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Gavin Carrodus: Thriving with FIFO

Churchill:

All right, great. Okay Gavin, well, thank you so much for talking to me today. So you have a Diploma of Leadership and Management and a Diploma of Work, Health and Safety through Recognition of Prior Learning with Churchill, is that right?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

That’s great. [inaudible 00:00:25]. So, [inaudible 00:00:31]-

Gavin:

The line’s gone all blurry, you’re cutting in and out at the moment, which is no good.

Churchill:

Really?

Gavin:

Yeah, now you sound all right.

Churchill:

Yeah, okay. All right, so I wanted to specifically talk to you about fly-in fly-out work. So, Gavin, do you want to just give me a bit of background on your career and the work that you’re doing?

Gavin:

So I’m working as a Chef Manager on a platform called Barracuda, and so it’s in Victoria, in Bass Strait. I’ve worked offshore for 12 years. So the position is a Chef Manager, but it’s also a Unit Manager for the catering, so I oversee all the cooking and all the cleaning of the facility, and with making beds, all the cleaning of the gym and all that sort of stuff, and everyone kept happy.

Churchill:

So how many people are you looking after out there?

Gavin:

This is only a small platform, so we’re only at 30 people, so only a small platform.

Churchill:

Okay. And so what’s happening out there? Is it mining, or what is it?

Gavin:

It’s gas, we supply Victoria with gas. We’re actually the first platform that was put in that facilitates gas in Australia. So this platform’s been here for 50 years, we’ve just hit 50 years.

Churchill:

Wow.

Gavin:

Yeah. So my career is mainly as a chef in town at pubs, and restaurants, and all that where I live. And then when I was about 24 I started my, a few people I knew had jobs offshore, and applied, and started working casually offshore. So, in my area there’s 14 different oil or gas platforms through the company I work for in Victoria. And so I just moved around from site to site filling in, and then the last three years I’ve been full time on this platform. And just with the job description of, a lot of the stuff, I’m just looking at, because we’ve got so much stuff we do but …

Churchill:

So what’s your roster?

Gavin:

Two weeks on, two weeks off. So it’s planning, control menu, insuring all personnel are presented right, meeting food costs, I’m just looking through it, all this stuff.

Churchill:

But what’s it like being out in the middle of the ocean for two weeks?

Gavin:

It can be isolating. I think there’s a strong health and safety presence. So I’m one of the HSRs for my work group, there’s different health and safety representatives for each different work group scattered around.

Churchill:

So that where the Diploma of Work, Health and Safety came in?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

For that work that you’re doing?

Gavin:

Yeah. And just also being the Chef Manager or the Unit Manager overseeing a lot of the safety aspects that we implement on the site to make sure every, all the safety shares, and reporting of hazards, and opportunity for improvements, doing jobs-

Churchill:

And probably just keeping people physically and mentally healthy, being isolated and stuck on a platform, not being able to go anywhere else?

Gavin:

Yeah. Well, probably the most important thing to people is wondering what they’re going to have for lunch, and what they having for dinner, and what desserts are we making, and what afternoon [smoko’s 00:04:54].

Churchill:

Yeah, the small touches?

Gavin:

Yes, that’s, I think what keeps the morale up and keeps everybody trucking along, is the good food that we provide, and the service we provide for the company I work for.

Churchill:

So do you have many dietary requirements these days, like gluten free, vegan, all that sort of thing? Or are people fairly unfussy?

Gavin:

It’s increasing, over the years there’s more people tending to sway towards the vegetarian, but we still have, one of our toolbox talks this month is allergens, and there is a couple of people that get around with nut allergens, or gluten free, or dairy. And so we’ve got to be spot on with that sort of thing. But yeah, I think it’s trendy now for a lot of people to be vegetarian. And I think a lot of people might eat meat at home but then come to work and then try get on the veggies when they’re at work, or salads. So they’re trying to go that way. So yeah, it seems to be-

Churchill:

So how big is the platform? How much space do you actually have there for everybody?

Gavin:

Not a great deal at all, it’s very small. Yeah, very small. So yeah, small bathroom with four or five showers, four toilets that we all have to use. There’s four to a room, because there’s only 10 bedrooms.

Churchill:

Wow.

Gavin:

We’ve only got a dining area and a movie room that seats 10 people, and another little movie room upstairs. There’s bigger platforms through [SO 00:06:51] that can hold 70, 80 people, that have got pool tables and table tennis tables and things like that. But unfortunately this platform is very small and it’s, yeah, no room for any of that.

Churchill:

So where is the actual workspace of the platform? How does that work with your residents? Or the accommodation part of it?

