In 1984, five teenagers started out on apprenticeships in the energy industry with Great Yarmouth business Turmeric and Lowestoft College – now East Coast College.

Scott McMillan, Karl Farrow, Ryan Moore, Mike Collins and Paul Ellis were 16-year-old school leavers when they started their apprenticeships with Turmeric, an industry leader in building drilling rigs.

Four years of rigorous training gave them insight and experience of all areas of the business, which led to four decades travelling the world.

Scott, Ryan and Karl started out as fabrication and welding apprentices, while Mike was in the drawing office with Paul, who sadly passed away last year in Abu Dhabi, where he worked as head of department at Altrad Adyard.

The group was mentored by some of the hardest yet nurturing characters, who demanded top quality, hard work and dedication, and rewarded great attitude with inspiring mentoring that helped to shape their careers.

Scott McMillan was desperate to be a draughtsman, but Turmeric offered him an apprenticeship in fabrication and welding.

“I’d done work experience in the council drawing office, and it was all I wanted to do,” he said.

So, he accepted the apprenticeship and enrolled at night school on a City & Guilds computer-aided design (CAD) qualification to build both skills.

“I wanted to be as skilled and have as much experience as I could.”

Scott’s first trip offshore was 49 days swapping top drives out “in the middle of nowhere” in the North Sea, with “rusty yellow” desalinated water to shower in and letters taken and delivered by helicopters once a week, with a bridge phone for emergencies only.

“It was four men in a cabin with a bathroom down the hall,” he recalled.

Eastern Daily Press: Scott MacMillan on the Sea ExplorerScott MacMillan on the Sea Explorer (Image: Scott McMillan)
There were difficult times offshore, like the 1987 storm when he was offshore sleeping in a survival suit and 12 workers tied themselves together to crawl across the helideck to get to the helicopter that rescued them. “That was hairy,” he recalled.

He was also in the North Sea on the Sea Explorer on a rig move close to Piper Alpha when the disaster happened.

“It really focused the mind – such a sad time.”

Alongside the “excellent four-year apprenticeship system”, which saw him spending time in each department learning the business inside out – fabricating, welding, machining, drawing office, estimation, document control and HSEQ – Scott continued his outside studies with a Higher National Diploma (HND) in computer science. With dual skills, some days he would be in the workshop for eight hours welding and then go into the drawing office for four hours’ overtime.

Scott’s father and uncle worked offshore, so he knew the drill and also the potential opportunities, and he wanted to be able to offer employers the most.

On the day his apprenticeship ended, Scott handed in his notice to move to McAlpine Kvaerner. In the drawing office at Kvaerner, his computer qualification led to him developing a network system and being promoted to IT manager.

Later, at AKD in Lowestoft, Scott took the business from a manual-based system to a computer system with 3D modelling and was promoted to operations manager with an IT responsibility, growing that part of the business for six years.

Working out of a Portakabin and old terraced house, he used his draughtsman skills to design AKD’s new offices – an office he later returned to when it was the Lowestoft base for James Fisher Marine Services (JFMS).

“People always joked about the building being at a jaunty angle, but it was because we knew a roundabout was going to be built in front of it.”

After AKD, he became Eastern Hemisphere project manager for Shaw Pipelines, managing pipelines in “parts of the world where pipelines didn’t exist in the 2000s.”

Promoted to Eastern Hemisphere general manager, the business acquired another Great Yarmouth business, X-Tek, which Scott ran, leading to six years having his bags always packed, running back and forth to the US.

In 2010, he joined CLS in Great Yarmouth, growing the business from a £6m to £24m turnover with profit to reflect in five years. He also played an active role in Skills for Energy and was one of the governors at University Technical College Norfolk.

A spell at Minerva as part of Gardline, then sold to Boscalis, led to moving back into the office he designed – home to the successful JFMS, where Scott grew the O&M division to £6m in three years.

Now, his “Swiss army knife” expertise has led him to RMi in Lowestoft – one of the JFMS contractors – which he has grown in the renewables sector in a challenging marketplace.

“The days of small, privately-owned sub-contractors are numbered,” said Scott. “When we compete in the marketplace, larger companies are buying work up and it makes it challenging, but we offer that bit extra when it comes to solutions.”

Training and mentoring young people are important to Scott, who credits his mentors for much of his success. “Doug Mitchell at AKD, Brian Boxhall, Gerry Dowe, Paul Panther and Brendan Ryan – most were 20 years my senior and all took time to help and explain,” he said.

