Jen Penner tells Tank Storage Magazine about her love of a challenge and finding her feet as an engineer
JEN PENNER is a project manager at Canadian Tank & Vessel, a Saskatoon, Canada-headquartered company which builds, repairs, and maintains storage tanks and spheres. Like so many of us, her career path was not exactly planned.
‘I graduated from university with dual degrees in chemical engineering and biology and to be honest had no idea what I wanted to do or what career path I was going to take. If you asked me in university why I went into engineering I would have answered “because I like math and science”. Now, almost 10 years into my career I may still not have a better answer why I decided to get an engineering degree!’ Penner says.
She settled on the engineering side and shortly after graduation, began to work for Husky Oil, which had a remote office in the city she was living in.
‘I had a toddler at the time and decided many of the new graduate opportunities that companies typically offered that often required moving through different departments and locations over a number of years was not what was best for our family. I knew that my unwillingness to be mobile in the early stages of my career could potentially limit my ability to progress, but I was determined to not let that happen. I consider myself very lucky to be able to get the job I did when I did and was goingto make the best of it,’ she recalls.
Penner credits her ‘remarkable’ mentors at Husky, who were also her supervisors, for ensuring that she did indeed make the best of it. Beginning with small maintenance and capital projects, her mentors quickly realised her abilities and gave her larger and more complex projects to handle, helping and advising where necessary, talking through the project, and going through the technical details, with occasionally more basic direction.
‘Occasionally, one of my mentors and I talk about those early days of my career and one of the things we always get a good chuckle out of is when I remind him of one of the first questions I ever asked him: “What is a flange?”’ Penner laughs.
Her mentors seemed genuinely invested in her development and took time, even when busy, to give herconfidence and clarity.
‘They would often give me some ideas that they thought would be good options but would encourage me to go and do the research, look for new or different options, and develop my own opinion of what would work best. Rarely would they tell me which choice to make and I am convinced that sometimes they would even let me make the wrong decision so I would learn to deal with the consequences. I can’t explain how grateful I am for that experience; the things I learned become the foundation of the way I solve problems and conduct myself in my career,’ she says.
In the seven years with Husky Oil, Penner progressed through several roles, from laboratory technician, technical services engineer, and then to asset integrity engineer, before becoming involved in storage tank repair and construction projects.
‘I realised our company had a lack of specialisation and knowledge on storage tank standards, designs, and best practices so I started working my way through the API standards and calculations and used that knowledge to come up with solutions and efficiencies to some of the company’s common problems or designs,’ she says.
Eventually, it was time to try something new, and that’s when Penner joined Canadian Tank & Vessel.
‘Occasionally I solve an engineering problem or calculate tank material thicknesses or similar but what I do most often on a daily basis, what I consider my niche, and what I enjoy most is project management,’ she says.
‘I like the challenge of putting projects together like puzzles, becoming an expert on the project, executing the project, learning from the project, and then moving on to the next project. I like the challenge of having a project and gaining experience and then taking that experience to do a better job of the next project, and so on and so on.’
As a project manager, Penner can find herself working on anything from small tank repairs such as patches or nozzle modifications, to major works such as replacing a full tank floors or courses, adding shell height to storage tanks using hydraulic jacking systems, and foundations repairs. She can also find herself managing tank reconstruction, new tank construction, and multi tank packages.
‘The industry is always evolving with new technologies and specifications. Each tank has its own set of options. I like finding my way through the options available to design and construct or repair a tank and then looking at the cost/ benefit/lifecycle of each option to make the best decision for the tank,’ she says.
At this company too, Penner has found the support and mentorship that was so valuable in her previous role in helping her to progress. Listening and learning, to make sure you can always do the next job better than the last, she has found vital in her career.
‘If you don’t know, ask. I am continually amazed at how many people in the industry are willing to share their knowledge and experience with you,’ she says.
Penner’s mentors are still challenging her.
‘After spending 10 years in university I did not see myself signing up to put any more credentials behind my name anytime soon and I can’t remember if it was our operations manager who asked me to write the API 653 inspector exam or if I nonchalantly told him that I could pass that test, but the next thing I knew I was up till all hours of the night preparing to write my exam to become a certified tank inspector. The certification is not necessarily so I can perform the actual tank inspections but instead to get a more in-depth knowledge of the
standards and practices,’ she says.
Penner will shortly begin EEMUA 159 Tank Assessor course and add that to her list. Such experience and knowledge will be invaluable as the tank industry evolves.
In Canada, Penner says she is seeing a definite shift towards tank owners and operators being much more focussed on maintenance and tank integrity, rather than simply running a tank until failure. Storage tank providers and experts are involved in the design and maintenance of a tank right at the start of a project, and tanks are increasingly tailor-made for a location and product being stored, rather than being off-the-shelf.’
ON BEING A WOMAN IN THE TANK INDUSTRY
Like the previous ‘Women in Tanks’ interviewed in these pages, Penner is used to being the only woman in a meeting, at a conference, and on site. However, she is noticing now that the gender balance is shifting.
‘It is still very likely that most women in the industry will have significantly more male colleagues than females but as a woman in the industry you cannot let that deter or discourage you. I would suggest not hiding but embracing your femineity and the diversity that comes along with it. Being the only female at the table, on the team, or on site gives you a unique and valued perspective that the others do not have, use being a woman to your advantage!’ she says.
Encouragingly, Penner has met ‘countless’ well-respected women within the industry, proving that there is a place for women.
‘A popular question I have been asked throughout my career, and I am sure other woman have been asked, is if I feel like I have been limited in my career options, success, or discriminated against for being a woman. At times I think I may have wanted to blame my career frustrations or lack of progress on being a woman, but I have come to realise that those feelings were likely not unique to being a woman but instead things we all go through along the journey,’ she says, adding: ‘If anything, being a woman in the industry has caused me to work harder and take on challenges to prove myself.’
THE RIGHT DECISION
Penner is almost evangelical about the profession she ended up in almost by accident, as an engineer in the tank industry.
‘I was recently interviewed by two female engineering students as a part of an assignment they were given, and I remember being really excited to tell them that they have so much to look forward to in their careers and the opportunities that they are going to create for themselves as female engineers,’ she says.
She describes herself as ‘100% satisfied’ with her choice of career and industry.
‘There are so many career opportunities in so many different sectors; oil and gas, fertilisers, manufacturing, water treatment, etc.,’ she says, adding: ‘You can think critically, question why we do things the way we do, and change the way we do things. There is so much to learn and it hasn’t got boring yet!’