Rhona Macdonald

Maintenance & Integrity Planner, Chevron

How did you get to where you are today?

I initially went to uni aged 17 and started a Physiotherapy degree – I lasted 3 months.  Absolutely hated it!  So a year later I went back to uni and did a BSc Hons Sports & Exercise Science followed by a Post Grad Diploma in HR Management (I panicked after my BSc and had no idea what I wanted to do so stayed in the safe haven of further education).  After uni I worked as a leisure attendant at Aberdeen City Council run sports centres as a stop gap whilst I applied for HR jobs.  However, during this time a friend said there was “some sort of HR related job” being advertised – one of his colleagues was trying to fill the vacancy and to just send my CV to him and he would forward it on.  This job turned out to be for a Technical Assistant based offshore on Chevron’s Alba Northern Platform with the employing company being KBR.  To my surprise I got the job even though I had no offshore experience - apparently what swung it was the Post Grad Diploma (for some reason it was a stipulation) and the fact that I wasn’t fazed about going offshore (I had no idea what “offshore” was).

Unfortunately after 2 years offshore my contract ended.  So I moved onshore as a Technical Assistant for Step Change in Safety, then moved to Shell (employed by Wood Group) as an onshore Technical Assistant in the Central Asset Maintenance Team (Gannet, Shearwater and Nelson platforms), then found myself back offshore on Alba Northern as Systems & Planning Support (this time employed by PSN).  Each role added to my experience and I’d been savvy enough during my 2 years on Alba first time around to learn about maintenance management systems and their use and get hands on experience even though that wasn’t what I was there to do.

In 2010 I swapped from contractor to Chevron employee and was transferred from the Alba field to the Captain field. This was a good move as I gained experience of different plant set ups and an FPSO which has marine elements (I also experienced the joys of seasickness).  In 2014 I was offered an onshore secondment to run the Walk to Work project and it was during this time I started thinking I fancied a change from working offshore. So a few months after the project finished and I had gone back offshore, an onshore planners job came up and I decided to go for it.  I’ve been working onshore now as a Maintenance Planner since early 2015 and developing my planning skills with on the job training.  My offshore experience has helped me greatly in this role.

What interested you about the oil and gas industry?

I’ll be honest – I had no idea about the oil industry even though I grew up in Aberdeen.  No one in my family had ever worked for an operator or services company.  Obviously I’d seen news articles about offshore platforms, heard friends mention their dad was “offshore”, and I remembered Piper Alpha but as to what actually goes on offshore?  Not a clue.  I wanted a job and as luck would have it, this sounded like an interesting, unconventional job. Two weeks away from home working and three weeks at home……not working? Going to work on a helicopter? I couldn’t get my head around it.

However, what interested me when I finally made it offshore was just the sheer size of all the equipment.  The miles of cables, monitoring equipment, shifts, 24/7 365 days a year, these things called “Christmas Trees”. How did this stuff all work?  Every day was a school day, and there was always something different going on.  There’s also a massive variety of jobs – something for everyone – and the ability to gain experience and move into other areas.

Memorable decisions or moments in your career:

Taking that leap of faith into the unknown (i.e. offshore) and accepting that first job.

An offshore trip where I realised that out of the 140 people on board, I was the only female, and everyone knew my name.

Undertaking the Walk to Work project – running a $15M project, dealing with wide ranging topics from equipment to hire, to employing people, to how offshore operations with the ship were to be undertaken.  Thinking on my feet and having to make decisions based on safety, welfare and equipment limitations.

Making the decision to change from the offshore life and come onshore to further my career.

Any advice for people looking to start a career in the oil and gas industry?

Definitely give it a go.  I certainly haven’t regretted it.  Don’t assume that because you don’t have the experience/right qualifications that you can’t get to where you want to – I’ve got a Sports and Exercise degree, completely unrelated to what I’m doing now!  The industry has so much to offer to enthusiastic, motivated young people.  Take the opportunities that come your way, there’s so much scope for on the job learning and job specific qualifications. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – if you don’t know, ask!