Working together as a team resonates with Mr Derk Jan Hartgerink. Teamwork helped him to ride through a crisis, the highlight of his career as a chemical engineer that spans three decades in three countries — the Netherlands, Scotland and Singapore.
Mr Hartgerink, 55, shares: “Running a chemical plant safely and reliably requires teamwork, with skilled employees, who support each other.”
When he was a plant manager in Scotland, a large gas-turbine, which was key to the operations of the plant, had shut down. Without it, the plant couldn’t operate. The turbine, which had to be customised, was about the size of an aircraft engine and the delivery time for a new turbine was over a year.
With the help of turbine manufacturers, he and his team managed to find a replacement in a warehouse in Italy. It had to be modified and completely refurbished. They then chartered a large plane and had the refurbished turbine, which weighed about 80,000 kg, flown from Italy to Scotland. After the turbine was installed, operations resumed after eight weeks.
Recalls Mr Hartgerink: “The plane that transported the turbine was the largest that had landed at Edinburgh Airport at that time. It took a lot of hard work from everybody at the plant, and the help and support from the larger ExxonMobil organisation to pull it off.
“I still clearly remember that first day when the original turbine failed. Looking back, it was great to see how an entire organisation worked together to achieve a remarkable outcome.”
Mr Hartgerink wears many hats. He is a board member of the Singapore Chemical Industry Council (SCIC), which represents many of the chemical companies which are active in Singapore. He also co-chairs the Chemical Industry Manpower Advisory Committee (Chimac), which is a joint EDB/SCIC committee looking at all aspects of attracting and retaining employees for the chemical industry here.
He says: “There are unprecedented opportunities in the chemical industry in Singapore today, because it is growing quickly. Many new units and plants are being built on Jurong Island, creating interesting jobs for fresh graduates as well as those with experience.”
The industry’s rapid growth has resulted in many opportunities for interesting careers as specialist engineers, general engineers or as supervisors and managers, he adds.
To attract young talent, Chimac and SCIC organise talks at schools, polytechnics and universities on the chemical industry and careers it offers. One of Chimac’s outreach activities is an annual open day at Jurong Island for university and polytechnic students to get an idea of what it is like to work in the chemical industry and on Jurong Island.
Mr Hartgerink is the manufacturing director of ExxonMobil Chemical Operations’ Singapore Chemical Plant on Jurong Island, which employs about 550 employees and nearly 700 contractors.
What has kept him going all these years is the satisfaction that comes from working with people from all walks of life in an environment that encourages them to give their best.
“When you have the chance to work in one location for several years, it is good to see how individuals develop over the years. You see them come in as young engineers or technicians and develop into emerging leaders or specialists.”
To excel in the work, he advises that one should possess “good analytical skills, ambition, initiative, ability to work with people from different backgrounds, a preparedness to learn throughout your career and a strong work ethic”.
Mr Hartgerink, whose father was a chemical engineer, says: “I have never regretted the path I have chosen. If I was about to start a career again, I would make the same choice, especially in Asia, where the chemical industry is growing rapidly and there are lots of opportunities for an interesting career.”