“I believe I showed the right attitude for those people to invest in me. It’s all about attitude, attitude, attitude. People will help, support and develop you.

“I am not a person that wants to be in a box. My drive is always continuous improvement.

“I have learned lessons from the negative experiences and am very self-critical, but finding a positive from your learnings is part of your growth.

“My career has been a blast, and I have enjoyed it so much. I wish I was 40 years younger with the incredible opportunities in the clean energy industry today.”

Meanwhile, Karl Farrow couldn’t wait to get offshore, climbing up rigs and derricks, bolting them together and taking them down. So, the day after his 18th birthday, he was on a survival course.

He completed the first three months of his apprenticeship in the drawing office, before heading to the shop floor, machine shop and in fabrication where he started welding and found a passion for rig building.

Eastern Daily Press: Karl at the British Gas (Centrica) Rough Storage in 1987Karl at the British Gas (Centrica) Rough Storage in 1987 (Image: Karl Farrow)
“I wasn’t scared of heights and got into the rig building team,” said Karl.

His first trip was to the Shell Cormorant, a three-hour chopper ride off the Shetland Islands. The Brent platforms were his longest stint – 18 weeks jumping between different platforms.

“I spent most of that summer offshore and made lots of money. It was such good experience and gave me experience to take supervisory roles at a young age.

“Mike Smith, who set up Derrick Services Ltd in Great Yarmouth, was one of my mentors. It wasn’t a big crew. Turmeric was one of the few companies that could do rig and derrick erection without using scaffolding.

“There is a lot more health and safety now. We were one of the first companies to introduce back lines and safety equipment and build rigs using a floating gin pole.

“It was high risk and a lot of dangers involved taking them down and putting them up. We had to do it beam by beam, and because of the availability and cost of the heavy lift cranes and barges, we needed to do it as quickly as possible.

“Most of my apprenticeship was spent on rigs, although like Ryan and Scott, we worked together on different projects and certainly had fun. Mike Collins was always an office boy. He was supervising jobs at a young age like I was offshore.

“Turmeric gave us a really good grounding of multi-skilling and different ways of doing things, thinking out of the box and thinking on your feet. A lot of the time you were up against the clock and budgets. It was such good experience.

“Looking back, so many of those people went on to run their own companies or hold senior positions.”

In 1991, Karl moved to Press Offshore, which became AMEC, and worked on Conoco’s Viking field as construction supervisor, running much of the offshore maintenance work on satellite platforms, before working for McAlpine on shutdowns in the Leman Field.

Five years with De Groot Offshore, part of the Herrema Fabrication Group, in quality assurance and quality control project coordination and construction management took him to a project coordinator role on the BP Foinaven FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) in El Ferrol, Spain in the mid-90s.

Entrepreneurial and inventive, Karl spotted an opportunity to set up his first business, Petrotec Group, in southern Spain. The deepwater commissioning business had a software system that managed mechanical completions and handover of projects for businesses such as Petrobras, working between the multiple fabrication yards of Dragados Offshore.

It completed about 50 projects between 1998-2008 and had one of the largest portfolios of deepwater commissioning projects, with contracts and work in the Gulf of Mexico, Africa and Southeast Asia on deepwater FPSOs and floating production systems.

Eastern Daily Press: During his apprenticeship at Turmeric, Karl built rigs using a floating gin poleDuring his apprenticeship at Turmeric, Karl built rigs using a floating gin pole (Image: DSL)
With $16m in contracts, Karl sold to a division of Wood, before going on to work in Mexico for Petrofac on the first private international contract awarded in the country since 1938 at the start of the Mexican Energy Reform.

In 2014, he set up a consultancy looking at the energy transition opportunities and funding for renewables, consulting for international companies entering the Mexican market such as Bibby Offshore and IHI Power Corp.

He also started to be involved with large-scale geothermal projects, moving to Slovakia with GA Drilling as chief commercial officer, working on geothermal drilling technology for a couple of years before setting up CeraPhi, now spearheading the geothermal revolution.

“I am a calculated risktaker, I am not a person who likes to do a 9-5 daily grind,” said Karl.

He has always been at the forefront, whether it’s been in rig building, deepwater and digitalisation, seeking ways to do things better, faster and more efficiently.

“I have always been fascinated with computers and the internet. I was asking why were we taking all this paper offshore when we could be taking floppy disks or CD roms?

