David Blackburn, Production Technician at BP
David Blackburn is a Production Technician, working for BP in Oman. In this interview he talks through his beginnings in the North East of England, and the importance of his father's advice in choosing a career, to leading teams of much more experienced staff during times of on-site emergency.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Like so many others in the Teesside area, I followed in my Father's footsteps and entered into the world of Oil and Gas.
I have two older brothers; one decided to be Mechanical the other Electrical. I sat down with my Dad, and he suggested I should look at becoming an Instrument Technician. He told me there were avenues that I could go down once qualified within that field and so I applied to TTE in South Bank, Middlesbrough.
After two years in the training centre, sponsoring companies came in and interviewed for their next intern of apprentices. I was offered a position by Corus Beam Mill first, but I wanted Oil and Gas, not Steel. So I turned them down. That didn't go down too well with the placement officer!
Funnily enough, the Corus interview went very well, but with the BP interview, I really struggled. Thankfully it was the latter who offered me a job.
I then had to make a choice: apply for the instrument technician position or the operations technician. I couldn't be both. Again I turned to my old man for advice, and he told me operations was the route to take.
What gets you excited about your industry?
For me, it's the fact that when I go through that turnstile at the beginning of each shift, I have no idea what's in store. I might be writing procedures, designing and implementing isolations or carrying out critical gas tests to allow someone to enter into a confined space.
Some days it can be quieter, but others you can be non-stop from the get-go. This could be due to the schedule or being reactive to situations on the plant, like breakdowns, trips or even safety incidents.
I really enjoy the responsibility and the respect you have to give to what you're working with. When I complete an isolation, I know that the guys who will be carrying out the task are safe to do so. There is also the camaraderie between the guys. Some of the banter is fantastic and stays with you all your life.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I've had a lot over the years, to be honest, so I'll list more than one golden nugget. From my old man telling me to enjoy my money but make sure I also put as much as I can in savings or investments. I can hear it now: "Yes, buy the clothes, the house and the car but only out of what's left from savings first".
I also like: "You have two ears and one mouth. So you should listen twice as much as you speak".
I appreciate under the current restrictions this next one is difficult, but I also understand the value of travel. Travelling far and wide helps you experience as many cultures and situations as possible.
And finally, be the energy that you want to attract. I travelled a lot on my own. But suddenly I'm speaking to strangers who give out the same energy as me. Some of these amazing people are still my friends today.
What, or who inspires you?
I can draw so much inspiration from all kinds of situations and people I've met throughout my life.
I have friends who have packed up and moved to the other side of the world. I have friends who have started businesses, and I have friends who have become fantastic parents and created homes filled with love and character.
These are the people I admire and who inspire me.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
This one is a difficult one for me if I'm honest.
I was in a staff position for over twelve years, and then suddenly terminal owner decided to sell up. I stayed there for one more year and then took a contracting job in Oman.
From that moment, it became apparent that I needed to make connections with people and keep that 'little black book' of numbers or connect on social media sites and actually keep in touch with these people. Even if that means asking how they are and what they are up to every once in a while.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
Without a doubt, it was the second year of being in the role of Operations Shutdown Co-ordinator. I was fine with the preparation, but dealing with vendors directly was something new, and the biggest challenge for me was when things don't go as planned. Suddenly guys with thirty years of experience don't think for themselves and turned to you for the answers!
In one such scenario, we shut the plant down and set three teams away purging three separate areas overnight. When I came in the next morning, all three areas reported perfect sets of gas test results. I'd planned three days for purging, and we'd done it in twelve hours!
We completed the handovers, had a pot of tea, discussed the days' activities and then headed out. Within one hour, I had all three areas contacting me, asking me to come over. All three had high levels of hydrocarbons again. Suddenly all eyes are on you, asking what to do.
That was a very challenging role.
If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?
I love my job. So my answer is separate from the industry.
I honestly wished schools would have taught us about investments and the power of compound interest. I should have started investing fourteen years earlier than I did.
I'm not talking about buying any of the unicorn stocks, the Apple, Amazon or Tesla stocks that have gone on to be so big. I'm talking about putting a regular investment away into a fund each month that will pay you interest that can be reinvested into that fund, buying you more.
As the saying goes, it's time in the market, not timing the market.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
For me, I'd set something up in the same manner as the previous question and answer but for my four nieces and nephews.
Next, it would be to quietly disappear into the night and travel the world searching for the perfect beach for me to open my little wooden shack of a bar. I'd be very happy to sit there drinking cocktails with little straw hats in them with people from all over the world, visiting and sharing their life stories with me.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I love music. I DJ as a hobby. So I love searching for new music. I've also recently started a weekly radio show. It's a lot of work; finding new music, putting it together, recording it, creating the artwork and advertising it each week. But I'm really enjoying it.
I also appreciate the support and encouragement I've had from friends and family about the show. When I can, I also love getting out on my bike and covering a few miles.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
For me, it's the treatment of employees to be better, along with improved efficiency and becoming greener.
Points two and three would come with companies treating their staff with more respect and coming down to the shop floor to converse with their workforce. The workforce collectively has hundreds of years of experience right there - don't waste that! Empowering your team to speak up and act upon ideas they provide could be hugely beneficial to the company.
And finally, I wish there was more gratitude from the company to its employers. I appreciate companies have targets to meet and shareholders to satisfy, but the guys and girls who help make it all happen should be recognised and rewarded far more than they currently are.
How should people connect with you?
I'd love to hear from anyone. Please feel free to contact me via my LinkedIn account.