I trained as a marine engineer officer at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland, where I now teach the subject.
I was born and brought up in Shetland and always wanted to work in the engineering industry. When I finished school I did a National Certificate in General Engineering at Shetland College, before enrolling on the Merchant Navy Officer Cadet programme at the NAFC Marine Centre to train as a marine engineer officer.
The cadet programme lasted for three years, and involved periods studying at NAFC and periods working at sea as a member of the crew on commercial ships to gain practical experience. During my time as a cadet I served on a wide range of oil supply and support vessels, from (relatively) small supply vessels to huge offshore construction ships. And I had the chance to work in many different parts of the world, starting in the Gulf of Mexico which included a week in New Orleans! After that I sailed the length of Norway before moving on to France, Tenerife, Senegal in West Africa and then over the water to Brazil!
By the end of the cadet programme I had completed an HND in Mechanical Engineering and had gained a Certificate of Competency as an Engineer Officer of the Watch. That qualified me to work as a junior engineer on any kind of merchant ship and I got a job as a 3rd engineer on specialised dynamically-positioned oil supply/support vessels sailing out of Aberdeen and working around Shetland. That was just as exciting and enjoyable as seeing the world, even when riding out 100mph gales to the west of Shetland!
After four years of that I decided to come ashore and got a job as an engineering lecturer at the NAFC Marine Centre where I help to train the engineers of the future.
Shipping is a very male-dominated industry, but that never entered my mind when I decided on a career as a marine engineer. It was what I wanted to do and I knew I was good at engineering. Once in position it was daunting as I felt that I had to prove myself to my male colleagues, but I succeeded in all aspects of the job.
As a women I was treated no differently to my male counterparts, both at sea and in the college. The officers expected me to be able to do the same work as the men, and sometimes that meant I had to work harder as I didn’t have the same strength for some jobs. But strength is not everything, even in engineering.
Sometimes I would find that there was a part of the job that I couldn’t physically do, but I was always able to find a way to work around that. Sometimes it was as simple as asking for help.
The college was very supportive while I was training and there were always people who would listen to me when there were problems. I hope now that I have been through the process that any students would feel that they could come to me for support or contact me when they are away from home.
For anyone considering a career at sea I would say “Do it!!”. You won’t know if it’s for you if you don’t try. It opened so many doors for me – I got to travel the world, see places many people never will. And make lifelong friends from all over the world.
If I had to choose my career again I would change nothing. Having to leave the seagoing area of my profession was upsetting but I’m glad that I can pass on my skills and knowledge to others and watch them grow into officers.
Siobhan in dry-dock.
1st March 2017
The Merchant Navy Officer Cadet Programme trains Deck and Engineer Officers for the Merchant Navy.