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Sylvia Buchan Supply Chain Manager, Oil & Gas Authority


How did you get in to the Oil and Gas industry, was this always the industry for you?

I started my career in the Oil and Gas industry about 12 years ago and it was a complete change of direction in my career path.

I joined the civil service in 1982 and worked for HMRC, my role there covered many different disciplines from working with the self-employed through to small and large companies on PAYE, Corporation and Capital Gains Tax. In my latter years, I was an Enforcement officer working closely with Sheriff Officers and representing HMRC in the local courts. During my time at HMRC I had two children and I took 7 years off to look after them. While I was on ‘Special leave’ I ran my own Highland dance classes with over 100 pupils which included organising and hosting annual examinations and dance shows.

In 2008, I had I guess what you call an epiphany moment when I started to question my career and if I was content to continue working in the same place for the rest of my working life. I believe this moment was brought about by a couple of things that were happening at the time, the first being my children were growing up and starting to reach that independent stage and planning their own career paths and the second was the job I was currently doing had changed and didn’t really excite or challenge me in the way I had enjoyed before. I began to look seriously at what was available and when I saw an advert for a Decommissioning manager in the Department of Trade and Industry it stood out for me in many ways.

Living in Aberdeen I was very aware of the Oil & Gas industry but I had never had any real involvement or understanding of this sector. I felt this was the challenge I was looking for, something completely new that would take me out of my comfort zone but at the same time educate and hopefully inspire me in a way I hadn’t been for quite some time. I did all the relevant research into the sector and the more I learned the more I felt this was an industry I wanted to be part of. I applied for the role and when I was offered the position, I must admit there was a moment when I felt apprehensive and started to question my decision…. Will this be a step too far? Am I too old at 41 to start a new career? I am experienced in my current job why change now as I could easily continue to work at HMRC? These were all very natural feelings to have when embarking on a new career path but the strongest feeling I had was it felt like the right time to stretch myself, take the plunge into new waters and do something very different, challenging and more importantly something for me.

What sparked your interest in the supply chain?

As mentioned earlier I started in the Decommissioning unit and while I worked there the department changed its name to DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change). I always wanted to know and learn about other work areas within the office but the one which really caught my interest was the Industry Development Team as they administered and facilitated the high-level Government industry forum ‘PILOT’. This was where many of the enabling initiatives which have enhanced and sustained the fortunes of the North Sea were developed and implemented.

Working in this team gave me exposure to a range of Industry leaders and a spectrum of Government ministers providing a wide understanding of all the different aspects of the sector. The team also drove forward many supply chain initiatives and I quickly realised that the greatest proportion of the oil and gas workforce was in the service sector. Ultimately the Supply Chain is the life blood of any industry because without a competent and experienced Supply Chain any industry will fail. I liked the thought of working in an area of great importance to the Oil & Gas sector and to understand how a significant number of quality jobs can be created and sustained.

In 2015 the Oil & Gas Authority was formed and I moved seamlessly from DECC to the OGA. What I really enjoy in my role in the OGA is the ability to bring more focus to the Supply Chain and have the autonomy to create and develop initiatives for the greater good of the sector. A current focus area for me and one that I feel passionate about is providing market intelligence and information on upcoming projects/work to the Supply Chain. This is being delivered through the Oil & Gas Pathfinder which is hosted on the OGA site and is available to all. The aim of this tool is to provide confidence to the service sector to invest in the necessary skills and technologies to meet future demand. In doing so this should make them competitive and well placed to win future contracts, employing more people and creating a good standard of living for many families.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I have been lucky to have had several ‘high points’ in my career so far including working in the Houses of Parliament and a visit to Number 10. However, I think going offshore must be the main high point. In addition to working with the Supply Chain and Oil & Gas Operators in my role at DECC, I prepared briefings and drafted speeches for the Energy Minister and Secretary of States and accompanied them on several offshore visits.

The most exciting visit was when I went offshore to the Elgin platform with Michael Fallon who was the Energy Minister at the time. We, (the Minister, his Private secretary and I) had to undertake the survival training which was quite an experience but very important before the trip. When I first started my career as a civil servant, I never envisaged that one day I would be on an oil platform in the middle of the North Sea with a Minister of Parliament. For a ‘lass’ who grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and countryside, to one day be engaging with MPs, participating in meetings in the Houses of Parliament, where many important people and decisions have been made as well as accompanying Ministers Offshore all seems surreal and I am very fortunate and glad to be experiencing them all.

Have you had to face any challenges?

The main challenge for me was learning about an industry I previously had very little knowledge about. I think if I had studied all the STEM subjects at school that would have helped, however instead I had to work harder to gain the knowledge and understanding of the supply chain and industry which was necessary to do my job. I did this by listening and talking with more experienced colleagues, attending external and internal workshops and really looking for opportunities which provided engagement with people working in the industry e.g. networking events, conferences especially those that had presentations and panel sessions where experienced people shared their insight and knowledge.

There is so much to learn and even after 12 years working in this sector, I am still learning. For example, the Decommissioning market is really starting to grow and I believe we, regulators, operators and supply chain, are all learning and increasing our knowledge simultaneously. We are at the early stages of this process and everyone is looking at the most cost effective, time efficient and safest way to carry out decommissioning. Technology is a vital factor for every industry and if we don’t start investing in new technology we run the risk of being left behind. Yes, there are risks being the first to try something new and by its very nature the oil and gas industry are risk adverse, but it is something companies need to consider and be brave for the future health of our industry.

For you, what is the key to being a good leader?

To be a good leader you need to be an attentive listener. As well as having your own vision as to how things could be done, be prepared to take on other people’s ideas and work together to develop them further. In all industry’s we must embrace the future and there is no doubt we are now in the digital age. Many things have changed over the last decade and I fully anticipate we will see the same pace of change in the years ahead. So, to be a good leader you must have an open mind, always prepared to embrace new ways of working and have an imagination as to what may be possible.

What would you like to see happen in the industry in 2019?

As the Oil & Gas industry starts to recover it will be important that all the good behaviours which have been developed over the last couple of years are maintained, especially in relation to fair contracting principals. I would also like to see an ongoing reciprocal respect between the service sector and the operators and working together for the benefit of the industry. My hope is that by using the tools I have helped develop including Pathfinder and Supply Chain Action Plans, it will be possible to maintain and drive a culture of fairness.

What would be your advice for other women looking to get into the industry?

I remember my first time attending an industry event and it can be daunting to enter a room that is very male dominated. However, if you are knowledgeable in your sector, be confident to engage, participate and always smile, as it never goes wrong. From my experience, it is a very polite industry and you will realise quickly that everyone equally wants to hear your views.

If you want progression in this industry it is down to hard work, determination and demonstrating ability. Certainly, the culture within the OGA is diverse and there are equal opportunities offered irrespective of gender.

Published: 27-04-2019
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