Gilda Naka’s journey to Global Commercial Project Lead, Refinery Sales started when she joined JM's Graduate Programme. She sat down to tell us all about her experience during the programme and how it has helped shape her career.
I was drawn to the idea of a rotational programme because it allowed me to explore the application of my chemical engineering degree within different specialities. Before JM, I wasn’t aware of what specific career options were available as an engineer in a commercial space. The majority of my educational experience was ‘textbook learning’. Here I’ve learnt what it means to be a chemical engineer in a commercial capacity. The rotational positions on the programme allowed me to explore different environments, live in different places and better identify my strengths and what I enjoy doing. Also, I’m thankful for the financial assistance JM provides for graduates looking to further their education, as receiving my master’s degree has always been extremely important to me.
I’m proud of many projects and initiatives that I’ve worked on. One of the most significant impacts that I’ve had so far has been my work with the team in China. I lived in China for six months and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done to help bridge the gap between the China, US, and UK teams. The China project has evolved significantly from the original investment plan. During my last two rotations, I’ve worked with the team to develop a new business strategy and a phase II investment strategy to determine how to drive this business forward.
My mentorship played a crucial role in my development. Mentors are there to assist with everything from post-programme decisions to helping you outline your personal and professional development goals. It’s important to utilise your mentor and strive to get the most out of the relationship. Don’t be afraid to approach them for help or to check-in with them regularly. However, it’s equally important to talk to other departments at your site. For example, if you’re in a production role, reach out to the commercial team and ask for a tour of their day-to-day operations. Being vocal and active about what you want to get out of the experience is encouraged. Plus, there are a plethora of resources available to graduates, so take advantage of this when you can.
The best part about the programme is the constant connection to other graduates. I relied on this support system at the start of the programme, and I continue to today. I genuinely look forward to graduate training every year because it’s a chance for us to come together. The programme can be stressful; you’re pushed out of your comfort zone because you’re moving between cities and are juggling different roles to determine your best career path. But the people are so supportive and they help you navigate the three years. If you engage with your colleagues it will make the process easier. Try asking them out to lunch, invite someone to a happy hour or join a local club or gym.
I’ve got some great memories from the programme too. Your development is the most critical part of this experience but it’s imperative you enjoy the journey and have some fun along the way to get the most out of it. One of my favourite experiences was during Outward Bound (an outdoor training programme in the Lake District, UK). We jumped off a bridge into a rapid river where we had to swim and climb up a rocky shoreline. I love outdoor activities, and this day was particularly memorable because of where I was and the people I was with.
Looking back, I’d like to have been more vocal about my career goals and aspirations during my first rotation. My career development plan in my first year focused more on furthering my education, and while that is extremely important to me, I think it would have helped if I’d adjusted some of my initial projects to better match my strengths. Despite this, the whole experience was a great learning curve and one that has helped shape the beginning of my career.