It was the autumn of 2010, Aibel was opening an office in Harstad, and by a stroke of luck the company had the opportunity to take over Norsk Hydro’s old premises in Kanebogen. Jarle Habbestad was dispatched from Bergen to get the office up and running. “The first thing I did when we were in place was to invite myself to a meeting with the mayor. I was granted a 15 minute audience, but when we said our goodbyes we had talked for three hours and agreed that he would officially open our office,” Habbestad chuckles. “As of today it will be called the Aibel building,” mayor Helge Eriksen said when he formally cut the ribbon on 15 December 2010.
Habbestad donned many hats in the time ahead. There were network meetings with politicians, stakeholder organisations, advertising agencies, media, sports teams and locals, everyone wanting their part. In addition, all infrastructure had to come together and people had to be hired.
Habbestad stayed in Harstad for 18 months. He currently works as project manager on Sture-Kollsnes and is approaching retirement, but the Harstad office will always have a special place in his heart:
“It was incredibly busy and we worked around the clock, but I would never switch the experience for anything else!”
The development of the office took place very quickly, and on 6 December 2010 the two first local employees arrived, Geir Sørensen and Wenche Johnsen. As early as the following year the office had 50 employees, with a mentor arrangement from Bergen and Stavanger. In 2012, Aibel won an M&M contract with Shell on Draugen, and then it really took off.
“We established ourselves as a separate project organisation, and quickly doubled the number of employees,” remembers Ole Einar Hass, who has headed the office since October 2018. “In 2013 we exceeded 130 employees and consultants, and completed our first shutdown on Norne. Everything looked rosy.”
- and downs
Then the oil downturn arrived. 2014 was the Harstad office’s all-time high, but it was also the start of a long downturn. The price of oil drops and half of the permanent employees in Harstad have to leave. In 2016, the oil crisis is a fact, and the Harstad office has to go through several rounds of downsizing.
Hass has been employed since 2011 and thus experienced both the ups and downs. “Fortunately we won a new M&M contract for Norne in 2016, and this also incorporated work on Aasta Hansteen. Although this work didn’t start until 2018, it became a glimmer of hope and was the main reason we could keep going with a staff of 20,” he says.
Now the office counts 27 employees, and is growing steadily. The plan is to hire ten new employees this year. “We are mainly looking for engineers, and we would like to have people with roots in Northern Norway,” Hass says. “We also have openings for new hires, and last year we hired several graduates.”
One of them is Bjørn Dahlin Simonsen. He has a certificate of apprenticeship as an electrician and an engineering/master’s degree in electrical engineering and electrical power. With a childhood in Ballangen and a master’s degree from UiT in Narvik, he was ready to settle down locally. “Aibel was my choice because I felt it was most relevant with regard to opportunities for development. It’s an exciting, fast-paced industry where new methods and technology are constantly adopted, and I find it very interesting to be a part of that.”
“People are happy here,” Hass says. “We have a very low rate of sick leave, and I believe it is due to a combination of job satisfaction and interesting tasks. And we also resolve issues at a low level in the organisation. At the same time we have an excellent partnership with Equinor locally, where the ‘one team’ attitude is strong.”
“I envision a bright future for Aibel Harstad and I’m proud to present Bjørn as one of four relatively newly qualified, young, skilled people who want to work with us,” Hass concludes, emphasising: “There’s room for more!”
Published 25 March 2021