Gavin:

So we have the accommodation part that holds the movie rooms, the dining room, the bathrooms and the galley kitchen and all of that. And then outside you have workshops that might be for the mechanic, there’ll be a workshop for the electrician, there’ll be a workshop for the PSO who gets all the stores, he’s the helicopter handler.

Churchill:

I was going to say, do you get there via helicopter?

Gavin:

Yeah, so helicopter here and back. We’re actually, usually last to be dropped off, but we’re the closest to shore. So they’ll go out to the furtherest platforms. We’re only about 15 minutes from land via helicopter.

Churchill:

But can you see land?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

Right. Okay.

Gavin:

You can see the …

Churchill:

Is it off the Melbourne coast, or is it further along?

Gavin:

It’s off the East Gippsland coast. So we had a lot of dramas with, you would’ve seen the fires from Mallacoota, and all of that. So we had a lot of downtime a couple of weeks ago due to smoke, no one could work outside, we flew everybody off. Even, we had helicopters delayed, people stuck on the platform for four days because there was just smoke and visually the helicopters couldn’t fly because they couldn’t see where they were landing or what was going on.

Churchill:

Wow, and that was 15 Ks out to sea from ground zero where the fires were? Wow.

Gavin:

Yeah. Well, there’s platforms that are 60 Ks out to sea, all the platforms are affected. So, it just depends on which way the wind’s blowing.

Churchill:

Yeah. So what’s it like being on the platforms that are 60 Ks out, where you can’t see land, for two weeks?

Gavin:

Yeah, well I enjoy my gardening, so just looking at the blue. But again, it’s nice to see the sunset, and we’ve got dolphins, and whales, and penguins, and stuff like that. The different wildlife hanging around.

Churchill:

What’s it like in a storm?

Gavin:

Well, we try not to go outside when it’s high winds, anything over 60 knots. So the helicopters won’t land over 60 knots, the crane drivers won’t operate the crane. If we’ve got to go to the bins, we just limit going out to the bin or anything to get rid of rubbish, we just stack it up. So you, often, this platform will shake a little bit, you’ll have spoons and stuff hanging on the wall and you’ll watch them just swaying, because this is a smaller platform. But they’re pretty strong, pretty secure.

Churchill:

So you’ve been doing FIFO work for nearly 13 years, haven’t you?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

So, just tell me a bit about, in general, FIFO work, and the pros that obviously outweigh the cons that have you kept you at it for 13 years?

Gavin:

Income’s good, and the time off is really good, we’re very lucky to have an equal time roster, two weeks on, two weeks off. I know in the West there is a lot of rosters with two weeks on and one off, or three on one off, and that would be a real struggle for people’s mental health, and I don’t think I could do that. But the two on, two off is great to have time at home to get things done, instead of the normal Monday to Friday and two days off scenario.

Churchill:

And so, do you have a family at home?

Gavin:

Yeah, I have two daughters.

Churchill:

How old are they?

Gavin:

12 and 13, so they’re both in, turning 13 and 14 this year, so they’re both in high school now.

Churchill:

And so you’ve been doing FIFO for their whole lives?

Gavin:

Yeah, my eldest was six months when I started.

Churchill:

Okay. So, I guess that the money’s good for family life, but what’s it like to not see your kids for half of their lives?

Gavin:

Yeah, it took a while to get used to, especially when they’re young and they grow so quick and change so quickly, like at six months to nine months, and 12 months and 18 months, you come home from work and you notice the differences. And one minute they’re talking and walking, and doing this and doing that. So it can be hard. Lucky, I suppose, now these days we’ve got social media so you’ve got ways of, there’s only a couple of phones that can be used for everybody, but at least everybody now has an iPad or a computer to be able to get that instant news, what’s happening-

Churchill:

And so, do you have access to wifi on the platform?

Gavin:

Yeah, we have really good wifi on the platform.

Churchill:

That’s good. So you can do FaceTime and Skype and things like that?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

Okay. So do you have any particular tips for thriving with FIFO?

Gavin:

Tips? Well, it’s, in what way? Just, career-wise, or just [crosstalk 00:13:17]?

Churchill:

Well, just career-wise, family-wise, mental health-wise? Just anything that comes to mind that has made FIFO work feasible for you to be doing it for so long?

Gavin:

Well, it’s mainly, I do it for the money and for the lifestyle. But I suppose because you are at work half the time, it’s like a second home, so you’ve got to look at it as, you’ve got to have a good family life, so everything’s got to be hunky dory at home, your wife and kids have to be supportive and be able to deal with things when you’re at work. Otherwise, that can throw a spanner in the works if you’ve got dramas at home. But other than that, just treat everyone as good friends, you just be mates at work and look after each other, support each other, and … not really anything major in the tip department there.

