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Integrity – a positive personality trait or a career path?

A once “risky” career choice is proving to be crucial to the engineering industry

Wow, has my career progressed since I left university as a young, naïve, ambitious metallurgical engineer looking for a career. After calling all of the industry contacts I had developed through the technical societies I joined on campus, I landed an opportunity with a local corrosion consulting firm in Edmonton. As I labored for the first few years doing extensive field work – walking thousands of kilometres of pipeline and learning hands-on about corrosion, pipeline right of ways, pipeline construction, landowner concerns, and general pipeline issues – I had no idea how that would assist me in future career.

After eight rewarding years as a corrosion engineer in Edmonton, including international trips to Hawaii Japan, Cuba, and the southern US to investigate corrosion, I decided to look for a broader career by joining the “integrity” team at Calgary-based firm Cimarron, which joined Stantec in 2012. When I resigned from the corrosion firm, a senior VP was skeptical about my choice. “Integrity???,” he asked. “That sounds like a very risky career move. I doubt there is a future in that role.”

Well, a little over a decade later, our clients have entire teams and divisions dedicated to Integrity Management, and recent standards in the US and Canada dictate the minimum elements of Integrity Management Programs (IMPs). With more and more scrutiny on the oil and gas industry to do the right thing and gain the “social license to operate,” integrity professionals are taking on more strategic roles in their firms. The academic world has even jumped on board, as the University of Calgary offers masters programs in corrosion and integrity, and other institutions are looking into developing an undergraduate curriculum that covers these topics.  Entire workshops and conferences are now dedicated to better understanding how to design, operate, and maintain safe and reliable infrastructure.  

What do we integrity professionals do? Years ago, a co-worker and I were at a stand-up comedy festival, and a comedian asked my colleague what he does for work. When he answered that he was a pipeline integrity engineer, the comedian responded with, “What do you do, walk up to a pipeline and ask: Are you a good pipe or a bad pipe?” If only it was that easy. We make day-to-day decisions on what materials and inspection methods to deploy, what operating conditions are acceptable, what corrosion protection systems to design and implement, what hazards and consequences exist during design, commissioning, operations, and how to decommission and abandon assets. And that is a short list.

As I consider the needs of the industry and realize how fortunate I am to direct one of the most talented integrity teams in North America, I can assure you integrity is a desirable personality trait for all of us, but is also an extremely rewarding career path.

Dennis Zadery is the director of integrity for our Oil & Gas business.

With more scrutiny on the oil and gas industry to do the right thing, integrity professionals are taking on more strategic roles.

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