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14 Jan 2021

Humans of Kent: Akhan Imangaliyev, HSE Manager, Kazakhstan

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Own your choices

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek.

I have been an HSE practitioner for the last 15 years; I am passionate about what I do and proud of my professional achievements in this field. I was fortunate to have had experience in the full lifecycle of small and large projects in the Energy industry – working as a sub-contractor, a contractor, a client, working for the investor – I’ve been in all sides of the same game, and continue learning in the process.

However, HSE was not my first career choice. Some people think it’s funny to know I studied computer science and had different plans for my future.

I am blessed to have a good school education where I learned English. I decided to switch to distance learning for college to be able to support my parents during challenging times. I was 19 when I moved from my hometown, a place called Inder in the countryside, to the big city Atyrau in Kazakhstan and spent couple months finding a job; With incomplete qualification, no experience and no expertise, it was extremely difficult to land a job.

One day, I heard of a big plant being constructed in Tengiz (I later learned this was SGI/SGP project). I had no idea where Tengiz was, how to get there and what to expect. We have a saying in Kazakh “if you have two hands, there is always a shovel for them”. With that in mind, I made my first journey to the unknown with borrowed 50 USD in my pocket in February 2004.

Upon arrival, I found that almost all the companies are fenced with security posts at entrances. You couldn’t get into the offices to submit a resume and find out about vacancies. The only person you could talk to and hand in your CV to were security guards. Some were supportive, some… not so much. I spent another two weeks in the streets of Tengiz trying to find a job. I ran out of money in my first week – there were some days with no bed at night, and some days with nothing but tap water in the bottle. Those days were hard, I felt that the entire world was against me, but I kept defying the odds and I think that’s what builds character.

Finally, I heard that one of the subcontractors were hiring. I went to their office and queued outside to apply. Their hiring was strange – no screening, no background check, no medical checkup, no contract. You could be a criminal, you could be ill, you could carry contagious disease – all they cared was to know if you were interested to work as a labourer for 80 USD a month. They just took our national IDs and gave us worn out PPE. That was it. I would have a bed to sleep at night and a meal to eat. I was happy to find a “shovel”, so I signed up.

I received penitentiary system uniform as a coverall that was 3 sizes big, old safety shoes with no shoelaces and a soviet time hard hat. They gave me a small orange bag, told me to stuff it up with papers and to never open it when onsite. I later found out; this was a bag for MiniSCAPE – that saves your life in the event of a toxic gas release. I don’t want to fill you with disgust describing the living conditions we had – all I will mention is the awful smell that I remember to this day. But I am grateful to have this experience. We tend to appreciate things more, by comparison, don’t we?

After getting badged up I started my first job on shovels at the Sour Gas Injection plant construction. The turning point for me was a few months later when I noticed in the canteen an advertisement for a safety campaign. They were offering a Walkman for the best safety slogan. I wanted a Walkman and decided to give it a try. With no safety knowledge I decided to be smart with the slogan and stand out from the crowd. I wrote a line in Kazakh, a line in Russian and a line in English on the back of a cigarette pack and submitted it to the site safety office.

A client Safety Supervisor who was collecting the slogans briefly looked at my submission and asked who wrote the English line. I told him I wrote all three lines. Then he asked if I was interested in the Permit to Work role. They needed someone who could write up permits in dual language. Of course, I was interested. I always believed that I deserved something more than just a shovel. After testing my English, they offered me the job. The reward for writing the slogan turned out to be a lot bigger than a Walkman. Although, I did get the Walkman too.

This is how my HSE career started. The rest you can find in my LinkedIn profile.

Reflecting on my life, I realize that stress was my companion throughout. I have a sister 10 months younger, and when she was born, I was sent to live with my aunt. And at 10, my dad sent me to a boarding school. As a kid, I felt rejected. Now I understand it was my parents care for my future, and I enjoy the benefits of their decision till now. When I was 13 my dad lost his job and my family went broke. I remember my mom crying in despair not able to provide food for her children, while my dad was away trying to earn money. I was stressed when I was trying to find a job the first time. I was stressed when I resigned from a great company with a great culture after being offered a job in the Caspian region, only to find that I wasn’t going to be employed. I had relocated my family; my wife was pregnant. Not to hurt her, I would leave every morning pretending to go for a job I didn’t have. I’d be at a nearby cafeteria which had Wi-Fi to apply for a job online. Two years ago, I stretched myself out thin trying to set up a business while working at the same time, which put extreme stress on me, so bad that it affected my health and relationships at home.

There will be challenges on your way, there will be stressful situations in your life. But only when you love what you do, can you accept your situation and be grateful for all the experience it has to offer. You can’t influence your situation, but you can influence your choices. It is when you decide to own your choices can you become a better person.

I would like to take a moment here to thank Kent because this business has provided me with the perfect environment to find my values, to love what I do and to own my choices. What is special about Kent is that it trusts its people, allowing us to realize our potential and become better personally and professionally. Kent itself is on a constant journey to become better. The transformation is taking place as I write this.

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