Richard Thomas

FJD Construction

From the Royal Engineers to Senior Project Manager

Richard spent fifteen and a half years in the Royal Engineers from 2003 – 2018 where he started out as a Construction Materials Technician, describing his role as a Geotechnical Engineering Technician.

This involved carrying out site and ground investigations, contaminated land surveys, soil, rock, concrete, blacktop and aggregates sampling, which he then tested for their engineering properties in a laboratory. Richard would then collate this as a report, detailing his conclusions and recommendations to inform elements of the civils design work. The majority of his role was spent on operations carrying out ground investigations, soil sampling and a lot of concrete quality control and assurance groups.

Richard was posted to the 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group, where he covered Design, Project/Construction Management and Facilities Management duties in the UK, overseas and on Operations. A typical day for Richard, would be working through and supporting on designs and Infrastructure reports from recent exercises or on-going operations, allowing a Royal Engineer Regiment to build an asset, support other units on operations, provide pre-deployment technical training or plan and carry out their own.

Richard talks about the valuable skills and qualifications gained whilst serving:

“I completed a Foundation Degree in Construction Management as well as other civilian recognised H&S qualifications (SMSTS, CSCS card). These were used extensively during exercises and deployments to enable me to carry out my work competently. Whether it was managing construction projects in Cyprus or Iraq or carrying out design works at home or abroad.

I also learnt a lot of soft skills in the Army which have stuck with me. Things like the ability to carry out work to tight deadlines, stakeholder engagement, expectation management, leadership and management, or even just turning up to work or a meeting on time!”

Richard’s current role is Senior Project Manager with FJD Construction, seconded through the Atkins CDC Contract into HS2 Ltd. He gained this role through good relationships built with his current employer during his last role as Programme Manager at Birmingham Airport.

Planning was key to Richard’s transition as he planned his own exit route 6 years prior to his leaving date; enabling him to transfer his trade from ME(CMT) to the Clk Wks (C) route, providing him the foundations to transition into the role he wanted when eventually leaving the military. Richard also delayed terminating his contract with the Army for 8 months to gain valuable transferrable skills and knowledge from an up and coming deployment. It also allowed him to plan his leaving date to a more suitable time of the year. Other things such as topping up his foundation degree to a BSc (Hons) and gaining other industry recognised H&S qualifications such as IOSH Managing Safely & First Aid at Work, attending CTP workshops and career fairs, networking, LinkedIn and a strong CV meant a successful transition.

Richard’s main challenge was the long wait before applying for meaningful jobs as they came and went and were a good fit and interesting, but he couldn’t apply as was still serving. He would have liked to have seen more job fairs and encourages others to take advantage of BuildForce’s Armed Forces insight days.

Richard is currently working in the Programme Management Capability office, where he develops the HS2 Project Management Competency Framework into a short, medium and long-term capability. He also looks at introducing a Project Complexity Framework to ensure the HS2 Project Management job family remains fully capable to deliver this. A typical day now for Richard consists of stakeholder meetings across internal and external business functions, to gain insights and share knowledge andinformation on similar work where appropriate. Due to the nature of Richard’s job: stakeholderengagement and risk management, change, expectation, time, planning and resourcing are all critical skills he has transferred from his military service to his role as Senior PM.

Richard’s advice to someone leaving the Armed Forces seeking a new career in construction would be to utilise the Defence Academy to gain professional, industry recognised qualifications and use CTP and SLC/ ELC providers for less stressful courses. He also recommends to research roles and qualifications to be realistic; he initially chose a Project Manager role, to allow him time to adjust his military experience to the civilian world, before applying for a Senior Project Manager role 12 months later; meaning he was ready, more qualified and in a stronger position.

Richard also recommends, “adjusting salary expectations up or down using an App like Glassdoor or the annually published APM Salary Insights by comparing the role you want to do and the average salary in that role (obviously some companies pay better than others but it provides a good starting point for negotiations).”

Lastly, Richard would describe a career in construction as: “Interesting. Fast-paced. Rewarding.”