Christopher Gardener

Mace

From Infantry to Assistant Project Manager  

Christopher spent 5 years in the Royal Regiment of Scotland from May 2014 to June 2019. He initially started his military career as an Infantry Platoon Commander of a Rifle Platoon, before moving to a Machine Gun Platoon and finally a Platoon Commander at ITC Catterick. He also undertook a short secondment as Engagements Officer at the Infantry Battle School Brecon, managing visits and media platforms at the most visited unit in the country. The majority of Christopher’s career focused around commanding and leading men, alongside planning and delivering various operational outputs.  

As a Platoon Commander Instructor at ITC, a typical day for Christopher involved planning and delivering Infantry training to both Regular and Reserve soldiers. One of the unique challenges he faced was tailoring the delivery style to achieve the same output from two very different groups of recruits. 

Christopher’s key skills gained during his military career were:  

Planning: used daily, from planning training programmes to dynamic planning on exercise and operations. 

Stakeholder management: a vital skill developed over time without a deliberate focus on it. This could range from engaging with subordinates to international partners. 

Adaptability: being thrown into the situation, whether it’s short notice postings to take on a new role,  or on exercise where things are not “going to plan” where one has to adapt. 

Christopher gained his current role as Assistant Project Manager with Mace through networking, which then led to a senior member connection and visibility of a number of available positions. Christopher’s latest conversation was one of those “informal interviews” focussing on getting to know each other, the industry and where he would best fit, which then evolved into a job offer. BuildForce enhanced these connections and developed his search and understanding. 

Whilst transitioning to civvy street, Christopher had the support of his ex-military colleagues; providing advice and answering questions along the way. However, the initial cultural change proved a challenge in his first job, working with an oil company that had a very different culture to the military and Christopher was surprised at how long it took him to adapt. A constant barrier to moving into construction was his lack of construction experience, so even though he was largely overqualified for Assistant PM roles, the lack of specific sector knowledge was an issue. In the end, taking a “step down” (or ‘across’), allowed Christopher to enter the industry and work his way up. His current role involves having oversight across the different specialities, tying everything together, providing direction when required, managing the programme and quality checking some of the outputs to ensure it fits in with the overall programme.  

A typical day for Christopher now involves tracking updates and checking specialities are completed by deadlines, carried out through emails, phone calls and then input into either excel or a bespoke programme.  He also regularly conducts site visits to check progress and identify frictions. Recently, Christopher had an opportunity to be site based in a different role, running the logistics plan and managing packages. This regularly involved ‘walking the site’ and speaking to the logistics team/package delivery specialist, to ensure they were on track, providing direction, which would tie in with meetings and calls with the supply chain for deliveries/site removals.  

Christopher utilises many of his skills honed during his military career in his day job, singling out the following:

Stakeholder management: is a key skill from the military, one that civilians may underestimate our ability to deliver; believing we ‘just order people to do things’. There are many competing groups and individuals who all have to be effectively managed, from clients and contractors, to other companies on site.  

Planning: Coordinating different groups and ensuring everything lines up as needed. Contingency plans for when things don’t work out.  

Risk analysis: identifying risks and how to mitigate them, be they practical site risks or planning  interruptions.” 

Christopher’s advice to someone leaving the Armed Forces and seeking a new career in construction: 

Spend the time to fully understand what the different roles are. Some of them you may think you have an idea about from the military but are often different in the civilian world. Go along to every talk you  can, even if you don’t want that job, you’ll need to understand how they all tie together.” 

Finally, Christopher describes a career in the construction industry as: “Interesting, culturally similar and team-based.