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  • Role: Mechanical Static Engineer

Clare Ashton

Clare Ashton is a Mechanical Static Engineer for Shell. We caught up with her to find out about working offshore and the thrill of seeing ideas become reality.

Did you go on a gap year before starting work? What do you think of them?

I went travelling for 4-5 months following graduation. I’m really glad that I took this time out as it allowed me to see new places, experience new things and meet new people. I felt like I developed a lot of skills during this time and feel it is a great way of establishing independence and finding out what really drives you as a person.

I had previously completed an assessed internship with Shell in the second half of my fourth year at university and as a result was offered a job with the company. This allowed me some freedom to travel before starting work.

Did you join a formal graduate scheme when you finished university?

I joined the Shell Develop programme as a Mechanical Static Engineer within the Exploration and Production part of the business. This scheme is structured to teach and develop graduates into future leaders. It has a very broad base, teaching all new technical graduates about the oil and gas industry from the sub-surface to topsides operations.

As I continue with the formal training it becomes more specific to my role as a Mechanical Engineer, although I also have the opportunity to attend commercial and leadership training courses. During my graduate training, I will complete three separate placements within my discipline to give me a good grounding in different aspects of mechanical engineering within Shell.

Why is Shell a good place to work?

I like the fact that Shell is such a big company with lots of different branches and opportunities. I work in an international projects department, which allows me the opportunity to hear about and work on different projects that we’re developing globally. The scale and challenges involved in some of these projects is sometimes breath-taking and very exciting.

On a more personal level, I enjoy the day to day experience of working with skilled people in a variety of different roles who are very keen to impart their experience to young engineers. I enjoy learning both from them and from my on-the-job experience.

What is a typical day like for you?

I am currently working on a compression project for a platform in the North Sea. I was placed on the mechanical design team for this project when I first joined Shell and as the project developed I moved into the construction side of the project, which has given me great on site, practical experience and a good introduction to project engineering.

Every day has been different since I started working at the construction yard. My role here is to assist the contractor with the construction, assembly and load-out of the structural, mechanical, electrical and logistical parts of the offshore modules and to ensure that Shell’s interests are protected. On a typical day, I can expect to deal with day to day issues such as material deliveries and problems experienced by the construction team, such as trouble with pipe spool or valve assembly. I also meet with subcontractors, such as lifting consultants and surveyors, to discuss project issues.

How many people are on your team?

That depends on where you define the limits of our team! I work with a range of people from Shell and our contractors and subcontractors.

During the design stage of the project I worked in a small piping team of five people, but we had to interact with all other disciplines e.g. process, structural, control and automation and therefore the design team consisted of at least 30 people. At the moment, there are about 20 people on the Shell project team dealing with construction, commissioning, planning and logistics. Within offshore there are at least another 10 dedicated project employees. This doesn’t include the contractors’ team, which consists of a project manager, project engineer and a work crew of six people. All in all I suppose you could say that it takes a lot of input from a lot of different people to execute a project successfully.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy working with a lot of different people in different roles all trying to achieve the same thing – a successful project. Day to day, I enjoy the problem solving aspect of my job. If one of the guys working in the yard comes to me with a problem I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to solve it. These problems can be technical or logistical but I very much enjoy being able to solve them. I also like witnessing the construction of a module which I helped design. Seeing something develop from pictures and drawings into a solid, structural process module is very fulfilling.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?

The thing that always amazes me about project design is the broad range of functions that have to be designed for a module/platform/skid. The main objective of a module is to perform its function i.e. for the process to operate as required but it also has to be designed so that it can be constructed, assembled, transported to its final destination and installed. I think the most challenging thing about any job is to fulfil all requirements for all stakeholders. This requires a lot of different input from a wide range of different parties and ensuring that everything happens as it should, which can be very difficult.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

I worked on the design and construction of a number of modules to be installed offshore on the North Sea platform. I went out on the supply vessel with the modules and watched them being installed. This was a very proud moment for me as I had been heavily involved with the project from the start of detailed design and it was very rewarding to watch modules being built and finally installed from drawings which I helped create.

Is there much chance to travel with your work?

There’s some opportunity to travel. A lot of the training courses I did took place in Holland, so I’ve been there frequently. I’ve also travelled to vendor sites in the UK as part of my job. My next placement with Shell will be in Ireland, while a number of my friends have moved abroad from the UK to Holland as part of their graduate placement.

What else would you like to achieve?

I want to be a skilled, competent professional engineer who is able to add value to the organisation. I would like experience in operations to allow me to further understand the oil and gas industry, as the fundamental part of the Exploration and Production business is to produce hydrocarbons.

Do you have any advice for graduates wanting to get into the Energy industry?

Be enthusiastic and determined. I think that it pays to be focused on what you want to achieve in your career and how you want to develop. The energy industry relies on people with a vast range of skills and it is beneficial to know and understand which area you want to join.

What qualities do you need to succeed in engineering?

I think you need to be able to work well in teams. Engineering is not just about innovation and science, it is also about large groups of people with specific expertise working together to produce an end result. You also need to be determined and eager to learn from everyone and everything you do. I think that graduates coming straight from university sometimes forget that the smallest jobs are also important and you can learn just as much doing those as you can from the large, glamorous jobs.

What’s the biggest myth about your industry?

Many people believe that engineering is a male dominated industry and in my view this is mostly true – however, at Shell there are a large number of young, female, engineers that are progressing within the company. I enjoy working in a company with has a diverse workforce as this results in a lot of different opinions and interesting discussions.

What lessons have you learnt since graduation?

I have learned a lot about the realities of working as an engineer in the oil and gas industry. One of the most important is that ‘the devil’s in the detail’. In my experience the successful execution of a project can be made by attention to detail. This particularly applies to projects offshore where there are significant limitations such as space, time and workforce. This can impact projects because if you forget to ship a single item of equipment, even something as small as a bolt or nut offshore, it can mean significant delays to the schedule due to the time it takes to send another supply boat.

What does the future hold?

I am planning to move to Ireland as part of the programme I am on. This new job will give me the opportunity to develop my skills in project engineering and to extend them into commissioning. I hope to gain experience in a wide range of sectors within Shell’s Exploration and Production so that I can work independently as a professional engineer and contribute to the company’s success.

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