Véronique Bienvenu, an Atlas Survey Client Representative, was told nearly 30 years ago that because she was a woman she would never work offshore. She laughs looking back at those early days, saying that working onshore was actually much more difficult. “I have never had a problem. Working at sea is like a dream. It is always a very positive environment.”
After studying a geotechnical degree in France, Véronique did a Masters in civil engineering but further afield in New Zealand. On successfully completing her Masters in 1988 she went straight back to France to pursue her ambition to work offshore. “I was told my CV and English ability were very good but I could forget about going offshore! I was really disappointed because at that time they were working on the Channel Tunnel and I would have loved to be involved.”
However, Véronique did not give up. She got a job ashore with a removal company, but always knew she still wanted a career offshore. She returned to the same company and this time was given a job making calculations for oil and gas projects. But again, she was told she could not expect to venture into the ‘man’s world’ offshore.
Fortunately a month later an employee had a problem with a visa and couldn’t work on an offshore project. “So I volunteered to go. I had my passport and could mobilise in two hours.” The management of this company was also very helpful and urged the client to allow a woman to work offshore and represent them, she adds. “I believe in 1990 I was the only woman in France carrying out this type of work and since that time, I have never stopped going offshore!”
But she adds that working on smaller vessels could present some challenges. “I know the crew were worried that I couldn’t have my own cabin but I agreed with a male colleague to share. We were working back-to-back shifts so we managed.”
New projects, new vessels
Véronique clearly has a passion for her job. “Each project is unique, it is rarely the same people or vessel, it changes all of the time. And I love travelling and moving around.”
After eight years, Véronique and her husband, established their own geotechnical company and even invented specialist, geotechnical ultra-deepwater equipment, able to go to water depths of 6,000 m. This equipment was awarded first prize in an innovation competition, in which more than 2,000 companies competed. But ultimately it became very difficult to compete with the major survey companies so in 2008 she decided to become a Client Representative.
In 2012 Véronique joined South West Surveys, and Atlas later acquired the company in 2015. Initially, Véronique was involved in several deep drilling oil and gas projects worldwide, from Indonesia to Borneo to the Gulf of Guinea. “I was typically on projects surveying 100 – 150 m below the seabed. But now I am busy closer to home with offshore wind farms and the clients often require French-speaking reps, which is great for me!”
Being a Client Representative allows Véronique to combine two of her passions - a love for everything technical, and also relationships with people. She says that she tries to explain to the crew that she is there as an observer, not a judge or a policewoman. “I am checking to see if things are done safely and to the correct standard.” However, she adds that she teases the team sometimes. “I tell them even when I sleep I know what’s happening. They can’t hide anything! But most of them know me well now and we have a great relationship.”
And because of her background, she explains, from starting as a lab technician as a young engineer, she knows all the stages of the work. “I think clients appreciate this, they have someone who knows each stage and can advise them.”
Véronique enjoys working for Atlas, adding that the company always supports her. “It is nice when you are onboard in the Atlas protective clothing and hardhats with the Atlas brand, we can all recognise each other and enjoy being part of the team. Normally I work either on my own or just with another person.”
And so far, Véronique’s career highlight was a recent Atlas project on the 62-turbine, Baie de Saint-Brieuc offshore wind farm near St Malo. “This year I supervised the final investigation of the site. This was geologically very challenging because the foundations had to be placed in rock and there were 62 different sites with a variety of conditions. However, there were some good core samples and quality results.”
Véronique is always keen to carry on learning and to add value for clients. Recently she attended a course in HSE and was awarded the NEBOSH International General Certificate (IGC) first time. “As well as being a Client Representative, I can add value with this HSE certification, which will probably be mandatory in the future.”
She would also like to get more involved in the offshore construction side. “I have studied electrical, mechanical, hydraulic and civil engineering and would love to work on some construction projects.” Véronique is hoping to add the GWO certification to her CV in the near future.