An engineer’s view: over 40 years in offshore wind and infrastructure

Tony Hodgson, an engineer at Fugro for over four decades, remains enthusiastic about the profession he joined as a graduate and the positive impact it continues to have around the world.

As I reflect on my career, from a graduate engineer to my current role as Strategic Sales Manager, I’ve witnessed ground-breaking and revolutionary changes in our industry, as the world itself has transformed.

Finding Fugro

When I was a teenager, my parents took me to sit some aptitude tests to help me get an understanding of what sort of career I might be suited for in the future. As a youngster I was always good with figures and problem solving, something the tests told me would make for an effective engineer. They had me pegged from an early age, so perhaps it’s no wonder that I have been part of Fugro and this industry for all my working life!

I joined Fugro in 1976 after graduating from Sheffield University. I had my interview on a Friday and started work the following Monday! I must have been the twelfth or thirteenth employee in the UK office – it’s safe to say Fugro has changed a fair bit since then.

At university, ground engineering was something that I was particularly interested in, due to my preference for hands-on learning. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to quickly begin developing these practical skills at Fugro. I gained a lot of onsite experience, such as working on drill rigs and cone penetration testing trucks, as well as taking part in some interesting assignments, including a six-month secondment to foundation installation contractor Cementation (now Skanska).

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These experiences gave me a solid understanding of the core Fugro business; I drew upon these formative projects in many of my future roles in offshore oil and gas and overseas infrastructure. Working in often remote locations improved my communications and leadership skills, fostered my resilience, and gave me a drive to succeed. From climbing the leadership ladder to overseeing teams in nearshore environments such as ports and harbours, working at Fugro has provided experiences many other workplaces can’t offer; these are cherished memories.

Something for everyone

What is extraordinary about my time at Fugro is the range of experiences I’ve had, despite being a rare example of someone who has spent their whole career with the same company. And this is what I’d tell young people with an interest in engineering or the marine industry: there is such a variety of projects and opportunities, so there really is something for everyone. Engineering is more accessible than most would expect and, because of the different types, people with diverse skills and interests can find a path, which is a valuable message I’m keen to pass on to the next generation of engineers.

Based on my own experience, opportunities turn into significant life moments too: there are chances to travel all over the world and work in extraordinary outdoor environments. One expedition that particularly stands out for me was Ethiopia in the 1980s. I was lucky enough to be successful in writing a proposal for a project funded by World Bank to perform some upgrades on the port of Assab. The upgrades were needed to cater for the aftermath of various famines in the region at the time and the team flew out shortly after Band Aid, which brought a lot of attention to the disasters in Ethiopia and surrounding countries.

Particularly memorable was our accommodation. The port authority we were working with built a block of apartments for our team, but we had to buy the furniture ourselves from Habitat and price it into the project. We had a bunch of flat-pack furniture shipped with our drilling equipment to furnish the apartments and ended up building the rooms ourselves. The project itself was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, and another example of the diversity of experience that can be achieved through engineering.

Realising renewables

Jumping forward, my most recent decade at Fugro has been just as fulfilling as those first days as an eager young engineer. Around 2008, I took up a role as the business developer ambassador for renewables and became much more involved in Fugro’s emerging renewable energy projects, thereby realising a new passion. Renewable energy continues to expand as the wider world’s attention focuses more sharply on the climate crisis and the need to create a safer, more sustainable world.

Whilst my own passion for renewables blossomed in 2008, Fugro’s drive for renewables was already well underway. In the late 1990s, we performed the site investigation for the Blyth demonstration project, which comprised just two turbines. Since then, the industry has scaled up beyond recognition: full offshore wind life cycles have been completed and we helped decommission that same Blyth project last year. The success of these offshore wind developments and the greater commitment to sustainability are, of course, largely helped by continuing advances in technology that change the way we work, capture data, and analyse and advise our clients.

What’s more, Fugro has directly been involved with over 90 per cent of offshore wind projects developed across the whole of Europe and more than 130 projects around the world. The UK government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 has prompted their target of the wind sector reaching 40GW of capacity in the UK by 2030, something we intend to drive forward here at Fugro as offshore wind grows steadily around the globe.

An exciting future

Furthermore, the UK government’s net zero emissions goal has highlighted the importance of the green agenda to the marine survey and Geo-data industries. Motivations have changed within oil and gas organisations and a number of our clients are now transitioning towards better environmental business practices.

Being part of the wider transition from oil and gas to renewables is important and something I find particularly exciting. The improvements we’ve made in remote solutions with autonomous vessels and our global network of remote operation centres are especially relevant to the situation in which the world currently finds itself and the emphasis on remote working across all businesses due to the pandemic. Winning over sceptical or stubborn clients who are unsure of these new innovations can be a challenge, but it is something that I enjoy.

The challenges of tomorrow

Real-world examples of climate change, particularly in the last year or so, have shone a harsh light on the challenges we are facing when it comes to environmental preservation. I’m pleased to see various sectors and leaders acknowledging this and proactively looking for ways to counter this growing tipping point, as action is an absolute necessity.

The industry I work in is following this active direction. Having served my working life partly in an oil and gas capacity, these positive, rapid changes towards green energy are hugely exciting. It is important to stress that there is still a long way to go and much more innovation needed down the line if we are to achieve that 2050 goal of net zero emissions. The hope is that our big industry players will continue to work together to achieve current targets alongside even more ambitious aims for the future.

I’ve spent almost half a century at Fugro (which seems crazy when I write it down!) and am proud of many of my achievements in that time. If we can keep pressing forward with our ambitious sustainability goals in the years to come and make a positive change in securing the safety of our planet, that will undoubtedly be what makes me most proud.