From The RAF to Assistant Site Manager

Vistry Group

Stephen Howell served in the RAF for over 22-years, leaving as a Corporal, in 2011. “Winning my Para Wings in 2003 or being part of the team that established 39 Sqn as the first Unmanned Aircraft squadron to operate in the RAF were my most memorable and proudest moments.”

Stephen served in the UK, USA, Croatia, Afghanistan and Iraq during a 22-year career in flight operations before moving to Assistant Station Controller at Stansted Airport role. “After spending just shy of 30 years in aviation, switching to construction was not a decision I made lightly. That being said, there are some key similarities between the two industries that assured me I could make the change.”

Stephen is a trainee Assistant Site Manager for Vistry Homes, “the largest new-build house constructor in the country. Vistry consists of 4 companies – Bovis, Linden, Countryside and Vistry partnerships. I am based on a site in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, where I specialise in the Compound Manager and Resources Co-Ordination roles. The role was created for me, as the site is a ‘Dual Brand’ Site. That is, there are both Bovis and Linden house products being constructed. Due to the quantity, complexity and different types of resources being used on site, it was deemed necessary that there was someone on site to manage all materials, carry out site administration and to act as link between Site, Regional Head Office and Suppliers so the Site Managers could concentrate specifically on building. I have a track record of good computer skills coupled with an analytical mind, so my director felt I’d be the ideal candidate for the role.

Each day, on arrival on site, I spend the first 2-3 hours directing tradesmen to their materials and getting items moved to plots by the forklift operators. Additionally, I oversee all Site Safety Inductions for all new tradesmen. I will then move on to dealing with emails from suppliers as well as internal requests / directives from people such as the buying, H+S or Director’s departments. If any deliveries arrive on site, I will direct their unloading and storage – this can range from replacement taps all the way to 30 x 1 ton packs of bricks, roof trusses or multiple packs of plasterboard. In amongst all of this I deal with requests for help from the Site Teams. Lastly, during the afternoon, I will liaise with suppliers to confirm delivery dates and quantities before finally carrying out Site administration duties and locking up.

“My greatest strength is my resilience. I had a very poor transition in to Civvy Street. I was effectively abandoned by the resettlement services as I was overseas and not in an established resettlement catchment area. I received virtually no advice apart from my 3-day transitional careers workshop. Because of this, I had to sort things out for myself. That took a level of mental toughness and self-discipline developed from years serving in the military. My greatest challenges were a complete lack of counselling and mentoring. There was none. I was just expected to know what I wanted to do on leaving, and then work towards it. Additionally, I had to leave at the end of my service as I’d reached 22 years. I didn’t want to leave. Looking back, I was suffering from well-defined trauma at being forced out of a job I lived for. No-one asked me how I was feeling. No-one explained any offers of possible further service, nothing. I even had to write my own valedictory certificate statement as no-one wanted to do it. This all took a toll and corrupted my resettlement choices and thinking. I basically just went with what I knew, which on reflection, was a waste of time. If someone had taken the time to discuss my feelings and options for employment, I might not have wasted 10 years, before moving into construction.

The most helpful aspects of using BuildForce was getting me an interview with my director. I’d been studying hard to obtain various construction qualifications but couldn’t get an entry in to a company. The support I gained from BuildForce was the key to unlocking access into the construction industry. Being able to talk to my director allowed me the chance to prove I was motivated and worth a trial. Once I had a foot in the door the rest was up to me.

Advice I would give to someone leaving? Do it! Retired Military personnel make a great fit in the construction economy. You will need to do some research, probably obtain some specific qualifications beforehand, but the options are virtually limitless.”

Military skills Stephen uses in his day job “self-discipline, organisational skills, computer skills, teamwork, strategic thinking.”