David Duncan

Vistry Group

From the Army to SHE Advisor

David spent 6 years in the Army from July 2006 to September 2012. He joined the military as a junior entrant straight from school (age 16), initially as a rifleman where he was deployed to Afghanistan on Herrick 6 in 2007, only weeks after completing his training. He then trained as an Assault Pioneer, finishing top of his course, where after a short period of time, went on to attempt and passed the selection for Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF).

During his time with the BRF, David specialised in a number of different areas including: covert and overt surveillance techniques, advance medical, demolitions and mine (IED) clearance. He deployed again to Afghanistan as a member of the BRF on Herrick 10, conducting several arduous operations, most notably Operation Panthers Claw. Unfortunately, David was shot during one patrol in an ambush. This injury led to him returning to the UK and re-joining his Unit, 2 Mercian, where after many months of rehabilitation, he went into a more supportive role within the rifle company until his medical discharge in September 2012.

A typical day for David during the last few months of his military career, consisted of assisting with the instruction and training of his colleagues. This was through theoretical instruction and practically, by enhancing the training methods of his fellow soldiers by deploying battle simulations during training exercises, both in the UK and overseas.

Whilst serving, David developed a number of skills including: being trustworthy, task ownership, dependability, and intuitiveness. He goes on to explain:

“During deployments and with the responsibilities I had as a result of my role I had to ensure that I was utterly dependable and trustworthy, as you would be responsible for not just the lives of those around you, but the information you sourced and provided would be used to plan future operations and necessary resources, which has the potential to effect hundreds, if not thousands of lives, both military and civilian.

You had to be intuitive and trust both your instincts and training as you quite often found yourself in a position of extreme vulnerability. Part of being the brigade’s eyes and ears is that you sometimes operate in hard-to-reach isolated places with little or no support. You had to be adaptable to the rapidly changing circumstances and remain calm and collective throughout the worst of scenarios.

As an example; when I was wounded, I had to carry on fighting and was not evacuated for over 5 hours due to the intensity of the combat we found ourselves in at the time. In addition to that, our specific location meant that we did not have any fire/air support available and it was down to the people present, including myself, to deal with the situation and get us all out of it.”

David now works as a Safety, Health and Environmental Advisor at Vistry Group which he gained through a “meaningful work placement” arranged by BuildForce. After shadowing for a short period of time, he was then able to secure an interview, which eventually led to full-time employment.

Although David’s transition to civvy street was slightly different as he was medically discharged and it was not his choice to leave the military, he feels fortunate to have been given deferred resettlement, which meant he didn’t have to decide immediately which career he wanted to pursue. This allowed him to focus on rehabilitation to then use his resettlement towards a new career when he was ready.

David’s support network (family and friends) helped him the most during his transition to civvy street as they were there for him for any questions or concerns about the ‘real’ world and challenges he may face when he came out of the Army. As he had joined straight from school, it was the first time on his ‘own’, but was reassured that whilst he may no longer be part of the military community, there was a veteran community out there willing to help. For David, the transition period went very quickly, and “you must be ready to hit the ground running once you arrive at your discharge date.”  When he eventually left the military, David had the support network, compensation award and confidence to take a break between careers and went on to travel the world for a few years before returning to the UK.

The most difficult challenge for David during his transition was that it was not his choice; he did not want to leave Army but the permanence of his injury forced his exit; this unplanned termination meant he was not fully engaged with the resettlement process.  However, he would have liked to have seen more mental health support.

David’s current role includes providing support and upskilling the site teams through assisting them with the management of safety, health and the environment during the pre-construction and construction phase of their projects. He also ensures that the business meets and exceeds its legal and moral obligations of his role.

A typical day for David consists of conducting unannounced site visits throughout the North West and Yorkshire region of the business, auditing their documentation and working practices of all people on site, including the working conditions. Whilst he is there to make sure the site team and their subcontractors meet their legal requirements at the least, the primary reason is to upskill and support the site teams with any challenges they may face relating to safety, health and the environment. Key for David, is to be proactive in the approach to health and safety, avoiding putting anyone in a position which may be unsafe, and additionally ensuring all the correct documentation, appropriate training, and adequate resources are in place.

From the military to civilian life, David uses a number of transferable skills; beginning with problem solving – there are many tasks happening on site at any one time and a site team to be managed. By helping them prioritise activities and think through tasks methodically, this ensures the correct processes and policies are followed. Being adaptable poses the ability to think on his feet to ever changing situations, as well as walking into the unknown with very little information and taking control is an absolute must. Additionally, there may be times on site where he must challenge poor behaviour and deal with any questions or objections received from other people.  Whilst these are common personality traits during his military career, David finds this is not quite the situation on civilian street. He also adds that “unfortunately, the Health and Safety advisor isn’t the most popular position on a construction site but being knowledgeable and adaptable will assist you greatly.”

For someone leaving the Armed Forces and seeking a new career in construction, David’s advice is the following:

“Don’t dwell on your lack of experience ‘on the tools’ or lack of experience in ‘construction’; a skill or a trade can be taught and you can gain experience over time. What a military person brings with them is a lot more than what can be taught. Your ‘can-do’ attitude and motivation to succeed will serve you well.”

Finally, David describes a career in the construction industry as: “Challenging. Rewarding. Ever-changing.”