In Grandad’s footsteps

While Leif Birkeland is counting the days until he retires, his grandson is planning a career with Aibel. Per Asmund (18) is training to be a sheet metal worker. His role model is definitely Grandad.

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All photos: Øyvind Sætre/Aibel.

“You must be punctual. Arrive when you’re supposed to, and go when the day is over. That’s the most important thing,” says Leif Birkeland a bit harshly. It is the first day in production for the new apprentice Per Asmund. He gets a break from the welding booth and takes a tour of the Haugesund yard with Grandad.


First stop is the Smistad Hall. Materials lie piled up outside. A bridge crane is lifting steel plates and carrying them into the hall.

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“Steel sheets and profiles are cut here,” explains Leif. He stops and shows the burn table. Here the first steel is cut in big projects. And Leif has been involved in many of them during his 32 years at Aibel.

“I joined the company, which was then called HMV, in the final phase of the period of construction and repair of ships. In 1984, the shipyard began in a small way to supply modules for platforms,” recalls Leif. He is also a sheet metal worker. But for the last ten years he has been secretary of the company’s trade union association.

Fierce competition

A pile of cut H-beams is ready to be transported. Per Asmund pays close attention when Grandad explains the process.

“I’ve watched him go in and out of the company since I was a little boy,” says the 18-year-old. He is one of 47 apprentices who have just started at Aibel.

Over 300 young people applied for an apprenticeship in 2013. There is fierce competition for places.

“I didn’t have good marks in my first year at high school, but I really pulled myself together in the second year. I knew I could do better, and I got in,” he says happily.

Is your grandfather the reason why you applied?

“Well, he’s obviously a good model,” smiles Per Asmund. And Grandad answers:

“Of course it’s very nice to hear that.”

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They walk out of Smistad Hall, past the central warehouse and into the Shipbuilder’s Hall.

“Here the cut profiles are welded together to form larger structures such as frames and decks,” says Leif, pointing to a steel structure towering high above the ground. It will be used in the M13 Troll module under construction at the yard.

“Feel this,” says Leif eagerly as he strokes his hand across the steel. “MPI OK” is written on the construction.

“Here the welds have been checked for cracks. The steel is coated so that the paint will hold,” he explains.

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Per Asmund feels the steel. He is keen to get going as an apprentice.

“There really are lots of possibilities in Aibel, there are jobs both onshore and offshore,” he says enthusiastically as they walk out of the hall.

“You’re lucky. Aibel has job security. In all the years I’ve been here I’ve only been laid off a few days,” says Grandad.

Dreaming of a platform job

Two generations start their stroll towards the North Sea Hall.

“My dream is to work out there on a platform, drink coffee and earn loads of money,” says Per Asmund. Leif has a good laugh.

“So you think all they do there is drinking coffee!”

The North Sea Hall is where the major structures and modules are assembled. It is also the place where Leif has his best memories as a sheet metal worker.

“Yes, I was part of the assembly team. It was an incredibly exciting time,” says the veteran, who has been involved in various module projects, such as Brage, Heidrun and Oseberg, Visund and Troll C.

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“Show an interest”

The North Sea Hall is a hive of activity. The M13 colossus with its auxiliary systems for the Troll platform extends 19 feet above the ground. And side by side we see freshly painted yellow lifeboat frames for the Draugen platform.

“It’s fascinating to see how small materials become huge platform modules,” says Per Asmund. By now he’s got a few spots on his overalls.

“Of course it’s nice that he’s going down the same road as me,” says Leif, who will retire in the spring.

What’s the best advice you can give him on that road?

“To show an interest in learning. Some days will be less busy than others, but always be keen to learn,” he concludes.