Chris McDermott

Drew Smith Limited

From the Royal Engineers to Assistant Site Manager

Chris spent 16 years in the Royal Engineers between 2004 and 2020, finishing his service as Corporal. During his time, he served in EOD and Search, Infrastructure Support, training NCO at 1RSME Regiment and lastly as a section commander in an armoured support troop.

A typical day for Chris as a Sapper, involved managing personnel; learning how to get the best out of a diverse team with their own experiences, capabilities, backgrounds and personal circumstances, in order to produce a consistently high performance.

Whilst serving, Chris attended ‘The Army School of Leadership Studies’, an excellent course on how to be a leader, commander, coach and mentor simultaneously. It provided the platform for a balanced approach towards getting the best performance out of a team.

Chris now works as an Assistant Site Manager for Drew Smith Limited, part of Vistry Partnerships, which he gained through a connection made at one of BuildForce’s Armed Forces insight day’s which led to a further connection with the Construction Manager at Drew Smith. He was then invited for an interview, securing a 2-week work placement and “The rest is history!”

Identifying the sector he wanted to work in early on and focusing his resettlement on it, followed by BuildForce’s successful insight day meant a relatively easy transition to “civvy street” for Chris. However, the uncertainty he faced was his biggest challenge, and his resettlement began just as we entered the first national lockdown caused by the pandemic which then resulted in a 3 month delay in Chris starting his new role and a concern that his offer would be retracted. Ultimately, Chris describes his journey as “relatively painless” and feels very fortunate for his position.

Chris’ current role as Assistant Site Manager is better defined as a Finishing Manager, it’s his job to ensure their finished product is of the highest standard and completed to spec on time, balancing the needs of their individual trades with that of the business. The bottom line is that deadlines cannot ‘slip’ regardless of individual circumstances and quality must not be compromised; ensuring the new home owner’s expectations are met and their experience of the Drew Smith brand is overwhelmingly positive.

Drew goes on to describe a typical day on site:

“I arrive on site and make sure the trades I need are all in the right place at the right time. They have the material they need and the environment they are working in is as safe and problem free as possible. I then chase those that haven’t turned in and rearrange the sequence to keep the build on program and try not to panic when things aren’t going well! Another large part of my job is to ensure the quality of work being produced is of the required standard and making sure that trades are making good any snags identified during the day. Think of it as the most in-depth room inspection you’ve ever done and you’re getting close to how detailed you need to be.”

Key skills Chris utilises daily from his time in service is communication; passing information up, down and across the site is critical in avoiding delays and confusion. The ability to think on your feet in sideways rain and freezing wind and never underestimate the mindset you developed on those howling exercises in the middle of nowhere: the project always marches on regardless of how bad the weather is.

For others leaving the Armed Forces and seeking a new career in construction, Chris advises identifying the desired role early to adjust resettlement accordingly, go to a BuildForce insight day and, “Network, network and network some more!”

Finally, Chris describes a career in the construction industry as: “Challenging, Busy, Rewarding.”