A man with many hats – meet AUV Professional James Stephen |Heroes 2022

His role as an offshore worker is a varied one – from a survey technician to an AUV Supervisor, he has done it all. James shares key insights about working in the ever-evolving survey industry with Paul Hampton from Atlas Professionals
In August 2000, when the Russian submarine Kursk sank, it captured the attention of millions. For James, it was a crucial point of his working life. In his offshore career, now spanning over two decades, he was given the opportunity to utilise his skills to be a part of something historic. James was mobilised as a part of the survey team to rescue the personnel on board the stricken submarine. He shares, “My main responsibility was to assist with the interfacing of the British LR-5 rescue submarine to the vessels subsea positioning system (USBL system) and provide a navigation display to the operators. It was an opportunity to get involved in something new and learn along the way.”

Word to the wise

With an expansive range of skills, James has worked on different types of projects like Pipe & Cable Lay support, Rig Moves, Metrology, Pipeline Surveys, Commissioning Projects, Seabed Mapping, Ocean Bottom Node deployment and recovery, to name but a few. In more recent years he has worked as an AUV Technician and occasionally performed as an AUV Supervisor. He shares, “I have been employed at some of the more notable Survey companies during my time; Fugro, DOF & NCS. However, I wanted more flexibility over my personal and professional choices. I eventually took the leap and went freelance in 2017 and set up my limited company in 2018, I have enjoyed every moment of it. The ability to be able to work where you want, when you want and on the types of projects you want, is more rewarding than repeated rig moves etc.”

One would assume, James always had his eyes on the waters. But that’s not true. Upon leaving school, James really had no direction, nor a clear path to a career. He says, “I fell into an ONC in Electronics course at the local college and then gained the opportunity to work for one of the market leaders in the Survey industry, as a Trainee Electronics Technician in the workshop. I completed a further HNC Electronics course at the local college on a part-time basis through the employer, where I was then promoted to Junior Survey Technician and then moved to an offshore role”. He attempted to escape the industry altogether and enrolled in a Computer Science degree at the Robert Gordon University, although still working as a Survey Technician in a freelance capacity during the holiday periods, “I completed the degree and attempted to find work in the software development industry but the money on offer and lack of opportunities forced me back into the offshore world, where I have remained for more than 20 years,” he shares. Over the last few years, James has been freelancing and has worked with Atlas in different survey roles. “Not long after I decided to go down the freelance route, I was approached by Atlas, and they have been an absolute joy to work with. Their clear and open approach to both the professionals they have on their books (freelancers) and their clients, aligns with my personal work ethos of being upfront and honest,” he shares. For those aspirants who want to debut into the offshore surveying industry, he suggests finding a mentor, “In my experience, the best surveyors have all worked with a single mentor until they have gained enough experience to get promoted and work on their own. A level of continuity, working with the same people, learning the same methodology of working on different types of projects is invaluable. I would also recommend trying to get experience in all disciplines i.e., Surveyor, Survey Technician, Data Processor. To effect any one role proficiently you need to know a little bit of each.”

Going strong and thriving

Atlas Professionals’ Senior Business Development Manager and seasoned offshore professional himself Paul Hampton couldn’t agree more. Paul started as a surveyor and progressed to become an Offshore Manager. He now utilises his depth of knowledge to bolster Atlas Professionals’ different business entities. His heart, however, stays close to the survey industry, “The sector is an extremely exciting scene to be involved with now and will only become more relevant and crucial as time goes on. With new technologies and methodologies emerging fast, allowing to dive deeper and survey more accurately, we as an offshore personnel provider are continuously challenged to stay on top of our game,” he says. As the subsea world continues evolving rapidly, he believes Atlas is healthily on the mark, “In the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a need for the current level of offshore personnel – if not more due to the surge in renewables projects, raised activity in the APAC region and the potential development of aspects of the oil & gas industry. Next to this, our teams are always on top of the latest developments so we can advise our professionals about relevant training courses and certifications."

Read more interviews from our professionals in the latest edition of Heroes 2022