Serendipitous decision to join Abojeb and perseverance opened fresh horizons for Filipina surveyor

MANILA, Philippines – The journey to one’s destiny starts with a chance, but what really blows the long sail are perseverance and having that right attitude.

Vanessa Venida, a Geodetic Engineering graduate from the University of the Philippines – Diliman, had had a rather steady start in her career as a land-based surveyor for a private company in the Philippines ten years ago. Just like any surveyor fresh out of school, her initial tasks were data processing and a bit of field work.

Then opportunity came knocking. In 2005, Philippine-based global maritime services provider Aboitiz Jebsen started breaking the mould of typical sea-based manning agencies by managing the requirements of international companies for off-shore surveyors.

It was a pioneering endeavor on the part of Abojeb; no other agencies were hiring Filipino surveyors back in the day.

Ms. Venida, upon learning of the opening, was both curious and, to a point, nervous. Offshore survey was really outside her comfort zone, but the job strongly appealed to the adventurer in her.

She took the chance.

“It was serendipitous, actually. A schoolmate mentioned to a colleague that there was a job opening for a surveyor. I went along and submitted my CV, too,” Ms. Venida recalled.

To balance out the huge leap of faith, she set for herself a measure of realistic expectations. “I didn’t know at that time that I’d be working full time at sea. My original goal was I’d work offshore for about two years only.”

Owing to her good credentials and aptitude for the job, Ms. Venida was hired by Abojeb to work for Van Oord, a Netherlands-based international dredging and offshore contractor giant.

She started as an assistant offline surveyor aboard the vessel Tertnes and her job mostly involved preparing charts and other post-processed data. At that time, the Filipino surveyors like her were performing assistant functions.

“It was a completely different challenge and environment working at sea with an international crew. It was exciting and fun until homesickness kicked in. You also meet all sorts of personalities with different culture sets,” she said.

Ms. Venida can deal with all these. Two years – that was her plan, after all. But serendipity had other things in mind for her.

Over time, she managed to battle loneliness with the help of modern communication tools like email and online video calls. She also started to open up to the nuances that come with cultural issues.

Ms. Venida also experienced the struggle a being an Asian woman in a field that is dominated by men. “There have been a few incidents that made me realize it is indeed a man’s world. People immediately assume that I join the vessels as hotel and restaurant staff for the cruise lines. There were judgments, too, but I learned to just toughen up and work as well as the men did, if not better.”

But all in all, she found herself enjoying her job. She said, “I did not feel any of the discrimination that I had been warned about. The Dutch people were blunt but nevertheless friendly.”

When she hurdled the initial difficulties that come with the job, Ms. Venida blossomed. And suddenly, management took notice.

“Vanessa is an outstanding assistant surveyor. When it is highly convenient, she should be exposed to other vessels and kinds of work. (She should also) additionally receive more formalized training as part of professional development,” wrote Scott Adams, her immediate superior at Nordes, after he gave Ms. Venida double-A marks for ability, work rating, and conduct.

Ms. Venida said her passion for the job is a direct result of hard work and the support she receives from Van Oord. She said: “I learned the values of hard work and responsibility. Van Oord trusted us with the job, I made sure I delivered the best work I could provide. I also shared the work knowledge I gained to newer members of the team. Being adaptable is also one thing I learned to develop through the years. It is very helpful in my nature of work and environment,” she said.

The two years went by in a breeze. Ms. Venida, now thriving in her job, opted to stay a few more years – seven years to be exact. Then her big break came.

Three years ago Van Oord, seeing the huge potential in Ms. Venida, offered her the position of Chief Surveyor – a task that the company was never before offered to Filipino surveyors, or in this case, a Filipina.

“I did not expect to be offered the position at all. Van Oord must have seen some leadership skill, the dedication and the potential to be Chief Surveyor in me,” she said.

She took the promotion as “challenge accepted.” She worked conscientiously. She accepted more and more responsibilities as her experience grew.

The chance Van Oord took on Ms. Venida proved to be a brilliant one. Over the years, she proved to be not only one of the best surveyors in the company, but also among the most formidable chief surveyors in the offshore industry.

Ms. Venida said she is living the life that a Filipina surveyor could only dream about. And Abojeb played a crucial role her success.

“For one, Abojeb pioneered investing in and hiring Filipino Surveyors. Nowadays, there are other agencies doing the same thing because the market for the surveyors has grown,” she related.

Ms. Venida added: “If not for the chance given by Van Oord via Abojeb, I would not have known that I could be a Chief Surveyor. I have maintained a friendly relationship with a lot of the Abojeb processors and crewing managers over the years. They were happy for my success but I owe part of it to them.”