International Women in Engineering Day – 23 June this year – celebrates the work of women in engineering around the world. The journey of Michelle Fowler, North Star Group Shipping’s HQSE lead, is a perfect example of the importance of the INWED’s international awareness campaign.
Michelle Fowler began working fresh out of school, at age 16, working as an admin assistant for Craig Group Catering. Little did she know that more than 30 years later, she would be taking up a senior role with North Star Shipping, a former core business of the same family-owned Aberdeen company.
After an initial career spanning various admin positions, as well as telesales and banking, Fowler now heads up the QHSE team at North Star, the operator of one of Britain’s largest fleet of ships serving the energy industry.
Backed by plentiful experience working within both the marine and shipping sectors, Fowler takes the same passion for people and appetite to learn that she applied to her very first job.
She explains, “Having spent a few years within admin, I knew that when I was first approached about supporting on health and safety it was something I was very keen to get involved in. I wanted to pursue a career that involved developing processes and procedures – as well as one that didn’t lock me in to the usual 9-5 job.”
“Working in QHSE, particularly in shipping, I’m able to split my time across both office-based work, on the computer reviewing and processing documents, as well as on site, interacting with our workforce on board the vessels,” she adds.
As a female head of QHSE, Fowler is part of a minority representation of women in this industry. However, she does believe that some of her softer skillsets are beneficial to her role.
“One of the most important parts of the job for me is being able to listen. When I’m talking to people, I’m always asking ‘how can we help them’, and ‘what can we do to be better?’ With that in mind, it’s important they trust me, and know that they can share their thoughts and ideas – without thinking I’ll shut them down or just not listen,” she says.
More recently, Fowler once again took her career by the reigns and at 45 years of age, decided to go back to university. Undertaking a distance learning master’s degree in health, safety and risk management at Robert Gordon University, she was eager to further develop her own knowledge and skills.
Having just completed her second year, Fowler was already halfway through the course when she joined North Star last December. However, the company have been wholly supportive of her can-do attitude and appetite to learn.
“North Star are pleased to see me out wanting to better myself and the expertise I bring to the role, but for me, it was really important that this was something I wanted to do. As much as I know it will help my continued development at work, it’s also about knowing what I can achieve myself,” Fowler explains.
Throughout her career, Fowler has been inspired by the managers and teams that she has worked alongside.
One person she is keen to highlight as a particular inspiration is North Star chief executive officer, Matthew Gordon. The CEO, who was appointed last summer, has been a driving force for Michelle in the last few years.
“When I decided to go to university and study for my masters, it was backed by a near-life-long ambition to go back to school. However, it was while working with Matt in my previous role, that he really pushed me forward to go ahead and do it,” she says.
“I would definitely say we share the same attitude to work, with a firm belief in pushing ourselves, and those around us to be the best that they can be.”
Since joining the team at North Star, Michelle has been thrilled by the innovative thinking and future vision that the company has for its employees and the business. Impressed by the way it closely examines and reviews working procedures and operations, while looking to identify opportunities for improvement and growth, Michelle takes this way of working to her team of six.
“As we look towards the energy transition, we’re now working closely across departments to integrate different work streams and ultimately tie everything together, so as an organisation we continue to champion health and safety – while allowing the transition to happen.”
North Star’s first major steps into the renewables industry saw the shipping company win a GBP 270 million contract to support Dogger Bank Wind Farm, a joint venture between partners Equinor, SSE Renewables and Eni. Set to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it’s completed in 2026, the massive project aligns with North Star’s ambition to become established as a long-term leading player in the SOV market.
“The next 3 years is a challenge that I’m facing head on. Across the energy industry, everyone’s mind is focused on what lies ahead and how we’ll get there.”
“In order to follow this journey through, we must keep on top of these changes and look to understand how we can grow. But it’s the kind of challenge that motivates me – and the rest of the team – to be the best we can be!”