Constructing Brilliant Careers After Military Service

Andrew Waddington is senior technical manager at Morgan Sindall Construction, read his interview with Construction News:

Given that teamwork, resilience and a strong work ethic are highly prized in the construction industry, it’s not surprising many employers recognise the value of recruiting people who have served in the armed forces. Morgan Sindall Construction is one of them and we see great benefits for the sector in recognising what people with a service background can contribute.

“It’s time for UK construction to reconsider how to tap into this pool of talent”

Skill shortages are a challenge everywhere and it’s time for UK construction to reconsider how to tap into this pool of talent. Last year more than 16,000 personnel left UK military forces, many richly equipped with experience and capability. We know there is more UK plc could do to help veterans enter the civilian workforce – the lack of available support has been well documented by armed forces charities.

At the same time, all employers share in a duty to help people who are on the reserve list or whose partners are serving military personnel. Reservists are an important component of our national defence capability and the UK currently has 32,500 people on the list. Reservists need understanding and consideration from their employers.

Much the same is true of the families of serving military personnel – there’s a need to recognise people in this situation have a particular set of challenges and can easily, and unfairly, face disadvantages.

From camo to construction

This is an issue I experienced first-hand. I joined the Royal Engineers aged 16 and over 19 years I toured everywhere from the Falklands to Iraq and Afghanistan. As a Royal Engineer I was taught architectural engineering, construction materials and quantity surveying among a raft of other key skills, which were utilised to build bases, roads and aircraft hangars.

When I left in 2007 there wasn’t much in the way of support for people like myself. Someone leaving the army needs that support to adjust to civilian life, from the first steps of constructing a CV and finding suitable employment. I felt the effect of this, moving between jobs trying to find the right place, before joining Morgan Sindall in 2020.

I fear the main issue the industry faces is the lack of trust it places in people who are in effect already highly experienced construction professionals, with a great work ethic, demonstrable skills and a willingness to learn. That and a real lack of understanding about the needs of veterans, or the requirement of flexibility for families who may have a serving parent, or the reservist, who requires two weeks each year to train.

Building better support

Fortunately there are ways we can address these issues. Any employer can take guidance from the Armed Forces Covenant. Morgan Sindall as a group has committed to the programme, which is built around the key principle of recognising those who serve in the armed forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families and ensuring all these groups face no disadvantage compared to other citizens. The Covenant also applies special consideration where appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as, the injured and the bereaved.

This means ensuring that service personnel, former service personnel and their families are not disadvantaged through military service; ensuring a level playing field so there is equal access to any form of service or support or information.

At Morgan Sindall we’ve updated our own processes and employment and engaged with our supply chain about the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant.

Through our next stage of engagements we were able to interact with charitable organisations such as Building Heroes, and to continue our long-standing partnership with BuildForce, dedicated to connecting the service man or woman to the right job in industry and preparing them for the world of work. Through them we were able to understand the discrepancies of employing a former or current service person – as well as understand the potential for collaboration between industry and the armed forces.

It is a commitment to understanding the culture shift and allowing a foot in the door for competent staff like me, in a position where they need work. Just through enabling these conversations and interacting with BuildForce we’ve been able to actively recruit veterans, and help our staff understand the Covenant. The results have been outstanding; we’ve had queries from our supply chain, asking to understand the Covenant and engage with its satellite charities. To date we have received a silver accreditation from the Defence Recognition Management and we’re now pressing on to achieve our gold award.

The construction industry has a unique opportunity to contribute to the Armed Forces Covenant and I encourage organisations to educate themselves on it, and to involve themselves with charities like BuildForce and Building Heroes. Actively engaging not only opens the door to a highly skilled workforce that addresses the skills gap, but it generates an understanding. At the end of the day it is mutually beneficial to both parties – ultimately, it is about protecting those who have given so much to protect us and fostering a society that values and supports those who have served our nation.

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Published August 2023