From RAF Pilot to Compliance Manager

Where I came from

I joined the RAF in 1999 on a Permanent Commission – meaning 16 years Regular service – which ended in July 2015. I initially served as a helicopter pilot, flying the Chinook transport helicopter, before a career change into the Intelligence branch in 2004. My interest in transport infrastructure was developed over the next 11 years as I specialised as an imagery analyst, using satellite systems to study buildings, roads and rail systems to find weak points. Critical node analysis was a key skill which was essential to applying a GPS-guided weapon to the right point in space and time, to achieve the desired effect on the target. I spent 12 months in the Middle East between 2008-2010 using these skills in support of UK and Allied operations, and worked on numerous technology projects during 6 different Intelligence postings.

Engagement with CTP/BuildForce during resettlement, 2013-2015

As I prepared to leave my final posting at Northwood Headquarters near Watford (where I finished my time on loan to the Royal Navy conducting global maritime risk analysis), I realised I wanted to leave the RAF and work on a major infrastructure project in the London area. The MoD provides a generous resettlement package: 7 weeks leave and a small training grant enables Service Leavers to spend time on courses or work experience with civilian employers. Also, the Careers Transition Partnership (CTP), run by the MoD to support Service Leavers with finding employment, provided a 3-day workshop in early 2014 which gave a quick refresher on CV-writing, networking and interview skills. This was a very useful course, not least due to the huge range of industry contacts and opportunities the CTP had on offer.

The first time I heard of Crossrail was an email alert from the CTP for an Open Day at TUCA. Keen to learn more and make the most of all networking opportunities available, I attended the TUCA Open Day in September 2014. The welcoming presentations from Crossrail staff were extremely interesting and relevant to my own experience as two of them were ex-military engineers. As I toured TUCA and got an idea of the scale of the project, I began to see huge crossover potential between my previous experience and the skills shortage in the construction industry. At the networking session I made contact with BuildForce and asked about the work experience opportunities at Crossrail. BuildForce immediately begun to arrange a Civilian Work Attachment for me with a contractor.

Work experience offer from Laing O’Rourke

By December 2014, I received an invitation to interview at C502 Liverpool Street Crossrail Station. I met the contract director and a senior engineer who led me through a short screening interview – I assume in order to determine my level of construction experience and suitability to work on the Liverpool Street site. This was an excellent 2 weeks of both office-based work providing an overview of the project and site-based work learning geotechnical skills from Crossrail staff at the coalface.

Applying for jobs in the construction industry in London

By April 2015 I knew I would have my last day of RAF service in July with a short period of terminal leave afterwards, during which I was allowed to work for other civilian employers. I began applying for construction jobs in London requiring project and information management experience. The first offer I received was with a major contractor in a town outside London requiring a 3 hour commute – each way! I thanked them for the offer, asked to be kept on their books and said I was looking for a role in Central London. After a few more applications, within a matter of weeks I had received an offer to interview at Crossrail head office for the role of Information & Compliance Manager. As I was working a shift pattern at the time I was lucky enough to secure an interview time in my off-duty hours after a 7-night shift pattern. I left my night shift at 0600 on the morning of the interview and was meeting Crossrail HR and my future line manager 3 hours later. I was extremely pleased to be offered the role a few days later!

Juggling working for Crossrail with MOD resettlement leave

I began working for Crossrail in the Technical Information department in May 2015. Due to the nature of my military shift pattern (week-on, week-off), I was allowed to work effectively part-time for the first 3 months of my new role while I finished my previous career. This suited me and Crossrail as I was able to build up my experience gradually and then hit the ground running when I was ready to start my new role full time. There was a strange feeling of straddling two worlds as I would arrive for work at Crossrail on one week, having spent the previous week in a military environment, then full circle the next week. This meant I had to slightly modify and adapt my management style when changing roles each week and not remembering not to confuse different people with the same name at each site!

Where I am now (5 months into role)

As the Information & Compliance Manager for Crossrail, I am responsible for planning an integrated long-term schedule for efficient and comprehensive information handover to the Infrastructure Managers in 2018. A project of this size usually requires all the written documents in hard-copy format; the innovative approach that we are taking requires all documents, 2D/3D models and asset data for the smooth operation of the railway to be loaded into the LUL and RFL digital information management systems.

The various projects I have worked on during my military career were good preparation to enable me to contribute to the Crossrail project. Working with civilian contractors on complex infrastructure and technology projects from the USA to Afghanistan, focusing on delivering the outputs required for the end user, was a familiar task for me. The principles of project management, team leadership, information management and the ability to switch quickly between fine detail and the big picture, are just a few of the transferable skills that Service Leavers can bring to the construction industry.

The lessons learned so far

  • Early engagement with the CTP is essential. At the 2-year point before a Service Leaver actually leaves HM Forces, you must make every effort to attend the Careers Transition Workshop. This enables you to take full advantage of the networking opportunities and Open Days with many diverse industries, including the construction industry.
  • Create a professional looking profile on LinkedIn. I have received a number of offers to interview via this website.
  • Be proactive and open minded when considering work experience/unpaid work attachments. It is essential to display a keen desire to learn about the business that you may want to work in, and demonstrate the transferable skills and leadership abilities Service personnel are famous for. Do not undersell yourself.
  • Use advice from CTP and BuildForce on marketing yourself in the employment market. Have a well-defined strategy with a desired end-state of where you want to be in civilian life, and then apply for more positions than you would normally feel necessary in order to increase the chances of a first interview.
  • The first few interviews can be used as practice sessions, to hone the interview techniques that Service personnel will not have used in a long time. If you get the job – all the better! If not, chalk the experience up and apply the lessons learned to the next interview.
  • Don’t jump at the first job offer. Consider it carefully and whether it fits into your resettlement strategy.
  • You can negotiate for salary and conditions for the first time since joining HM Forces!

The following piece was published in Crossrail’s newsletter Connect In Brief:

1. What are some of the most transferable skills from the armed forces that you’ve used in your role at Crossrail?

During my time in Iraq, I led a team of specialist communications engineers and have found that my people management skills along with detailed technical training as an Imagery Analyst (satellite and camera systems) project manager have been very useful in my new role as Information & Compliance Manager.

2. Why do you think Buildforce, in particular this mentorship programme, is so important?

I think Buildforce is essential in connecting Service Leavers who may be interested in the construction industry with organisations like Crossrail. I discovered Crossrail through an open day at TUCA and Buildforce helped to arrange a work experience placement at C502 Liverpool Street Station. Appointing ex-Forces Crossrail staff as mentors will genuinely provide current Service Leavers with someone who has made the transition from uniform to civilian life and someone who “talks military”!

 

Ben Hale
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