A New Career in the Pipeline
After leaving school Keith O’Connor followed his father into the Oil and Gas sector in Aberdeenshire, specialising in pipelines.
After being promoted to sales and business development, the next 15 years were spent travelling all over the world. This included two years as country sales manager for a Scottish oil company in Venezuela and six years as a regional business development manager in Singapore.
Although he was earning a good salary, his job meant he was spending two weeks of every month away from home and so Keith and his wife made the decision to return to Aberdeenshire in 2013 when their son was due to start secondary school.
“Already the industry in Aberdeen was suffering, so being in sales made my job even harder and it became quite soul destroying putting weeks and weeks of work into commercial and technical proposals to clients and sometimes not even getting a thanks, but no thanks in reply,” he said.
“By 2016 the downturn in the industry was very bad and I became completely disheartened at watching colleagues lose their jobs due to cutbacks.
“It was at this juncture I knew it was a working life I neither respected, enjoyed or wanted to be part of at all and I resigned.”
He took some time off to be with his children and support his older son during his Higher exams, and then did some interim jobs. However, he was told by one recruiter that employers didn’t want to take on oil and gas workers because they might leave when the industry took an upturn.
“This was disheartening for someone who wanted to make a genuine change, so I knew I needed to go back and study to really push forward in doing something fulfilling with my working life,” he said.
He came across the Wildlife and Countryside Management course at SRUC’s Aberdeen campus, and after waiting a year – as he “was nervous to go as a mature student” – the 40-year-old applied to study for an HNC.
He said: “I have always been a keen bird watcher, hill walker and lover of animals, and thought why not learn about something that is worthwhile preserving and possibly make a career in something that I care about, and that can have a positive impact on our world, no matter how small.
“I find the subject of how we farm our land fascinating, and how we can do it in a better way to feed ourselves, but also preserve our nature and biodiversity. I would love to work in this field in some way.”