From the military to Mace
Every year around this time, I take a bit of time to reflect on what Armed Forces Day means to me. It’s amazing how a short time in the army, by military standards, has been both the catalyst and a stepping stone to what continues to be a rewarding career in the construction industry.
Every year around this time, I take a bit of time to reflect on what Armed Forces Day means to me. It’s amazing how a short time in the army, by military standards, has been both the catalyst and a stepping stone to what continues to be a rewarding career in the construction industry. Now let me be very clear. I didn’t leave the army as a high-ranking officer after active duty. I joined as a private in 2003 and left in 2006. But those years have taught me something I hope more people from all regiments and ages will consider after they are discharged. The construction industry can tap into a whole range of the skills and training we get in the military. It can be daunting for some – the lack of a regimented environment, being at a certain age – but if you have a strategy and you stick to it, I can truly say you won’t just have a job, but a career you’ll be proud of. Keeping my eye on the big picture was a huge part of how I went from soldier to Operations Director at Mace. It comes down to three basic things: transferrable skills, networking and solid mentorship.
I’m quite honoured to be from a long line of army veterans, dating all the way back to the First World War. I guess my passion for duty, service and giving back to the ex-armed forces community shines through when I talk about it! Yet as a lad, and even while I was at boarding school, I decided I wanted to get into architecture. It took being in the army to realise that what I actually wanted to do was build the buildings, rather than design them. So by the time I’d started resettlement training, it was clear that the process of setting targets, managing people, time and materials towards a common goal in project management is very much like being on exercise in the army. I was given a chance to do a Prince 2 in Project Management and, along with some experience in engineering, I then plotted a clear course to construction as a full-time career. I was in my early twenties at the time and spent six months with a regional contractor on a training scheme. When that was done the question was; what next? I knew I wanted to be a project manager but I didn’t have the experience. I asked about and did some research and found out I first had to work as a site manager. After that came the training and qualifications to become a consultant. By then, the way was clear. Being a consultant was the goal. Top tip? Start with the end in mind. Ask yourself where you want to retire and what kind of lifestyle you want, plot a course to that and you may find a happy medium. I did. Once I got to consultant I realised I was happy to stay where I was.
I didn’t get there on my own and no one else needs to either. Do your research, understand your industry and then go out and network with people. I can’t stress this enough. There’s loads of help and support out there, you just have to tap into it. BuildForce is an excellent hub for giving you that structure and guidance you might be lacking. What we’ve done at Mace is created an agreed armed forces covenant. There’s over 80 ex-army personnel in that community and there’s support for reservists as well. Don’t dismiss the power of LinkedIn. It’s a cracking tool that I still use daily at director level! You’ve got to have that confidence to put yourself out there physically as well as raising your profile online. Even if you leave the army after 20 years, being a site manager might not be your cup of tea but that transition into a professional career is achievable if you think of it in stepping stones. Don’t be intimidated by not having all the right strands of a career in place straight away (I certainly didn’t!). It’s a message I don’t feel is shouted loudly enough if I’m honest and if my journey makes one thing clear, it is to think of the military as a training ground and stepping stone.
A fist full of qualifications and an armoury of experience still needs to be moulded to get the best out of a career path. Having a mentor can pull all of that together. There are at least six people I can think of who mentored me through various stages of my life and career. They offered the right advice, in the right way, at the right time. They probably didn’t even know they were doing it. I’m not sure where my career would be without them. As folks get older they want to pass on advice and knowledge to others. Tap into that desire both for information and support. I’m hoping more and more key players in construction will be encouraged to offer mentorship. But don’t discount the value you will bring to them as well. My experience as a mentor in the Million Mentors programme encouraged me to reflect on my career; to examine what worked and what didn’t and why. Mentorship should be enriching for both parties and I hope more mentors take the time to get the best out of it. I’ve offered my time to be part of Armed Forces Careers Day and done plenty of work with Help for Heroes. Others also want to help. So seek them out; they’re not hard to find.
See your post army career as a new start and a fresh opportunity. Training and experience can bridge the gap between discharge and new career. By the time you know it you’ll be planning your way to a new future in construction with a host of resources at your fingertips to make your dreams a reality.
A word from BuildForce:.
“Through our network of industry Employers and Mentors, BuildForce supports the ex-military community going into the construction sector. We help carve a path into the industry that some might not have considered. The first call with us helps ex-army personnel identify their transferrable skills and map out a career path. Then we find a mentor that is best suited to their skills and training. This one-to-one interaction will offer training and CV advice, while gradually introducing them to job opportunities and other aspects of their supply chain network. Securing a work placement is another service we offer, which gives everyone involved a chance to ‘try before you buy’. You can gain more experience in your chosen field, whilst building your network and whilst employment is never promised, a placement often leads to just that. Another way into the sector is through the connections you can form at the Armed Forces insight days we host. You can discuss major opportunities, sector trends and fine tune your career projection and focus. A job in construction is accessible to all ranks and skill sets, and offers real potential for career progression. For further information please visit www.buildforce.org.uk