BuildForce, an industry-led initiative to encourage military service leavers and veterans into careers in the UK construction and built environment sector, officially “mobilised” at the Tower of London last month.
This collaborative project, part-funded by the Construction Industry Training Board’s (CITB) Structured & Flexible Fund, was formally launched at a Westminster reception hosted by the CIOB in June 2016. Just over six months later, with support from the project’s founding partners – Carillion, Crossrail, EY, Lendlease, Morgan Sindall and Wilson James – BuildForce is now open for business.
It aims to help reduce construction skills gaps while supporting ex-military personnel – through information, mentoring, work placements and training – into worthwhile careers.
Steering group chair Andy Parker, ex RAF squadron leader and now director of defence at contractor Morgan Sindall, said: “UK construction needs to find over 220,000 new workers by 2019. With 120,000 ex-services personnel currently without work in the UK and around 14,000 more leaving the services annually, BuildForce aims to smooth the military-to-construction transition.”
The project’s advisory group now includes more than 20 construction organisations, ranging from the all-important industry SMEs to international contractors and consultants. These businesses sign up to the BuildForce Charter committing named individuals to act as champions, ambassadors and – perhaps most critically – as mentors. They help service leavers and veterans to learn about construction, gain work experience, and identify career opportunities.
From Royal Hussar to training centre manager
John Stevens (pictured right) was the Regimental Administration Warrant Officer for the King’s Royal Hussars, managing a team of 17 HR administrators and managers providing fiscal services to the regiment.
He felt he had lots to offer employers: “My military experience gave me the ability to adapt and overcome: constant change happens within the Army without warning. I gained leadership and management skills and the confidence to motivate my team and develop them.
“Army life gives you the ability to perform under extreme physical and mental pressures whilst on operations, along with excellent decision making, problem-solving and strategic level creative thinking skills.
“I left the Army as an efficient organiser and multi-tasker capable of operating in a very fast-paced environment, with great communication skills.”
He says networking proved key to finding his first civilian role: “My son’s friend’s mother told me that BuildForce was about to start a partnership with Carillion, to help ex-military personnel move to careers within the construction industry, and I passed her my CV.
“A Career Transitional Workshop was my first step in the right direction. Working with my mentor Chris James at Carillion Training Services really helped me with interview techniques and preparing my CV. It also helped me realise skills I had, but was unaware of.”
Stevens is now manager of Carillion’s construction training centre in Bristol.
From Royal Engineer to senior consultant
The construction and infrastructure sectors are not always obvious destinations for service leavers or veterans. Tom Scott, for example, was a captain in the Royal Engineers, and a two-week work placement with EY in December 2016 helped persuade him to accept an offer to become a senior consultant with EY’s Programme Management Infrastructure team.
“As Regimental Operations Officer, I undertook project management and operations improvements at a training establishment. I have strong leadership and team management skills. I am good at designing, scheduling and coordinating transformational change; and I understood what needs to be prioritised to foster trust from a team and deliver for stakeholders by going the extra mile when required.”
He says the work placement was “more like a two-week interview” during which he could demonstrate some of his talents while also learning about EY and its clients. His advice to others? “If possible try to undertake a work placement to confirm the role is right for you. This is also the best way to network and prepare for any future interviews.”
Scott’s mentor at EY, Katherine Allt, also underlined the benefits of a work placement, saying: “It let Tom get a better understanding of what work at EY is like, and what it takes to be a good senior consultant within our advisory infrastructure practice. He could speak to both our clients and the infrastructure leadership team, which helped him see how his skills were transferable to the firm.”
A former army officer in the Royal Corps of Signals, Allt adds: “I joined EY from the military and having a work placement opportunity would have been a fantastic start to my career at EY.”
Since the 2016 launch and the “soft launch” of a website and related social media in November, the BuildForce project has been receiving a steady stream of enquiries from potential beneficiaries and from industry employers looking to tap into its resources.
The examples of John Stevens and Tom Scott, both placed into new civilian roles even before BuildForce officially opened for business, suggests it could prove a fruitful engagement between the military and construction sectors.