• By The Straits Times
  • Posted 2 years ago
  • Reading Time : a few minutes

Mr Tan Kiat Hui enjoys his work at Keppel FELS as it demands his leadership and engineering skills in project management.

By Lynn Seah

As a senior project superintendent at Keppel FELS, Mr Tan Kiat Hui has to make decisions that determine the successful construction of offshore oil rigs.

He relishes the challenge.

“Whenever a good decision is made and it accelerates the schedule and creates better quality, that is very satisfying,” he says.

The 28-year-old engineer, who holds an honours degree in civil engineering with a specialization in offshore engineering, has been with Keppel FELS since graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2008.

He had chosen the civil engineering course at NUS specifically for the offshore engineering specialization it offers. Since learning about the physics of floating structures in school, he has been fascinated by the massive man-made structures anchored in the ocean extracting oil and gas from the sea bed.

“To build a structure that is able to operate in 10,000 feet of water and hold that position for 10 to 25 years — that really interests me,” he says.

While at NUS, he underwent an internship at Keppel during which he shadowed a senior project superintendent and witnessed the kind of work that went behind the construction of a drilling unit.

That experience sealed his decision to pursue a career in the offshore and marine industry. Following the internship, he took up a Keppel Offshore and Marine Scholarship and after graduation, he joined the company as an assistant project superintendent in operations.

“That is the place where you are able to go through the actual physical construction of the entire drilling unit, from bare steel to the fully functional mobile offshore drilling unit,” he explains.

His first project was the construction and commissioning of a semi-submersible rig which could operate at a depth of 8,500 feet. Over the past three yers, he has progressed to wider responsibilities — spearheading the construction of an entire rig as a project superintendent and overseeing the construction of a fleet of drilling units as a senior project superintendent.

He appreciates the responsibilities he has and the authority that goes with them. The former student council president at Tampines Junior College enjoys exercising his leadership in galvanizing a team towards a goal.

One of the most challenging projects he has led involved the repair and upgrading of a drilling unit that required difficult operations to be done at sea before the rig was brought into the yard. The usual practice is for all the work to be done in the yard.

The work was carried out in Singapore waters under a tight schedule with a team of less than 50 people. On top of that, they had to work under the noses of their clients who were living on the rig. “So in addition to the physical execution, assuring the clients that we are performing the job well was paramount,” says Mr Tan.

Another interesting experience was when he was sent to a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico for three weeks to observe operations on the working rig and provide feedback to the engineering department on improvements that could be made to its deisgn.

To those who imagine that engineering graduates spend their day on computers designing machines, Mr Tan’s experience shows that this is not the case.

“Engineering is also about applying that know-how on the field itself, to be able to troubleshoot on the field, both outdoors and indoors,” he says.

He spends much of his working day in the yard. A typical day begins at 7.30am with his drawings to monitor the work progress. Following that, he chairs a vessel safety coordination meeting with contractors and workers. The next stop is the engineering office for discussions on construction methodology. After lunch, he meets clients to update them on the progress. Then, it is usually back to the yard to check on the construction.

While his work is about project management, his engineering training comes in handy too. “Engineering gives you a very systematic and critical thinking approach so that you are able to view issues from a holistic standpoint, but at the same time you are able to zoom in on critical issues. That facilitates you in making better decisions,” he says.

Keppel has sent him for course on project management and finance.

This year, he was sent to an offshore technology conference in Houston in the United States, where he gained insights in the global oil and gas industry.

With the training and exposure, Mr Tan has a number of pathways open to him should he move away from operations. The know-how he has gained could be applied to the commercial side of the business. And if he wants to switch to engineering the rigs instead of building them, his experience of the construction process would also be helpful.

The road ahead is filled with interesting possibilities for him. For those who are thinking of embarking on a career in offshore engineering, Mr Tan says: “If you have a passion for excellence and you are willing to accept responsibilities and have the ability to work under pressure, this will be an excellent playground for you to hone your skills.”

Global leader

Singapore is the leading player in the world for oil and gas drilling units and offshore support vessels, with 70 percent off the global market for jack-up rigs and 70 percent for the conversion of Floating Production Storage Offloading units. Keppel is one of the well-known Singapore names in this global industry.

Little wonder then that engineer Tan Kiat Hui describes the job prospects in this industry as “definitely bright”.

He has worked largely in rig construction in his three years in the industry, but there is much more scope in the offshore and marine sector than this.

Within Keppel FELS, which is an engineering, procurement and construction, or EPC, company, he has yet to fully experience the “engineering” and “procurement” aspects. He aims to move into project management, where he would deal with engineering as well as the procurement of equipment and bulk material.

Further afield, the marine and offshore industry which in 2008 employed 70,000 people offers more job opportunities. With a marine industry that stretches back 50 years, Singapore has built up a wide-ranging sector that comprises world-class shipyards as well as companies that pffer naval architecture and marine engineering capabilities, component manufacturing and supply, classification services, complex marine systems and R&D activities.


(This article was originally published in The Straits Times)