If the idea of travelling to work by helicopter and then working on a remote platform in the North Sea appeals to you, then maybe you should consider working offshore in the oil and gas sector.
I must admit, finding and applying for offshore jobs without any experience is not easy, but it is by no means impossible. The offshore industry requires a wide range of different skills, qualifications and personalities to keep the black gold flowing. These roles include roustabouts/roughnecks (labourers), drillers, engineers, scientists, tradesman, radio ops, chefs, stewards, and managers.
There is a well-known recruitment tradition in the UK, North Sea: New starts need previous offshore experience. This complicates matters for those who have never been offshore before. Speaking from experience, you will need to be patient, persistent, and prepared to make sacrifices in your offshore job-hunting strategy.
I worked offshore in the UK North Sea for nearly 15 years before moving into operations management for an oilfield service company. When I was a green applicant applying for every job I could find, I had moments when I nearly gave up. Depending on your situation and how much you want it, my advice is to keep on going. Nobody ever achieved anything by giving up.
In my case, it took me two years to get my lucky break, and I admit there was an element of luck. The operations coordinator had misread my CV and was under the impression I had already been offshore. They didn’t realise their mistake until I was at the heliport. By that time, it was too late to mobilise a replacement. Lucky me!
North Sea Offshore Safety Training
The minimum age for working in offshore jobs is 18. Candidates for training programmes must usually be at least 16 years of age, so that they are able to partake in offshore training once they turn 18 years of age.
Offshore Survival (AKA the BOSIET or RGIT)
Every offshore worker is required to undertake a mandatory offshore survival course and medical.
The Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET), is a three-day safety course which includes first aid, firefighting, sea survival, and the famous Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET).
The HUET training is a simulator which replicates a helicopter submerging underwater and becoming inverted. The trainees will undertake a series of HUET escape drills under various conditions, including using Emergency Air Breathing (EBS) equipment. It can be a stressful process for some trainees, but it is not as bad as it sounds. There is always a safety diver in the water to observe the process in case anything goes wrong.
The training course should be completed with an OPITO approved training supplier. The BOSIET, HUET, and EBS variants are all separate units that can be purchased individually. Usually, a training provider will offer them as a complete package, but if you are funding the course yourself, you should double check you have all elements required for working offshore in the UK sector. The BOSIET is valid for four years and needs to be renewed before the four years expires by taking a Further Offshore Emergency Training (FOET). The FOET is a one-day course retaking the firefighting and HUET training. If you allow certificate to expire, you are required to retake the complete three-day BOSIET.
Offshore workers also require an OGUK medical certificate. This is required to be completed before you take the BOSIET, to confirm you’re medically fit for the training, as well as fit for offshore work. The one-hour examination will give you a thorough once over, checking heart rate, blood pressure, sight, hearing, urine analysis, general health and body mass index check.
The medical needs to be renewed every two years.
Minimum Industry Safety Training (MIST)
MIST is a two safety training course designed for offshore workers new to the industry.
The course will include units on:
- Introduction to the hazardous offshore environment
- Working safely including safety observations systems
- Understanding the risk assessment process
- Tasks that require a permit to work
- Personal responsibility in maintaining asset integrity
- Using Manual Handling Techniques every day
- Controlling the use of hazardous substances offshore
- Knowledge and practices of working at height
- Being aware of mechanical lifting activities
- Types of Offshore Jobs
Offshore workers may also be required to undertake a similar online safety induction course before they travel offshore specially tailored for an oil company, operator, or rig specific.
Basic Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) Training
H2S training is mandatory for personnel travelling offshore to areas where they will encounter hydrogen sulphide. H2S is a gas commonly found during the drilling and production of crude oil and natural gas. It is detrimental to a person’s health if inhaled and H2S safety is taken extremely seriously.
You may be required to undertake other safety training courses based on your job position or on the conditions at your rig site.
