Shining a light on the valuable work of IChemE volunteers
Azzam, you volunteer as an interviewer for the Professional Process Safety Engineer registration. Tell us a little about yourself.
I work at ABB as a Principal Process Safety Consultant. I graduated from the University of Wales with a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. In addition, I have a Master’s in desalination from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Cranfield University in England.
Why did you choose to study these topics?
I always had an interest in chemistry, with a love for mathematics and a deep interest in the sciences. I remember reading a book at school about chemical engineering and I realised that chemical engineers could work in so many different types of industry. It was the variety of job opportunities that attracted me to become a chemical engineer.
Where have your qualifications taken you? Have they enabled you to experience the different industries that your book had promised?
Yes, I’ve worked across many different industries and across the world. Initially I started out as a consultant engineer at Ewbank Preece in Abu Dhabi, working on desalination, converting sea water to drinking water, and later worked on water treatment for produced water and cooling towers at the Houseman consultancy. I then moved around the word working for BG Group, first in the UK, then South America and in Egypt as a loss prevention manager. My next move was to Aberdeen in Scotland to work for PSN and now ABB. So, yes, chemical engineering has helped me open many doors and allowed me to travel across the world.
How long have you been volunteering for IChemE and why do you do it?
I have been volunteering for five years as an interviewer for the Professional Process Safety Engineer registration, and 15 years as an interviewer for Chartered Chemical Engineers. Furthermore, I was the Chairman of the IChemE members group in Aberdeen and am currently its Vice Chair.
Altogether I served for 20 years for IChemE across a variety of roles. I volunteer for a number of reasons. I find it rewarding, as you meet people with the same drive who want to give back to the profession. This is important to the future of the profession. It is also a great way to widen your circle of contacts.
What skills or qualities are required for your volunteering role?
Good communication is vital for effective volunteering. Leadership skills are also important. To be a volunteer you need to lead from the front and set a great example to others. You must also have respect for others and the commitment to carry out the task to the best of your ability.
What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteering experience?
Seeing that young engineers I have interviewed in the past are progressing in their careers. It is so nice when by chance you might meet again and hear how they are succeeding.
How has volunteering changed during the lockdown?
As you would expect, the meetings are now virtual. Nevertheless, I manage to keep contact with those whom I mentor and I continue to participate in webinars and attend committee meetings in the evening. Also, as there is no travelling I have more time to spend with my volunteering participants.
What is your proudest achievement in your professional life?
In 2000, I was awarded the Chairman Safety award whilst working for BG Group in Egypt for helping save lives. BG was building an LNG plant near Alexandria and I helped design a new hardhat for female construction workers. While men were carrying loads in their arms, the women were balancing them on their heads so couldn’t use a conventionally-rounded hardhat.
Before arriving to the site there were a few near misses from objects being dropped on the construction site. With the co-operation of a manufacturer I designed a flat safety hardhat for these women to allow them to continue carrying the loads on their heads while working safely on the construction site.
What is your proudest achievement to date in your personal life?
Seeing my son graduate with a 1st-class honours degree in law with French language and becoming a qualified lawyer at the age of 25. I was hugely proud.
We normally ask volunteers what we would find them doing in their spare time. Circumstances are so different right now because of the pandemic. What are you doing during the lockdown; and what would you prefer to be doing?
As there is no travelling time from home to work and from work to home, I’m using this time to learn new skills and to indulge in new hobbies.
For example, I started to learn how to play the keyboard, and learning and practising Spanish. Furthermore, it gave me the spark to think about writing a book about safety. Only time will tell. Normally I’d be playing basketball, going to the gym and the cinema.
What is your advice for others who might be considering volunteering for IChemE?
Volunteering for IChemE is rewarding as you meet many people with the same drive as yourself. Furthermore, I feel there is value in volunteering and transferring your applied knowledge to the next generation of engineers coming through. For the young volunteer, you might form a friendship for life and potentially you will enhance your career prospects.
This the eighth article in a series that highlights the variety of work done by IChemE member volunteers. To read more, visit the series hub at https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/tags/volunteer-spotlight
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