During the Women In Maritime Leadership Conference this year, Women Offshore Rep, Sheila LaFleur sat down with Erin Vernand to discuss her career as a marine engineer, powering large ships all over the world.

Meet Erin Vernand from sunny San Diego. Erin is a graduate of the California Maritime Academy where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.  She currently holds a USCG 2nd Assistant Engineer’s License. Erin spent 7 years sailing all over the world as an Engineering Officer before coming shore side as a Ship Surveyor.  Presently, Erin is a Port Engineer where she supports the Captain, Chief Engineer and Engineering Officers in meeting the technical needs of high-op tempo military vessels.

Back in March, we both attended the California Maritime Academy’s  Women In Maritime Leadership Conference.  We enjoyed reminiscing about our seagoing days, talking about our current careers and networking with more women the industry.  This dynamic affair was filled with female maritime leaders from all over the US and it was an excellent opportunity for all of us to glean from each others unique experiences.

When we had some quiet time, I sat down with Erin to discuss her career transition from offshore to shoreside and dig in to what has made her succeed as a woman in the marine engineering world.

Sheila: “Please briefly describe your current job as a Port Engineer.”

Erin: “I validate written repair and modification requests submitted from my ship. I put eyes on the equipment, run it when necessary, and ask the operators questions to narrow down the scope of work. Then I plan the repairs and modifications based on a budget and the ship’s schedule. 

Sheila: “What inspired you to work on the water?”

Erin: “I wanted to do something different and interesting, and spread my horizons beyond places and things I knew. Travel and the thought of adventure appealed to me; and the paycheck wasn’t terrible either.”

Sheila: “Please share a memorable experience you’ve had at sea.”

Erin: “I have plenty of sea stories that involve good times and fun ports, projects I was proud of and amazing people that I met. There’s one small story that shifted my perspective, and made me understand the privilege I had been afforded with my college education which then opened doors to a career of my choice. I was taking apart and cleaning a lube oil purifier with an older engine utility man. We got to an easier part of the disassembly so I asked him to follow the next few steps in the tech manual as I left for a few minutes. He was forced to gather his pride and reveal to me that he didn’t know how to read. I was stunned but of course tried not to show it, it never occurred to me that a man of his age in today’s world didn’t have that basic skill. It was humbling to realize that not everyone was born with the same opportunity I had.”

Sheila: “How did your work experience on vessels enable you to perform as a Port Engineer?”

Erin:”My current position would not be possible without my career at sea. Spending weeks and months working in the machinery spaces and repairing and maintaining equipment, gave me the knowledge base necessary to understand which direction to go when gear is down. I know ships well, I can speak the language, and sometimes I’m able to show ships force how to troubleshoot and repair on their own.” 

Sheila: “What challenges have you faced in your career?”

Erin: “I hate to say this but there are so many instances where I know if I had a deeper voice, less hair, and a mustache, the conversation would have gone much different. Though competency and demonstration of my skills and abilities as an engineer, it took a long time to gain the same respect as my male counterparts. I had a coworker ask what it was like being a woman in this position, and I said, ‘I don’t know, what’s it like to be a man in this position?”

Sheila: “What do you enjoy about your current role?”

Erin: “I enjoy the job satisfaction of accomplishing what the ship needs in order to get underway safely. While I don’t get my hands dirty anymore, it’s fun to troubleshoot technical issues with ships force and there’s an element of mentorship I enjoy. Every repair that comes up requires a collective effort by the project team in order to get the job done. It’s like putting a puzzle together where everyone has to do their part and there’s great satisfaction when it all comes together.”

Sheila: “What kind of advice would you give to other engineers looking to come shore side?”

Erin: “I recommend sailing for 5 years minimum to gain enough experience to bring value to a shore side technical employer.  Some companies strongly prefer 5 years sea time for Port Engineering positions.  Also, set up your lifestyle while you’re sailing to be able to smoothly transition to a shore side job where you may have to take a take a pay cut.”

Erin, thanks for sharing your experience and insight with us.  It has been a pleasure to watch you grow in your career not only as your classmate and shipmate, but also as your friend!  The team at Women Offshore looks forward to seeing you make waves as a woman who has succeeded in the engine room and shore side arena.  Women who work offshore are rare enough, so a woman in the engine room is about as rare as they come.  Best of luck to you, Erin, in all your engineering endeavors!

Sheila LaFleur
About The Author: Sheila LaFleur

Sheila LaFleur is the Principal at Job Propeller LLC and 2002 graduate of the California Maritime Academy where she obtained a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration with a minor in Law. She holds a USCG Unlimited Masters License and has 7 years shipping experience on board tankers, tugs, break bulk, and multi-product vessels. After coming shoreside in 2009 she spent the next 8 years working as one of the most successful third party recruiters in the maritime industry. Sheila has coached hundreds of people in taking their careers to new levels. In 2017 she launched Job Propeller to provide resume writing services for maritime industry professionals and in 2018 she expanded the business to provide 3rd party recruitment services for maritime and transportation industry employers. Sheila holds a Certificate in Human Resources Management from FAU and she served as a member of the Cal Maritime Alumni Board of Directors. She is passionate about helping maritime industry professionals achieve their career goals and equipping companies to grow stronger with the right people on board. Sheila resides in Ft Lauderdale, FL with her husband and their two young boys. She enjoys traveling, boating, working out and family time.

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