After his time serving in the Royal Engineers, Steve Hewitson found himself struggling to find work despite his extensive Army engineering training and experience. Having the determination to find a new career to utilise his skills, Steve is now mentoring fellow Veterans to help them find routes into the civil engineering industry…

I could have talked to Steve Hewitson for hours over his views as a Royal Engineer Veteran and how this has helped in his route to becoming Area Manager of Waterman Aspen. We can all learn from Steve’s experiences and his advice to others.

Steve had always had an interest in engineering as his dad, uncle and grandad all worked in civil / mechanical sectors. As such, Steve started college at sixteen to do a BTEC National in Engineering, however by his own admission he was not academic and lacked the maturity to see this through. Following on from a suggestion from his mother who was a careers teacher at a secondary school, he applied to the Royal Engineers instead of continuing into his second year.

Like all Royal Engineers, Steve’s training and experience was varied. In fact, Royal Engineers are triple traded; each is a soldier and combat engineer alongside having a specific trade. Steve’s trade was Plant Operator which means he was pretty much trained in everything including bulldozer, 360’ excavator and the combat engineer tractor (CET) which is an amphibious vehicle better known as the Frog. Being a combat engineer meant that he dealt with everything needed including bridges, water treatment and supply, demolition, mine clearance and many other prime engineering skills. These skills were most predominantly used when on operational tours, such as in Bosnia where the required infrastructure repairs included tracks and culverts, one of which led up to an aerial mast on top of mountain. He also helped repair bridges, interestingly one by operating the Frog in a river to protect exposed piers using lumps of concrete from a damage building.

Steve’s many medals and accolades

When Steve’s service had finished, he became a reservist and undertook resettlement courses to get back into civilian life and work. Believing there was work installing security systems, Steve trained in this. However, upon leaving, he discovered no one would employ him as an installer due to his lack of experience. Although he was offered trainee positions, he could not afford to take these as he had bills to pay. As a result, Steve started work as an HGV driver. 

His frustration at doing this for eleven years was not just traffic related, his skills were not being recognised and used.

“I can’t understand why sappers leave and end up driving trucks,” he says, “when there is a need for them in the civil engineering industry. It drives me nuts. The Royal Engineers training is an ideal background for engineering roles and the Army have leadership instilled into every soldier from day one.”

Steve’s dad helped make the link between his Royal Engineering skills and bridge inspections. The bridge inspection industry generally suffers from a lack of staff and there were local vacancies that could not be filled. 

Steve said he took to bridge inspections ‘like a duck to water’ and he has ‘not looked back since’. As a coincidence Steve was now inspecting and maintaining the same bridges his dad designed and built when Steve was a child. Steve was given the opportunity to expand his knowledge while undertaking a design role which he accepted. 

Whilst in the design section, Steve met a colleague who encouraged him to get more involved with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) by becoming professionally recognised as an Engineering Technician (EngTech). Steve of course attained this and since also became a Member of the Institution of Royal Engineers. In addition, Steve has become a Reviewer himself as he thought that it would put people more at ease being reviewed by someone with the same membership grade after he himself was reviewed by a Chartered Engineers.

Steve realised he did not have any qualifications so, in his late thirties, he looked at his options. He was accepted on a Level 4 HNC course after having a meeting which considered him as a person and not just his ‘paper background’. Steve left with a clean sweep of distinctions for all three years from his HNC to HND!

Steve was also encouraged to get involved with his local ICE Teesside Branch. Steve agreed this would be good for networking and getting to know people within the civils industry.  He found that it was right up his street and he enjoyed it so much he became the Branch Vice Chair; the first ever EngTech to do so. He enjoyed the webinars and presentations which he helped organise and present. At one event, a fellow committee member introduced Steve to a Waterman Aspen Regional Director who he connected with on LinkedIn.

“The Royal Engineers training is an ideal background for engineering roles and the Army have leadership instilled into every soldier from day one.”

Steve Hewitson

Through Steve’s visibility on LinkedIn and the continued need for bridge inspectors, he was approached for a relevant role. Through discussions it was clear that with Steve’s ICE involvement and his ideas to look at former Royal Engineers differently and mentor people more they offered Steve an Area Manager role. This new role has given Steve time to do more mentoring of less experienced staff.

Steve’s passion and dream is to be able to help advise service leavers on routes they can take to get into the civil engineering industry.

“Sappers are ideal candidates to fill a skills shortage within bridge inspections,” he says. “Like me, their basic engineering backgrounds mean they would require minimal training to get them to a level where they can undertake them to ensure public safety. As long as there is a need for bridge inspectors, there should be no ex Royal Engineers unemployed.”

What is Steve’s advice…? 

Anyone wanting to progress their career should:

  • consider networking, get involved with promoting your industry to your people or join a committee or group.
  • don’t let your age stop you… it’s never too late to do training or take a course.

Employers, recruiters and course admissions should:

  • speak to the candidate and find out what is behind the apparent lack of qualifications and experience, especially if they are Veterans… they may not be aware of their own worth.
  • mentor your staff and encourage them to reach their full potential.

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