Churchill:

And what led you up to wanting to look into Recognition of Prior Learning?

Gavin:

With this new company that I’m working for, there is a lot involved that we do. And also the fact of doing the HSR role, you do HSR training, which is four or five days training. But then I wanted to learn more, and taking that leadership role in that health and safety position means that you’re doing a lot of things health and safety-wise. And that’s where I, when I found out that I could get Recognized Prior Learning, I knew that would be an advantage with other positions. And in the kitchen you are quite busy as well, it’s a physical and mental thing. But safety’s very important these days in any job, anywhere you work. So having that recognition on my resume to show that I’ve got that knowledge is definitely a plus for anywhere you work. And it’s tax deductible.

Gavin:

And so once I managed that by showing what I’ve done over the last couple of years, now I’m studying an Advanced Diploma in Work, Health and Safety. Which is another bonus of the roster of two on, two off because I can spend a good three or four days at home studying, managing that time to have to study as well.

Churchill:

That’s great. So that’s actually another pro with, particularly the FIFO roster that you’ve got, you have extra time at home versus nine to fivers, don’t you?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

So do you think that you’ll, do you think you’ll always do FIFO? Or do you think you’ll get to a point where you might be looking for a change?

Gavin:

Look, as long as I can do it, I will do it. If I was to go into a health and safety position, I’d try and do it in a FIFO position as well. But there’s a lot more money working offshore than there is onshore. But you’ve got to, some people can’t, they just want to be home and don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, stuck there. So it’s a bit of a weird, it takes a little bit to get used to.

Churchill:

So what do you do with your downtime? Are you a book reader, or do you, I don’t know, what do you do with your downtime when you’re on the job?

Gavin:

I work 7:00 until 7:00, so when I knock off at 7:00, I’ll have my dinner and then shower and then watch a bit of TV, talk to the other shift, because it’s a 24 hour operation, so we have day shift, night shift. So, I’ll do a handover to the back to back and just make sure that they know what’s going on. And then I’m in bed by 9:00, 9:30, so it’s only a couple of hours downtime. I do play a bit of chess.

Churchill:

Nice.

Gavin:

There’s a couple of chess players, we have a few competitions and stuff. We have got a dartboard to play darts, to have a few darts competitions. Sometimes we’ll play cards here and there, or have a movie if someone’s got some new movies to watch. But, nothing too outrageous.

Churchill:

Okay. So you don’t have to actually say dollar figures, but in terms of a percentage, the role that you’re doing offshore, how much more is that paying than something that would be at home?

Gavin:

It’s double, over double.

Churchill:

Double?

Gavin:

I’m working 168 hours a month, so I do two weeks on and have two weeks off. So in the two weeks, so I work 168 hours, which is 12 hours a day, 14 days straight. So if you divide that, that’s a 42 hour week. If you’re working 52 hours a week, a year. So I’m working a little bit more than the normal 38 hour week, but I’m bunching it into two weeks solid and then getting two weeks off.

Churchill:

And getting paid double.

Gavin:

And getting paid double because I’m in the middle of nowhere, I can’t go home and see the family.

Churchill:

Wow, that is interesting. That’s a couple of very big ticks for FIFO, isn’t it?

Gavin:

Yeah, if you can get onto that equal time roster, it’s definitely something that is an advantage. I could never, I’ve seen a few documentaries on ABC of people working three on, one off, and the mental health effects, and missing out on birthdays, and the travel time, and all that. Yeah, that’s no good.

Churchill:

Wow. And how did you find Churchill Education? Did a friend recommend us, or did you Google, or how did you find us?

Gavin:

It was actually the Platform Supervisor, so he’s the actual, he manages the actual whole platform that I work on. And he’d done Recognized Prior Learning for an Advanced Diploma in Work, Health and Safety a few years ago, and so he put me on to Churchill Education. And he was studying … what was he doing? A Masters in Project Management, I think. And so that got me going to pull my finger out. And then I looked into doing what I could get for Recognized Prior Learning, which was the Leadership and Management and the Work, Health and Safety. And then I passed that on to another fellow who is a health and safety bloke for one of, another company. And he had his Diploma or had a Certificate for, but just in his role he got a Diploma and Advanced Diploma, as well in Work, Health and Safety.

Churchill:

That’s great. And how did you find the process?

Gavin:

Yeah, pretty good. Compared to other places I have used for, I’d done a Recognized Prior Learning for an Advanced Diploma in Hospitality Management and I pretty much had to do all the work for them. So I had to have it all sectioned out, and in order, and all corresponding. Where I just handballed a heap of stuff onto the data portal, and pretty quickly someone, it was leading up to tax time, pretty quickly someone went through it and said, “Yeah, no, that’s all we need,” or “We’re just missing this.” And, pretty good, so very quickly.

