Engineering a link for their future offers a higher degree of satisfaction

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Aberdeen College and The Robert Gordon University have joined forces in a programme linking courses

When it comes to an engineering career, a girl's best friend can sometimes be her dad.

That's certainly the experience of 31-year-old Linda Shanks, a former pupil at Portlethen Academy in Aberdeenshire, now an oil-industry project engineer. She might have been serving the drinks on the flights she now takes all over the world, if her father hadn't stepped in with timely advice.

As a teenager, Linda wanted to travel: "The careers adviser I had never thought about telling me you could travel with engineering, it never even crossed her mind. She'd suggested being a trolley dolly - that was the limit of her expertise at the time."

Linda's first job was on the lively island of Ibiza: "Immediately after school, I was a Club 18-30 rep - hence my dad pushing me towards engineering," she laughs.

Linda is one of three women who studied part-time at Aberdeen College for an HND in mechanical engineering after a day's work at a busy oil-industry job. All three are now signing up for another two years to do university degrees in mechanical engineering as part of the Uni-link programme between Aberdeen College and the Robert Gordon University. Uni-link is a degree link scheme which allows successful HND students at Aberdeen College to transfer into third year of an honours degree at Robert Gordon University.

"I'm classed as a project engineer and my role is to take a project from its bid stage right through to the installation and do every single part of it except the machining and the fabrication," says Linda.

"I buy the materials, myself and my colleague design the equipment and I have to source every nut and bolt and keep it safe in my office," adds Linda, who is working on a project in Brazil.

Her classmate, 28-year-old Adele Morrison, was so bored when she started work as a receptionist in the oil industry, she used to count and name every car passing the building. She told her boss how she was feeling and fortunately he put her forward for the pre-entry course for mechanical engineering at Aberdeen College. Since then, she has not looked back.

Adele is proposals co-ordinator for a company and now that she's finishing her HND in mechanical engineering, she will study for a B.Sc at The Robert Gordon University. Her job is preparing tenders for the company's construction and inspection vessels and remotely-operated vehicles. "It's good to understand the technical side of things," says Adele, who has a first degree in tourism and hospitality management.

Her employer also offers potential opportunities for product engineering design in the tooling department which designs and manufactures subsea tools. "It's been very hard. When you're busy at work, the last thing you want to do is go to college. But you get up and say: `Right, I've got to finish this.' I debated whether to go for the degree, because of the time constraint and another two years of university. But it's `do it now or do it never' - so I decided I'll go."

She breathes a sigh of relief when she passes her old desk at reception: "I've pushed to get where I am. You don't get anywhere in life sitting back and expecting your boss to do something for you. You have to go up and say `I want this' and, if he doesn't listen the first time, keep bugging him."

Adele appreciates the personal encouragement she has been given: "I've had two good bosses who have been fantastic in supporting me along the way."

Case study

Go-getter 31-year-old Kelly Malcolm, a former Alford Academy pupil, is running her own business with a six-figure turnover and studying at Aberdeen College at night.

"I work 7am to 4pm, have a wee break and come to college, which is usually 6pm until 9pm," says Kelly.

The tall, slim, blonde says she's struggled to be taken seriously in the oil industry. "The first thing a lot of people will ask is: `Do you have a degree?' and it's horrible having to say no, because then you get told to take the minutes," she says.

Kelly started off fixing computers, then moved into IT in the oil industry and eventually started her own business, Systematic Integrity Limited, two years ago.

"Imagine you have an offshore platform and you have to inspect everything on the platform at a certain time. You also might not have enough time to inspect everything, so you have to do a risk assessment to work out what the most important, most dangerous, most production-critical items are.

"Trying to do that and keep it all in your head - it's too difficult - things get missed and people get hurt.

"I developed software that holds all the information, performs the risk assessment in a consistent and holistic manner and produces the work packs. It makes sure everything that's safety- and production-critical gets inspected on time and properly," she explains.

"I'd encourage any woman who wasn't being taken seriously in the oil industry to get a degree in engineering. It's just a matter of hard work and discipline and, if you apply yourself, it's not that hard. I'm terrible at maths and I can do it.

"It's a shame, because a lot of the women in the oil industry are just secretaries or HR and stuff like that and they're capable of more - it's all boys together."

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