Changing directions – Sandra’s story

For some people, deciding which career to pursue after high school comes quite naturally, but for others it takes a journey of discovery with bumps and twists in the road to find out which career path best utilises their passions, interests and strengths.

For Sandra Van Der Gaag, WA and Australian Trainee of the Year 2015, it was not the most traditional pathway that led her to her dream job as a Process Plant Operator at Woodside. Sandra shares her training journey with us, as well as some tips on what she’ll be looking for on the judging panel for this year’s WA and Australian Trainee of the Year.

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Journey of discovery

I currently work as a Process Plant Operator in the Pilbara region of WA, as a fly-in fly-out shift worker. The way I came to work in the Oil and Gas industry was not a traditional path.

I finished high school many years ago, completing subjects with a focus on the arts, such as music, ancient literature and history. I had been accepted into university to study a Bachelor of Asian Studies; however I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted to do.

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After travelling through Asia and volunteering for six months, I returned to Australia and worked in retail for a while before moving to Tasmania to study a Bachelor of Arts.

After one year I was still unsure if this path was right for me so I moved to North Queensland to be close to my family. In a small town which relied heavily on tourism, I decided to try something completely different and out of my comfort zone. I started working on charter and fishing boats as a hostess and later as a deckhand. From that point on everything fell into place.

Working in a practical field, I started to appreciate the important role maths and science play in everyday life. I started learning about engines and machinery; and it fascinated me!

I wanted to explore this type of work further. At 25 years old I travelled to Darwin to complete my first Vocational Education Training course as a Coxswain, where I learned how to drive small boats.

I enjoyed the practical aspect of the training and the way the theory based learning helped to consolidate my field skills. I ended up enrolling in a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, which required me to complete a one year bridging course in maths and science. Over the next seven years I completed the degree, while continuing to work full time.

During my studies I received a two year scholarship with ConocoPhillips which was my introduction into the Oil and Gas industry. I completed a work placement and began to learn the role of Engineering and also of Process Plant Operations.

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Through my journey I discovered I am a practically-oriented person and needed a career that would be technically challenging, in a hands-on environment with plenty of scope for career progression.

I completed a two year traineeship in Perth and now have a permanent position with Woodside as a Process Plant Operator. It’s certainly been a long journey but I’m glad I have found the right career path for me.

Hot tips for WA Training Awards 2016 applicants

Winning the WA Training Award was a really proud moment for me. It was great to be recognised for the hard work I put into learning something new and shaping my future the way I want it to be.

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As a member of the judging panel for this year’s WA and Australian Trainee of the Year I will be looking for someone who can convey their passion for their chosen industry and is keen to share their story with others.

Part of being an ambassador for skills training is about motivating people to be the best they can be and to encourage others to move through any perceived barriers so they can achieve their career goals.

I look forward to meeting the candidates for the 2016 awards and would encourage trainees from a broad spectrum of industries to apply.

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