry in particular. I was also aware that the offshore oil and gas industry was full of incredibly talented people with a huge pool of knowledge from all over and this was something that I was very keen to tap into and so far I’ve found everyone incredibly helpful, welcoming and happy to teach anyone willing to learn. In terms of mechanical systems I thought that the oil and gas industry would be one of the best places to learn about all things mechanical as there is a huge array of mechanical systems that all combine make the process function.
What has been the best element of the training so far?
I have been incredibly lucky on the Scott platform as everyone has been hugely willing to help me out and share their knowledge. With the help of the mechanical team offshore I have developed my mechanical knowledge hugely. It’s difficult to pinpoint the overall best part of the training but the people offshore have made the experience fantastic and helped me develop both professionally and personally. They have made me feel like a valued member of the team and allowed me to flourish in my role. Ever since I arrived on the platform Nexen’s cultural beliefs have been on display from the start with people putting Safety First at all times and valuing my feedback whenever I offer it as well as providing it to me. The on-the-job training has also been great as every day brings a new challenge and gives me a chance to try and apply my technical knowledge to solve problems. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being given a problem with a piece of equipment diagnosing it, and rectifying the issue.
What has been the most challenging part of it?
The most challenging part at first was adapting to offshore rotas. I missed important occasions and will not be at home on Christmas this year. This all comes with the territory offshore but missing important personal events doesn’t get easier. I was also quite overwhelmed by the size of the platform at first and wondered how on earth the techs offshore knew where everything was. Fortunately, with the help of my colleagues I am now quite comfortable with the layout of the Scott and am able to easily locate most equipment – on the main systems at least!
How do you think your apprenticeship will prepare you for entering the working oil and gas industry?
I feel like the apprenticeship is fantastic in the way that it gives you literal nuts and bolts knowledge of the oil and gas industry. A lot of theoretical knowledge is great but until you have actually overhauled and rebuilt a pump, for example, it is very difficult to picture what each part is and what it does. The apprenticeship gives you that hands-on experience which enhances the theoretical knowledge fantastically. The fact that the apprenticeship actually sends apprentices to offshore and onshore facilities is very important because nothing prepares you for these places quite like actually going there. Overall, the apprenticeship provides a great transition from trainee to technician and allows you to gradually build on your knowledge base and experience to a high level.
How does being on the industry training scheme help you compared to your peers in terms of progressing your career?
Similar answer to the above question. It provides important hands on experience supplemented with theoretical training. University will also be a viable option further down the line due to the fact that the entry requirement for a lot of university degrees is an HNC - which you can gain through the scheme. So I think the on the job training that the scheme gives you is incredibly valuable and makes OPITO’s OGTAP (Oil and Gas Technical Apprenticeship Program) trainees stand out.
What is your ideal job after you finish your apprenticeship?
I would love to be given the opportunity to work as a mechanical technician on the Scott platform as it is something I greatly enjoy doing. Further down the line I would enjoy a job as a supervisor as it will allow me to apply the knowledge I have gained over the years and would allow me the opportunity to mentor and help future talent as my peers help me currently.
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?
Obviously the industry is going through a difficult period just now with far-reaching consequences but there are still great opportunities for talented young people out there as long as they are willing to work hard and put in the effort to achieve what you want. The industry still offers competitive salaries and you get a lot of time off compared to other jobs – those are usually the two most obvious awards. But there is a lot more benefits to a career in the oil and gas industry than just time off and salary. It is an ever changing career with a different challenge every day and one in which you are provided the opportunity to apply your knowledge to solve problems.
What advice would you give to young people thinking of entering the industry after you?
The industry is a great thing to go into if you are looking for a rewarding career that is unlike anything else. If you are willing to work hard and learn from your peers then it is somewhere that you can develop your professional and personal skills with a clear career ladder if that is something that interests you.