“I was never brilliant nor academic at school. I didn’t know I was dyslexic until I was nearly 30. It was a relief. It explained a lot, it was positive, I think, in a different way. I am a great multitasker, always questioning.”

Karl applied to do an MBA because he felt he needed paper qualifications, but was told by a professor at his interview to go and set up another business, which was the validation he needed.

“What we had in our apprenticeship, you will never get again. What the UK is good at exporting is project management, innovation and creativity from that generation of apprentices.

“We learned from hard people, but it made us.”

For the past 14 years, Ryan Moore has lived in Singapore and is currently CEO of Global1 1RM Pte Ltd, after selling a share of the business in 2021.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I left school,” said Ryan. “I had a few options like joining the Royal Navy, but when John Emrick, who was the number two in charge of running Turmeric, came to visit my father in Portsmouth, he offered me an apprenticeship as a welder, so I decided to go for that as my father had worked for Turmeric’s as a rig builder/rigger back in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

“My first day was a real baptism of fire; it was work, work, work from the get-go, with a 15-minute tea break at 10am, and not a minute more, another 30 minutes lunch, and then 15 more minutes at 3pm. I can still hear the dreaded Turmeric siren in my head telling us it’s time to get back to work!”

Eastern Daily Press: Ryan (left) working on the Apexindo Tasha rig in Indonesia in late 2018Ryan (left) working on the Apexindo Tasha rig in Indonesia in late 2018 (Image: Ryan Moore)
He spent six months sweeping workshop floors and removing the scrap steel and rubbish before he moved over to baking the welding electrodes and making sure the welders had enough electrodes to continue welding.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but what these tasks were teaching me was pride in the job no matter what the task was, and self-discipline to do the tasks without supervision.”

Ryan worked on drilling structure, derricks and masts in the yard, remembering that he “loved the thrill of working at height and being in the company of the crazy but funny, and highly skilled, rig builders”.

His first job away in Invergordon, Scotland, was on the jack-up rig Trident 10 before he was approached by Mike Smith, supervisor on the next-door Ocean Alliance, a new semi-submersible rig, who asked if Ryan would join his team.

“I was 18 years old and thrilled that they wanted me to join their team, I learnt very quickly the term work hard and party hard, but I learnt a lot about derricks and drilling on those two jobs.”

With his apprenticeship over, Ryan spent nine months working for an oil refinery in Dorset and the next three years at Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station, learning the art of tig welding and welding exotic metals.

Feeling a calling to work offshore again, he joined AMEC, welding riser pipes and some exotic metal pipe work.

“It was a good steady job, but I wanted to be part of the rig building family working around the world assembling new and repairing or upgrading older derricks and land rigs.”

He started to work for Derrick Services (DSL), got re-acquainted with Mike Smith, who was now the owner of DSL, and for the next 20 years worked on drilling structures all over the world, inspecting and surveying work and overseeing the installation and assembly of the Maersk double derricks.

Based on his success, he was asked to set up a DSL branch office in Singapore in 2010.

“I’d never done a full-time office job, but Singapore is a nice place, so I thought why not,” said Ryan. “It took two years to build the business to a point where I had 25 office staff, a large fabrication facility and 80 personnel working offshore.

“From 2013 to the beginning of 2015, we were turning over $1m per month – at the time the most successful branch of DSL. But then the 2015 oil crash happened and DSL had to close the facility in Singapore.”

Eastern Daily Press: Ryan still lives in Singapore and is CEO of Global1Ryan still lives in Singapore and is CEO of Global1 (Image: Ryan Moore)
By 2016, Ryan created Global1 IRM Pte Ltd, and at the beginning of 2017 the business got its first job designing and installing a derrick heat shield on a jack up rig in Indonesia. After that, Global1 went from strength to strength with heat shield installations, derrick upgrades and derrick refurbishments.

Global1 also has a training academy, carrying on the tradition of mentoring and developing personnel.

“So here we are in the present day, some 40 years later, Global1 is going from strength to strength with facilities in Indonesia, Singapore and the UAE.

“However, I’m sure none of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for those first few years at Turmeric.

“There were sometimes tears and sometimes laughter, but above all it put me on the right path for a bright future.”

Mike Collins is now executive president of business sustainability and assurance for Wood.

He has lived and worked all over the world, with more than 20 years at Amec Foster Wheeler, holding roles including project and operations management in the UK and overseas, regional operations manager in Perth, Australia, regional operations manager in the Middle East, North Africa and Kuwait, and director of operations in Asia and Northeast Asia.