Without a doubt, the oil and gas industry is one of the most hazardous occupational sectors where workers are exposed to a multitude of hazards such as explosions, fires, hazardous chemicals and gas leaks.
Those working in remote and harsh conditions are often miles away from emergency services. Hence, the importance of emergency preparedness should not be underestimated. Training plays an essential part to ensure the workers are fully prepared in responding to emergencies. To 39-year-old Muhamed Ridzuan Zainal Abidin, training is essential to inculcate a high level of alertness and a safety mindset.
Armed with his prior experience in handling incidents involving hazardous materials with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), he now works as an Emergency Response Trainer in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), responsible for training fire responders in dealing with emergencies.
Eager to gain more work experience, Ridzuan and his family decided to move to Dubai when he was offered the position. He shares his experience with The Karyawan team.
Q. Could you tell us more about yourself and your family?
Ridzuan: We are a family of six who have been residing in Dubai for close to seven years. I am working as an Emergency Response Trainer with the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC). Prior to this, I was with the SCDF for seven years. My wife who was a teacher with the Ministry of Education is now a homemaker and takes care of our four beautiful children. Our youngest son, who is 3 weeks old, and our 4-year-old daughter were born here in the UAE. Their older brother and sister are aged 9 and 8.
Q. What motivated you to join the oil and gas industry?
Ridzuan: After a few years with the SCDF, I was looking for opportunities to apply the knowledge I had acquired, in other fields. As I was also trained under SCDF’s HAZMAT (hazardous materials) programme, I had some experience with live incidents in the local refineries which sparked my interest to join the oil and gas industry.
To be honest, the attractive salary and benefit packages offered to expats working in this industry were great pull factors for me. So when I was offered a position here in Dubai, my family and I decided to take the leap.
Q. What does your job entail?
Ridzuan: My job requires me to plan and deliver emergency training for the different business units within the company. I prepare customised risk profiles for each unit consisting of the refineries, gas plants, petrol stations and oil tank farms. My main responsibility is to train the in-house fire responders in emergency response. The training includes theory, physical training as well as live simulations of emergency situations.
Q. The oil and gas industry is a lucrative field to work in, but is also a dangerous occupation. Have you ever encountered any dangerous situations during the course of your work?
Ridzuan: Our daily live fire training involves gas-fired simulations that are very risky. The element of danger is constantly present. But with experience, well-documented procedures and comprehensive risk assessments, the risks are reduced to an acceptable level. With that being said, I have been fortunate to not have been exposed to any real life dangerous situations thus far.
Q. What made you decide to move to Dubai? Was it a hard decision for your family?
Ridzuan: When I was offered the position in Dubai, it allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mother to our children which we thought was an ideal opportunity to improve our work-life balance. Apart from that, I was also offered promising career progression. Our parents, as well as our extended families, were very supportive and alhamdulillah, we have not looked back since then.
Q. What were some of the challenges you’ve faced while living and working overseas? How did you overcome them?
Ridzuan: The most important factor when living and working overseas in general is to learn to go with the flow and focus on the positives in any situation. The working culture in the UAE is undoubtedly vastly different to that of conscientious Singapore. Our Singaporean identity and work ethic are surprisingly very renowned in the UAE. I take pride in this identity and uphold my work ethic as I would in Singapore. Respect and acknowledgement will follow if we are honest workers.
Living overseas also poses many challenges. However, I believe with patience, open-mindedness and smiles, any personal and cultural barriers can be overcome.
The most challenging aspect of living overseas is being apart from our loved ones. Raising children without the extended family is tough as it does take a village, doesn’t it? Fortunately with social media and other technology, it is easier to stay in constant contact with them back home so that the children will still feel the love of their extended families while growing up.
Q. Dubai and Singapore have a lot in common with both being developed, smart cities and have highly diverse populations. Was it easier for you and your family to adapt when you first arrived?
Ridzuan: With Dubai being a highly cosmopolitan city and having a high percentage of expats in its population, it was not that difficult to adapt as we did not stick out like sore thumbs. The level of comfort and technology we were surrounded with was very similar to that of Singapore. We welcomed the perks of being in a predominantly Muslim country; with its abundance of Islamic resources, classes and musollahs available at every location.
The children quickly became accustomed to having friends of different nationalities and there is no need for them to view themselves as ‘foreigners’ since the term is not relevant in such a diverse population. We are always open-minded to any differences as it is part and parcel of living in a new country. But we do acknowledge that the adapting process required quite a dose of perseverance amidst all the initial frustrations of doing paperwork, looking for schools and even grocery shopping.
Q. How different are the culture and lifestyle in Dubai compared to Singapore?
Ridzuan: I believe that the lifestyle in Dubai which one would adopt is largely a personal choice. Needless to say, the luxury that one is surrounded by in Dubai is almost second to none. However, as a family, we try to protect ourselves from the downsides of an affluent expat lifestyle by keeping ourselves grounded, making friends from all walks of lives, going on regular camping trips with only basic necessities, and even share household chores.
I have to add that in Dubai, we live in a highly transient community. People are constantly entering and stepping out of our lives as that is the nature of an expat work life. Friends come and go. This is pretty tough to get used to and it does not get easier regardless of how many times we encounter this. Thus, it is crucial for us to have very strong familial bonds to weather such challenges.
Q. Is there a big community of Malay Singaporeans living in the UAE?
Ridzuan: Fortunately, a piece of home came along when we were introduced by some friends to the Singapore Malay-Muslim Group (SMG) in the UAE, an organisation which seeks to oversee the well-being of the relatively large number of Singaporean Muslims in the UAE. We were introduced to the community through the group’s events such as the Hari Raya and National Day gatherings. Through SMG, we have gained innumerable friends who have now become our family in the UAE. As some of the community leaders have been living here for more than 30 years, they have assisted many of us in navigating the challenges, networking and building bonds to create a more meaningful life in the UAE.
Q. What have been the highlights of your career or life in the UAE so far?
Ridzuan: The highlights of my career here would be the exposure to various international projects, work trips and colleagues from different nationalities. This has provided me with a wealth of experience and networking which would otherwise be difficult to attain.
On a personal level, it has been rewarding to witness our children thriving here regardless of our worries. They are gaining knowledge and respect for people from various cultures, learning new languages and love being one with nature.
Living in the UAE also means that we travel a bit more widely than we otherwise would, given its central location. We now share valuable family experiences from our trips which have certainly added value to our living abroad.
Q. Do you have any advice for Malay/Muslim youths who want to follow the same path as you?
Ridzuan: Regardless of the path that one chooses to be on, I believe that the most important aspect when taking steps in life boils down to our intention. Keeping our intentions pure and grounded will ensure that we will work towards our goals in a clear and realistic manner. Any career progression that you strive for should be viewed as a personal growth, apart from networking and sustaining a lifelong learning attitude, which are also essential.
Q. What are your future plans? Do you plan to return to Singapore?
Ridzuan: My family and I are doing well in the UAE and would like to stay here for as long as there are opportunities. With that being said, Singapore is home and our roots are still back at home. So one day, we will be back insya Allah. ⬛
Nur Diyana Jalil is currently an Executive at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), managing its social media, events and publication.