17 May 2019

Stork’s first female scaffolder undertakes her inaugural trip offshore

Industry demographics within the offshore oil and gas sector traditionally paint a picture of gender imbalance; particularly within disciplines such as scaffolding. One of Stork’s newest scaffolding recruits, Vicky Welch, is proud to lead the way as the first female scaffolder in the North Sea for Stork and shared her thoughts and experience.

Vicky, aged 29, is one of six qualified female scaffolders in the UK and started her career in the onshore scaffolding industry in 2009 as an apprentice in the North East. The apprenticeship came about by chance after being offered a small job for a couple of days’ work on a construction site but led to Vicky becoming qualified in tube and fittings within 2 years, where she worked closely with different types of system scaffolding. Although she enjoyed the work, after a few years on the tools she moved into roles that are more corporate and became office based, completing a BTEC Level 3 in Construction and a Built Environment qualification whilst undertaking a trainee Quality Services role. While Vicky enjoyed successes in these roles, she came to realise she needed to follow her preferred career path in a more ‘hands on’ role and returned to the tools, working with tube and fittings in London.

Never one to shy away from a challenge and with 10 years’ experience in the construction industry, fully qualified Part 2 scaffolder Vicky saw the demand for scaffolding skills in the offshore oil and gas industry and although she was working on prominent projects in London, she took her 7 years of construction experience and set her sights offshore. As the working environment on an offshore installation poses different hazards from the construction sector, Vicky had to undertake her Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) and Minimum Industry Safety Training (MIST). Although Vicky was at first apprehensive about the helicopter escape and sea survival components of the training course, her mental resilience helped her conquer her fear of being submerged underwater.

Vicky commented: “Although I was fearful of the water elements of the training, I understood how important the training was and knew it would be worthwhile as it would keep me safe offshore. I actually enjoyed the course in the end and successfully passed all mandatory training in early 2019. I would encourage anyone who’s only obstacle to going offshore is the training to just go for it. It’s all about mind over matter.”

With all the relevant certification and offshore training Stork was delighted to welcome Vicky as their first female scaffolder, setting a new precedent for other females to follow. Vicky has now completed her first trip offshore on CNOOC International’s Scott platform and has already been mobilised on her next scope to company’s Buzzard asset.

Vicky explained her thoughts on her first trip: “I was nervous as to how I would be accepted in the offshore environment and worried that people may change their behaviour around me. As the only female scaffolder offshore, I knew people may be intrigued about my skills and experience but I am no different to any other scaffolder. Nobody I worked with made my gender an issue.  I proved I am capable of carrying out the job so they treated me the same as every other scaffolder on-board. You will always have people with more technical knowledge, others with more physical strength but the industry itself is a mix of different people and I just felt like part of the mix, regardless of my gender.”

While on her first trip offshore Vicky was pleased and encouraged to encounter other females on-board undertaking such roles as geologists, chemists and stewardesses. The offshore industry is changing and Vicky is an excellent example that gender does not dictate position.

Going forward, Vicky is passionate about obtaining and developing knowledge of the offshore assets that she visits and how each component works. As scaffolders often work so closely to all the main equipment offshore, she would like to learn more about the working environment so that she could easily identify hazards or issues that may occur. Safety is very important to Vicky and her goal is to become a Safety Representative offshore and focus on mental health first aid. She wants to encourage an open door policy for counselling and create a platform for supporting her offshore colleagues with health issues, which are typically difficult to address.  She hopes to break down barriers and address the stigma associated with mental health issues.

She truly believes gender is irrelevant and it is about the right person for the job: “I would only recommend a male or female to join the offshore industry if they are the right type of person. You have to be used to working in a harsh environment where the weather can change quickly and you can be working in confined and restricted spaces. The job is demanding but very rewarding and I would encourage anyone who is right for the job to choose a career in scaffolding offshore.”