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8 things you need to know before contracting offshore

According to the Oil & Gas UK Workforce Report, there are around 280,000 people working offshore in the UK alone.

If you’re interested in a career working offshore, whether it be on an oil rig or working, research vessel, or servicing and installing wind farms, here are eight things you’ll need to know before you dust off that CV and start applying.

1. Your skills and knowledge

Offshore operations are unwilling to hire workers with little or no experience of working offshore. Although the industry is a comparatively safe one as highlighted in the latest HSE report, the rigours of working offshore in a harsh environment can take their toll.

Depending on the job and authority of the position, you may or may not require formal experience but qualifications in engineering and manufacturing related fields are almost always useful for most offshore jobs. You could also look for a job in one of the associated service industries to demonstrate knowledge of the working conditions.

2. Have your financial planning in order

If you decide to work offshore as a contractor, you can expect a life of big challenges and big rewards. But before you take the jump, get your financial planning in order.

Working as a contractor means establishing a good financial buffer to tide you over during the times you’re not working. Other financial factors to consider are:

  • Set your rate: use a website such as glassdoor for research or better yet, search for a range of similar jobs and take an average on offshore recruitment websites
  • Establish payment terms with your employer
  • Set up professional indemnity insurance
  • Settle on a payment structure that works for you
  • Research allowable expenses.

HMRC has useful information on self-employed status and working as a contractor so check out their website for lots more advice.

Many offshore workers decide to go freelance and set up a limited company. This has the benefit of allowing you to command higher rates and have more control over where you work.

The downsides to going freelance are that you don’t have the same employment rights employees have and you’ll need to organise your own finances, invoicing and tax returns.

3. Be aware of the working conditions

Working offshore requires a broad skill set. You need resilience and problem-solving skills, discipline and self-motivation. You’ll need a good level of physical fitness and agility to meet the demands of the job plus the ability to fit seamlessly into a team environment.

Your working conditions will depend on the size of the rig, ship or wind farm, its location and whether you’re working at height or on the open sea.

If you’re looking to break out of the 9 to 5, then the work schedule is certainly unrelenting, but the long hours, isolation and weather conditions aren’t for everyone.

4. Know the limits

Alcohol and non-prescription drugs are strictly off-limits when you work offshore, so don’t expect to enjoy a beer after your shift. It’s not unknown for workers to be refused a flight out if they smell of alcohol or show signs of being under the influence of drugs.

You can also expect to be drug tested before you start working and randomly throughout your stay.

Smoking isn’t forbidden but is tightly controlled in designated areas. You won’t be able to take a lighter with you, but matches are provided in the smoking room.

5. Be prepared to work hard

You’ll be expected to be on call for a 12-hour shift which may be day or night as offshore work generally follows a 24-hour pattern. You can also expect to factor in time for training and safety briefings.

Depending on your level of experience, you’ll be expected to prove your worth, so be prepared to do the worst jobs until the team knows they can rely on you.

6. Respect your fellow workers

Accommodation and facilities offshore have come on in leaps and bounds. Fresh food supplies are brought in regularly and most installations have leisure facilities including WiFi, large screen TVs, games consoles and pool tables.

But offshore installations only run smoothly if you respect your fellow workers. You need to be able to co-operate and get on with each other, solving disagreements quickly and observing personal space.

You’ll be sharing your cabin accommodation so keep it tidy and be quiet so you don’t wake your off-duty cabin mates.

7. Don’t rely on your phone

Get into the habit of backing up all important contact information the old-fashioned way, with paper and pen.

Phone batteries run down and more than one smartphone has taken a dive off a platform or the deck of a ship. A notebook is also useful for everything you learn.

8. Be prepared for the ups and downs

Although you’ll typically work more hours than an onshore worker, most offshore personnel are attracted by the opportunity to work 2-3 weeks on and 2-3 weeks off, allowing for plenty of time with friends and family or to travel and explore if you choose to work away from the UK.

Offshore working can take its toll. If there’s a family illness or death, you won’t be allowed to leave the rig until your scheduled stint is over. But if you enjoy a sense of adventure and the opportunity for high levels of remuneration, working offshore could be the career opportunity for you.

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Will Best, Business Manager for UTM Consultants, an offshore recruitment company based in Bristol.

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