Melissa Clare

General Manager (Aberdeen) – Hurricane Energy

Melissa Clare

Melissa was the only female in her year to study Mechanical and Offshore Engineering and since then, has gone on to have an incredibly successful and diverse career from being the first-ever female manager of a North Sea oil rig, to being named as one of the “35 Women Under 35” in the UK and internationally by Management Today and World Business. Find out more about Melissa’s 23-year career.

Could you tell us a little about what inspired you to pursue a degree in Mechanical and Offshore Engineering from RGU?

When I left school I didn’t have a specific career in mind, but I had a clear direction of travel, having spent a lot of my spare time at school in the technical department, including the after-school club, thanks to the inclusive learning environment and dedication of the teachers at my high school. When it came to further education, Mechanical Engineering offered a broad range of career opportunities and I was drawn to the offshore specialism through my father’s role as a helicopter pilot in the oil and gas industry. I chose RGU for its links with industry, which offered real-life insights through work placement opportunities and for its overall graduate employment rate. I was delighted to receive an Honorary Masters from RGU in 2007 and I’m now honoured to serve on the Board of Governors.

In 2005, you were appointed as the first female rig manager in the UK. What challenges did you face working in a traditionally male-dominated industry and how did you overcome them?

Having been the only female on my degree course, I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of working in an industry where I would be in the minority. As with anything new, I felt a sense of nervous excitement as I embarked on my first trip, however, I adapted quickly to the new environment by focussing on the opportunity to learn and progress and to contribute to the team effort. No two days were the same and it was fascinating to connect theoretical knowledge with practical application.

As a trainee, my role was physically demanding in terms of the manual labour and 12-hour shifts, combined with the often hostile environment of the North Sea, all of which I would fondly describe as character-building! The offshore conditions and culture were supportive, in the main, and I was fortunate to have both male and female mentors, who provided formal and informal support and mentorship. That said, it was still relatively uncommon to have females working on deck and not everyone welcomed the changing dynamic. From my experience, being confidently curious was beneficial, as even those who held traditional views were almost always eager to impart their knowledge and teach through demonstration.

Gaining practical skills and experience offshore stood me in good stead for positions of increasing responsibility, having developed a solid technical foundation and essential leadership skills.

While you graduated with a degree in Engineering, your work has included responsibilities in health, safety, security and environment (HSSE), business development, marketing etc. How did your skills and experience in Engineering help you succeed in these roles?

Having engineering skills and experience has been extremely beneficial across all the cross-functional roles I have held. Transferrable skills include analytical thinking, problem solving, numeracy, creativity, communication, teamwork and many more. Looking specifically at a couple of my roles:

  • In HSSE, the overarching objective is to eliminate or mitigate all manner of risks, as far as practicable. In order to do that, it’s necessary firstly to be able to identify and quantify those risks. An engineering background is highly relevant and beneficial when it comes to addressing technical risks as well as those associated with human factors.
  • Marketing, in the context of offshore rig services, involves aligning fleet availability with customers’ technical requirements and timeframes. This requires analysis of technical capabilities and limitations, in conjunction with competitive commercial evaluation. Having a background in both well engineering and rig operations is highly advantageous in the marketing role, which covers everything from initial rig selection to the preparation of technical and commercial bids, through to negotiation of fully termed contracts.

As someone who believes that the oil and gas industry has a key role in addressing climate change, in your view what role can oil and gas professionals play in supporting in the energy transition?

In 2016, around 190 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, an international treaty which sets out a framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming, the main cause of which is greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, therefore, reducing our dependency on them is fundamental to addressing climate change. As we transition from fossil fuels to greener energy, oil and gas professionals have a fundamental role in the implementation of decarbonisation strategies, energy efficient solutions and diversification from core-carbon to low-carbon business models.

I believe there is a huge opportunity to leverage traditional oil and gas skills in support of the transition to renewables, recognising significant synergies across all facets. Much of the technology employed is common across the energy mix, the supply chain is already diversifying and many of the roles in renewables are found within the oil and gas sector, with the opportunity to bridge gaps through retraining and reskilling.

Given your successful career in engineering, do you have any advice for girls considering a professional future in STEM fields?

STEM fields offer opportunities beyond personal job satisfaction and financial stability; they provide the foundation for careers which transform society. Don’t let fear of the unknown or gender stereotyping put you off following your dreams or finding your vocation in a world of opportunities. There are many supportive organisations and resource centres, championed by inspirational role models, providing support and helping women to navigate careers in traditionally male workplaces.

I also think it’s important to highlight that your first career step doesn’t have to define your ultimate career path. You may choose a STEM field and stay in it for the long haul or decide to diverge along the way. What I would say is, if you’re not sure, dip your toe in and test the water! I did and I’ve never looked back.

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