As far back as she can remember, growing up in Ofankor, Portia Ama Anobea Oduro always wanted to be a Petrochemical Engineer. She did not know of any women in the field but this did not deter or discourage her. On 8th May 2017, Portia’s dream came true as she became the first female offshore Production Technician Trainee hired under the MODEC Ghana Limited Offshore Engineers Trainee Programme.
A native of Kwahu-Nkwatia, Porita had her high school education at Benkum Senior High School (Eastern Region) and went on to study Petroleum Engineering at the George Grant University of Mines and Technology (GGUMaT), Tarkwa. After graduating in 2013, Portia completed her National Service at Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). Her story took an interesting turn after that, as she could not land a job related to her field of study. She took on a number of sales jobs selling oil/petroleum related products to make ends meet. Portia had to learn the art of customer service while prospecting for new customers. Sales was challenging, but she was determined to learn every step of the way. It was whilst trying to supply cleaning and laundry chemicals to the companies in the Oil & Gas industry that she first learnt about MODEC Ghana Limited (MGL), a leading Operations & Maintenance company in the industry. MGL is contractor to TULLOW Ghana Limited. MGL handles FPSO operations and its maintenance and is solely responsible for Jubilee & TEN FPSOs.
In 2015, a year into her sales job, Portia heard about and took an examination organized by the Petroleum Commission of Ghana to be part of an internship programme. She wrote a second exam in 2016 and then finally in February of 2017 she was invited by the Petroleum Commission to undergo a rigorous selection interview with MODEC Ghana Limited. She emerged as the only female engineer to be hired among 16 other male candidates. After 4 years of a relentless pursuit, Portia joined MODEC Ghana Limited (MGL) in May of 2017 as the only and first female Offshore Trainee Technician in Ghana. (assigned to the Production Department).
“Posh Lady’’ as her male colleagues call her is currently undergoing a rigorous training programme with other male colleauges to prepare them for various Offshore engineering positions (currently occupied by expatriate staff) as part of MGL’s localization programme.
Portia and her colleague Trainee Engineers have completed 26 weeks training at the Jubilee Technical Training Centre (JTTC) in Takoradi and are currently undergoing a six-month Live Plant Training at Tema Oil Refinery (TOR). This training is expected to equip them to resolve basic maintenance and operations issues in a safe manner. The final phase of the training will be held in the United Kingdom.
Portia will be deployed to TEN FPSO in January 2019, blazing the trail for female engineers who aspire to offshore careers in Oil & Gas.
“It’s been an awesome experience with MODEC so far”, says Portia. “Much more than I ever expected”. She’s particularly commendable of the coaching and mentoring by the MODEC management team and in particular Dr. Papa Benin and Mr Andrew Hall. “We have direct phone access to them anytime we have any challenges or questions about the programme and they are always available and ready to assist us”.
On her experience as the only female on the programme, Portia is emphatic that she doesn’t feel intimidated at all (being among an all male team). Being the only female offshore production technician spurs her on to succeed every day. “I’m in a male dominated environment, but this motivates me even further to show that women can do the job. I hope my work and efforts show that women can be part of this industry and opens up opportunities for other ladies.”
Portia admits that her male colleagues are very supportive of her. She wishes however that there were more females on the team with whom she could share some “girl talk” every now and again.
Her male colleagues and instructors attest to her intellect and capabilities. Commenting on her abilities, Learning and Development Manager at TOR, Mawusi Nelson Obuo added that “Portia doesn’t hesitation to take on any challenge. She climbs up on the Boilers just like her male colleagues and is eager to learn and participate. She’s as good as the men if not better”
Undoubtedly, Portia gets her tenacity from her mother and role model; Madam Esther Afua Gyamah, a single parent who has brought up 4 girls (including Portia). Madam Esther started out as a hairdresser. She later learnt carpentry and is now a building contractor (building homes for friends in the diaspora and other clients. She also makes and sells wooden doors.). Madam Esther inspired her girls not to settle for what society calls ‘female jobs”
Reflecting on how her chosen career would affect family life, Portia believes that she will manage with a supportive partner. She doesn’t believe that anything should take one away from their passion; one of hers being jollof rice and chicken! In the next 5 years Portia sees herself in a senior supervisory role with MODEC Ghana Limited and mentoring other ladies who would have joined the offshore team.
Her advice to young ladies who want to pursue engineering is; “Determination is the key to success. Don’t limit yourself, follow your passion and don’t only look for desk jobs. I could have been discouraged in the beginning and there were many people who advised me to do something else. If I had listened, I would have missed this great opportunity.”
Story by Abena Owusua