Churchill:

That’s great to hear.

Gavin:

And others, they want you to pay for it before you apply and things like that. Where I think with Churchill, I didn’t have to pay, so I could actually put it all on there, they say yes or no, you’ve got enough stuff. And then, yes, you’ve got it.

Churchill:

Yeah, the preliminary assessment is free. Yeah, that’s right.

Gavin:

So that was a bonus. Where, with the Advanced Diploma I had to pay for it before I submitted all the work. And then I was hoping that I had everything that I could, otherwise I didn’t want to drag it out. And then …

Churchill:

And waste your money, potentially?

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

That’s great. And so what would you say to other people in your shoes that have got perhaps quite a few years of experience but not necessarily qualifications that reflect their experience? Do you think, has it been a worthwhile experience for you to convert your experience into qualifications?

Gavin:

Yeah, so, definitely have a look. It’s pretty common, people will change careers throughout their thing, but have a look at your job description, have a look at the job, what you’re actually doing. And a lot of people would be surprised of what they could get recognized prior learning for. And having that on their resume is always great supporting evidence to take that next step into a new career goal, or to get promoted into a supervisor role, or just to be acknowledged by your company that you’ve been proactive and that’s what you … you know?

Churchill:

Yeah, for sure. And I guess that it’s going to be valuable both working your way up within a FIFO role, or for some people, they might find that, maybe they’re not on such a good roster as you, that they want to get out of FIFO. And then making sure that your experience is, recognizing qualifications is going to make it much easier then, to get a job on land, isn’t it?

Gavin:

Yeah. So I think changing rosters, and I think health and safety is one of the most important things for offshore, that most people look at, because it’s very safety orientated, there’s procedures and policies and everything’s super safe. So safety, and that’s paramount with any, it doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanic, or if you’re an electrician, or if you’re a scaffolder, or what company you work for. But a lot of people would be surprised, depending on what role they’re doing.

Churchill:

Yeah, absolutely. Work, Health and Safety is definitely one of our most popular course categories. It’s just needed in every industry now, isn’t it?

Gavin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), especially if you going onshore as well.

Churchill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, that’s great. Well Gavin, that’s the end of my questions, and I think that you’ve told a really good story there and given me a bit of an understanding of what it is like to be a FIFO worker and the benefits being a FIFO worker. And I think a lot of other people are going to find this really interesting. So thanks so much for sharing.

Gavin:

Yeah.

Churchill:

Yeah, great. So it normally will take me a couple of weeks to write it up. And so what I will do is email you a draft, and then you can tell me if you want me to change anything. And then once you’re happy with it, I’ll put it up on our blog. And it would be fantastic if you had a photo that you were happy to email through to me that I could use with the case study. So it could either just be a professional headshot, or a picture of you on the job, just whatever you feel comfortable sharing.

Gavin:

Yeah, I’ll have to look at something, get something then.

Churchill:

Yeah, sure, fantastic. Well Gavin, thank you again so much.

Gavin:

Yeah, no worries.

Churchill:

Enjoy the rest of your day, and I hope the crew are happy with what you cook for dinner.

Gavin:

Yeah, no, I’m sure they will be.

Churchill:

Yeah. What’s on the menu for tonight?

Gavin:

I’ve got roast beef in the oven, and I’ve got a couple of people having eggplant parmigiana, and I’ve got chili spaghetti with salami and olives, and tandoori chicken and rice. So I’ve got four different things on the go tonight, for dinner.

Churchill:

Yum, and what’s dessert?

Gavin:

Apple crumble and custard.

Churchill:

My God, I think I might, can someone fly me in for dinner?

Gavin:

Yeah, that’s it. They think they’re at their own personal restaurant, I think, sometimes, when they come to work.

Churchill:

Well, good on you for making the lives of a lot of people much better through creating yummy things for them to eat, because it really makes a difference, doesn’t it?

Gavin:

Yeah, keep the morale up, keep the energy up.

Churchill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely. Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Gavin. I’ll be in touch soon with some, with a write up of this interview.

Gavin:

Yeah, no worries. All right, well, thank you too.

Churchill:

Yeah. Thanks for your time. Thanks for giving up your lunch break, I guess?

Gavin:

I still got my lunch break in, so that was all right.

Churchill:

Yeah, nice, good one.

Gavin:

Right, I’d better go.

Churchill:

Yeah, no worries. Thanks, Gavin. Bye.

Gavin:

Bye.

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