Types of Offshore Jobs
When looking for a job offshore in the UK, North Sea, it is a good idea to understand the varied job types. This will help you plan a career path in the offshore oil and gas sector. Many of these roles have very different qualifications and career routes. Those looking for a start, will most likely take any job they can, so that they can get that valuable offshore experience. When I started offshore, I was a mechanical technician on a production platform. I eventually took a degree in petroleum geology and became a geologist on a drilling rig. This is by no means typical, but it demonstrates the varied job styles you can work towards.
For the purposes of this article, I will divide the offshore jobs into three divisions. Drilling jobs, construction/process jobs, and support staff. This is a simplified description, but it will help you to understand the general groupings of specialised staff offshore. I will also highlight some of entry level positions for each.
An offshore drilling rig is a mobile platform with the iconic derrick tower used for winching drill pipes. The drilling rig is responsible for drilling the well bore for exploration, or production. Some of the larger fixed leg production platforms can have their own drilling units built in to platform structure.
The following jobs are suitable for entry level candidates.
Roustabouts are general labourers who perform unskilled manual labouring jobs on the drilling rig. They can also be found on production platforms. They keep the rig deck clean and tidy and fulfil the banksman slinger role to assist the crane operator move equipment and unload the supply vessel.
As the roustabout is a starting position which needs no experience and few qualifications, they have become sought after jobs. It is rare to see a roustabout job advertised accepting greenhands (workers who have never been offshore).
Your best bet is to contact the drilling companies that operate the drilling rigs and send some speculative applications. You can also look out for drilling apprenticeship or trainee programs. Depending on your qualifications, you may start at the roustabout level in these programs as well.
The floorhand is the next level of labourer to the roustabout. They work on the drill floor running the drill pipe under supervision from the driller. Using mechanical tongs, the floorhand connects the long lengths of pipe together after the driller winches a new pipe into place. This can be a dangerous environment to work, and floorhands need to be highly vigilant and alert.
The floorhand will work in all conditions often getting very dirty and wet. It is physically very demanding. With the invention of the “iron roughneck”, an automated drill pipe connection system, the roughneck is removed from the tong operations.
If you have a slinger qualification and some offshore drilling experience you can often bypass the roustabout role and apply directly for floorhand jobs. Many roughnecks started their careers as roustabouts. The drilling rig roustabouts will often stand in for a roughneck to take a break, and to gain experience running pipe.
Muddlogging Geologist (Mudlogger)
A mudlogger is a junior geologist on a drilling rig responsible for collecting samples of drill cuttings from the shale shakers for geological analysis. The mudlogger will usually require an honours degree in geology, or a related subject, and the mudlogger role is considered somewhat of a graduate position.
The mudlogger works inside a mobile laboratory called the mudlogging cabin in pairs of a mudlogger and a data engineer. The mudlogger will eventually be promoted to a data engineer with experience. The data engineer supervises the mudlogger, undertakes geochemical and drilling gas analysis, and monitors all the parameters observed by the driller as an independent safety measure.
The salary for a mudlogging geologist can be at the lower end of the offshore scale, but the experience the mudlogger can achieve by working in the mudlogging lab is priceless for offshore drilling. It is common to find well site geologists, drilling supervisors, or even offshore installation managers who started their offshore careers as mudloggers.
Drilling Waste Management Operators.
Also known as ship and skip operators, this is a labouring job which requires some technical aptitude. Some drill rigs send their drilling waste to shore to be cleaned or treated. The operator is responsible for operating and maintaining the conveyor belts that fill the skips, and preparing the skips for shipping back to the shore base.
You can sometimes find this type of work in offshore agencies. They will offer you a day rate to work as a junior ship and skip operator. However, as you can imagine, there are always experienced applicants vying for these roles as well.
The drilling engineer will require an honours degree in petroleum engineering or similar. Usually, a masters is required to work as a drilling engineer for an oil company such as Shell or BP. Engineers evaluate sites that contain oil, calculate the amount of oil that can be recovered, or supervise drilling operations until oil wells are exhausted.
