High flying graduates take off on engineering careers with Apply Altra
Graduates with dreams of embarking on high flying careers often find their wings clipped along with their ambitions. Those who are lucky enough to secure jobs after university can discover that promotion through the ranks is a long and slow journey and opportunities to broaden their skills and experience are few and far between. But some, like the newest group of graduate engineers at Aberdeen oil and gas consultancy Apply Altra, are lucky enough to find a launch pad where their careers take off in ways they never imagined.
Apply Altra may be a small company in comparison to others operating in the North Sea, but it punches above its weight in terms of the opportunities that it can offer. From attending safety studies in the Middle East to being flown offshore to perform critical engineering studies, Apply Altra graduates are quickly immersed into to all aspects of the industry. But it is not a sink or swim culture – there is plenty of support, mentoring and advice from experienced colleagues.
Process engineer Iain Campbell (24) joined Apply Altra last September after graduating with a Master’s Degree in chemical engineering. Like most of the company’s other graduates he learned about Apply Altra when the firm visited his university to highlight the career opportunities available. He says, "I felt that working with a smaller company would be an advantage because I knew that I would be more than just a number. It became clear from talking to them that I would be exposed to many different areas and that is exactly what has happened.
"I’ve already been on a couple of two-week trips offshore that allowed me to see every part of the oil rig. That was very useful because I saw things in perspective: looking at a valve or pipe on a drawing is one thing, but when you see them on the oil rig you can appreciate the size. I have friends who also work as oil and gas engineers and they’ve been offshore too, but it seems that they are sent just so that they can say they have been on an oil rig rather than being sent there for a real purpose or to do a job.”
Many graduates find their way into work by completing a placement with an employer, but that was not the route Iain took. "A placement is useful, but not essential. If you are unable to get a placement it’s important to get your name out there and if companies come in to speak to your university make the effort to speak to them because it does open up opportunities,” he adds.
Apply Altra’s graduate process engineers are involved in a wide range of projects, operations support, Brownfield engineering modifications and Greenfield projects. A Greenfield project they are currently working on is the design of FASP (Forties Alpha Satellite Project) which is a bridge linked platform to the existing Forties Alpha platform in the Central North Sea.
Carol Munjoma (24), who has worked with Apply Altra since graduating from Strathclyde University in 2009, says: "FASP is my first FEED (Front End Engineering and Design) and Detail Design project which involves designing the platform’s topsides and bridge link to Forties Alpha from scratch. It’s great to be involved in the FASP project because I didn’t think that I would be involved in this type of work so soon. A great benefit of working for a small company is that it is still growing, so you get to grow with it and have an opportunity to contribute to the company’s success plus it’s easier to climb the career ladder.”
When Karen Cunniffe met with Apply Altra at a university open day she knew that there would be opportunities to travel. But what she didn’t expect was to be jetting off to Qatar within months of joining the company. She says, "I went out for one week and did HAZOP scribing, which involves reviewing the safety of plant. It was an incredible experience and I never thought that the chance to travel would come up so soon. I’ve also been offshore – I know other people who have worked for oil and gas companies for four years and not had that opportunity. Despite the level of involvement that you get, you never feel that you are on your own because there is so much support from colleagues. The office is open plan and there is a culture where you can feel comfortable about talking to anyone.”
Paul Burnett (27) – who was sponsored by Apply Altra in his final year - has just graduated from Strathclyde University but had his job as a process engineer lined up well in advance. Paul, from Fraserburgh, says, "I worked as a summer student for four-and-a-half months and that allowed me to see the level of exposure that I would get. I also spent my placement here working on my thesis. I was over the moon when they offered me a job, because it meant that I would have a year’s experience with the company under my belt before I even graduated. Knowing I had a job made my final year less stressful. A lot of my friends were taking a week off university to go for interviews, which is not ideal when there is so much work to focus on.
"What impressed me was the fact that even when things were really tough for the industry a couple of years ago there was still a determination by the company to go around the universities because they knew that taking on a student would benefit them in the long term. I can see myself working in oil and gas for the rest of my career. The technology is so diverse and changes so much that you could work for 20 years and always be learning something new.”
Apply Altra managing director Agnar Kongshaug says the company recognises that graduates essential to its future growth. "We have plans to recruit an additional 50 employees over the next year, and while it is important that we have the experience in our workforce we also recognise that graduates are the future lifeblood of Apply Altra. We do everything we can to support our graduates and help them progress, and we do not put them inside a box. We look at what they can do rather than constrain them by their job titles.”
The company is currently looking to recruit a number of additional graduates into a range of different posts. Further information can be found at http://www.applyaltra.com/