Sean Smithson


From the Royal Engineers to Project Manager

Sean spent 22 years in the Royal Engineers from March 1998 to April 2020 finishing his service as WO1. Sean’s last role was SMI (mechanical) Clerk of Works. During his career he was a mechanical-based building services engineer which involved project, construction and facilities management. Sean’s last role in the military was the lead instructor, delivering a 2 year foundation degree in mechanical building services. Along with the teaching commitment to the higher education standard, it was very much a coaching and mentoring role. The course lasted 2 years with students entering as LCpl in some cases and graduating as SSgt, where Sean had to develop them not just as soldiers and SNCOs, but also as engineers so they would have the confidence in their own abilities and capabilities.

Sean describes himself as fortunate to have been able to cover a great breadth of construction and management as well as achieving the APMQ Project Management Qualification and MSP (Managing Successful Programs). He was also able to experience the whole life cycle of a project, through a variety of processes in design, construct and build, facilities management and being responsible for the operation of the military estate, allowing him to appreciate the process, from concept to business, and build on his own knowledge and communication skills.

Sean now works as a Utilities Project Manager at Amey Defence Services which he gained through networking and BuildForce’s further connections which then led to an interview. Planning and networking are the two key factors for a successful transition to civvy street; Sean goes on to explain:

“I had planned my transition from 5 years out, firstly getting my family settled in the area we wanted to live and secondly, exploiting all the funding opportunities to quantify my experience with qualifications.

Networking through LinkedIn or other platforms was key to creating opportunities for myself looking to engage wherever possible and create connections.

The 5 biggest opportunities or interviews I had, came from networking, reaching out to former colleagues now working in industry or targeted connections with companies I would like to have worked for.”

Sean’s biggest challenge in the process was Covid-19 as he had two offers retracted due to the companies freezing recruitment. He also found dealing with rejection quite difficult as he wasn’t accustomed to this in his military career, which he eventually overcame by developing coping strategies and planning alternative options. Sean would have liked to have seen individuals being given more time to focus and concentrate primarily on their resettlement, rather than working them even harder because of their departure from the military.

As Project Manager, Sean delivers heating projects to the RAF. He does this by planning and implementing the first phases of works across 23 sites to enhance the resilience of existing heating systems, whilst also keeping in mind the next phases. This allows for exploiting opportunities and technology to reduce carbon emissions from the heating systems on site.

A typical day now for Sean is a home based role with a 50/50 split between site visits and office based work, which has been a lot more office based, given the Covid-19 restrictions. Generally, he is leasing with site teams and contractors to ensure everything required is in place for works to start, from a safety and commercial aspect. He also leases with command elements to ensure their objectives and goals are being met, working with the client to identify new opportunities or efficiencies in meeting their targets.

The skill most transferrable from Sean’s military service and of greatest value in his current role, is ‘communication’; being able to effectively understand what is required and ‘communicate’ that information to all parties is key to the success of any project. He also believes the work ethic learnt from the military, in wanting to help and go that extra mile for someone, has helped in building good relationships.

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

  • Plan, network and prepare
  • Target resettlement according to the qualifications needed
  • Research into living and commuting options
  • Find out what the specific employer is looking for in a new employee
  • Exploit work experience opportunities
  • Connect with people in companies and positions you are interested in
  • Be polite and courteous to build connections
  • Research and prepare for interviews

Finally, Sean describes a career in the construction industry as:

“Challenging. Fulfilling. Engaging.”