Construction and Process Roles
If you are a qualified tradesman working onshore, such as scaffolder, electrician, pipefitter, welder, or mechanic, then maybe you already have qualifications suitable to work offshore. These trades are always required on offshore platforms, especially the large production platforms which require a lot of maintenance and operations manpower.
Yoru chances will be further enhanced if you have experience in a process environment onshore such as a refinery, petro-chemical plant, or terminal. To stand out from the crowd you may need to undertake your own BOSIET and medical to get a start.
Most platforms undergo summer shutdown schedules, where the production is shutdown in stages to maintain and inspect equipment. During this time the platforms will require a big uptake in tradesman, so it is a great way to get some experience.
Technicians play a crucial role in the production of oil and in maintaining the systems used in its extraction. They may work under supervision to start up, control and monitor oil production processes or may help to maintain complex mechanical, electrical and instrumental control systems.
These roles are highly regarded and stable. The applicant will need to have some formal process related qualification or experience. Roles are advertised on operator or oil company websites for apprenticeships or trainees.
Prospective technicians can secure themselves a place on an apprenticeship called an Upstream Oil and Gas Industry Technician Training Programme. Such programmes are run by colleges and training providers in Edinburgh, Middlesbrough and Aberdeen on behalf of the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board. Applicants are usually required to have least four GCSEs, including English, maths and science. Some people choose to enter the training programme following completing science A levels or BTEC National Awards in Engineering. Upon completion of an Upstream Oil and Gas Industry Technician Training Programme, workers are awarded a Higher National Certificate (HNC) and an NVQ Level 3 in Engineering Maintenance or Processing Operations: Hydrocarbons.
A bolting technician is a role that requires very little skill or experience. A three days course is often enough to work offshore tightening bolts with hydraulic equipment. Not the most exhilarating work, but it is a great opportunity to work offshore and gain experience. Bolting techs are usually in demand during summer shutdowns.
Another favourite role for starting out offshore. Pressure testers use various inert gasses to test pipework systems for leaks. A junior member will walk the pipers with a “sniffer” looking for leaking gas. You can achieve promotion to supervisor or pump operator.
On offshore installations, cleaning is carried out in the accommodation area, where the rooms, shower rooms, changing rooms, common rooms and offices are cleaned.
Spring cleaning of the complete accommodation, making the beds, changing bed linen and assisting in the kitchen including clearing and washing-up are part of the tasks.
If you have experience of cleaning – in particular on vessels and in hotels – it will be an advantage.
The chef an integral member of the offshore team and the one person who has a huge part in the workforce moral. Food is a major talking point amongst the crew during shift and if the chef can prepare a nice selection of hearty meals for the workers, the mood will be improved.
the successful candidate will organise and supervise the unit as well as being responsible for the overall efficient and effective management of the unit under your control whilst providing a quality service.
The offshore chef will have the responsibility for the preparation, cooking and service of food. If you have experience as a chef onshore this may be the ideal place for you to start. Some platforms also employ a chef’s assistant to help cover bigger crew requirements.
In the UK, around 6,000 firms are involved in the oil industry and together they employ approximately 26,000 people to work offshore on mobile drilling rigs, floating production units and fixed production platforms. The UK offshore oil industry is mainly located off the east coast of Scotland and England. However, there are also oil rigs and platforms in the Irish Sea and to the west of the Shetland Islands. Many companies operate across the globe, making it possible for skilled offshore workers to find employment overseas.
The offshore working pattern is gruelling and requires employees to work 12 hours on and 12 hours off for two weeks, followed by two weeks’ leave ashore. Workers may only be able to travel to and from the rig or platform on which they are working by helicopter.
Sometimes, shift patterns require employees to work away from home for a month at a time or longer. Employees usually have to share their offshore living quarters with their colleagues.
Working offshore can be very demanding and requires great strength and stamina. Duties typically involve working at heights in all weather conditions. Due to the nature of their work, they must wear protective clothing, such as gloves, goggles, overalls and hard hats, at all times.