Jay, Regional Lead Field Engineer, ex military, is helping to grow Ocado Technology’s international smart warehouse portfolio. He reflects on leaving service and engineering in the private sector.
I joined the The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 2009, as an armourer - seven days after leaving school. These days I think the job title has been revised to Weapons Systems Technician, but the role is the same: to repair all of the army's weapons systems, and a bit more besides. My scope included anything from pistols to Challenger 2 tanks and large artillery, but in practice we put our training to use everywhere. I could be fixing an AS-90 artillery system one day, or a cookset the next.
After basic training, I had 18 months 'trade training', which was essentially a fast-tracked apprenticeship. The idea is to turn out great all-round engineers that can then go on to learn about and work on weapons. It’s a wide-ranging foundation in practical engineering, including engineering principals, blacksmithing, metal work, electrics, metal inspection, and something called Battle Damage Repair (BDR) - basically learning to be a professional bodger, making in-the-field repairs using anything you have to hand. It was a fantastic grounding.
“ I joined Ocado Technology in a contract role, but applied for the Field Engineer role with Tech Ops as soon as it came up. I loved the idea of getting out and about and taking on a wide range of challenges around the UK.”
I was in the service until 2015, and during that time I served with the Infantry, Artillery, and the Engineers as part of Light Aid Detachments, so I got hands-on with a wide variety of equipment in many different situations - getting involved wherever help was needed.
After leaving the army I went into the print and paper industry, dealing with the installation and ongoing maintenance for printing presses and the like. I ended up as a night shift engineer and for two years I ran an entire print site on my own, until we employed a few more people to help me!
The print industry is where I learned my industrial skills. The army gave me the hand-skills, and many 'soft skills', but I needed the industrial side of things to complete the picture. For example, the Army rarely uses three-phase supplies. I was lucky that I ended up on shifts with some very experienced engineers who were happy to help and to impart some wisdom. I was in my early twenties, but I think between the two colleagues I started with there was about 70 years of engineering experience.
After that, I joined Ocado Technology in a contract role, but applied for the Field Engineer role with Tech Ops as soon as it came up. I loved the idea of getting out and about and taking on a wide range of challenges around the UK.
“When you're faced with difficult situations, difficult customers, short timelines, and so on. Instead of sitting down and moaning about it, you simply ask yourself "What do we need to do to sort this out?" I think I learned that in the Army.”
Field Engineers work with our Product Specialists and are their hands-on engineering muscle. Product Specialists are very much focussed on the application of the products that go into our Customer Fulfillment Centres (CFCs), while Field Engineers go in and sort out any issues found on site, undertake investigations, implement upgrades, source and manage subcontractors as required by the job, and so on.
At the time I joined, there were only three Field Engineers in the company, including the Lead Field Engineer. Now I think there are about 15 around the world and still growing. I'm a Regional Lead Field Engineer. I'm based in the UK but my team and I provide site support across the UK, Europe, and ‘Rest of World’.
In the Right Mind
The combination of the core skills, resourceful outlook, and attention to detail that I learned in the army, combined with the industrial engineering experience and autonomy I gained in the print trade were a perfect combination.
I think the army gives you a mindset - a confidence and a determination to get things done, and get them done well. It teaches you to question things - to go in and have a look and not be afraid to get stuck in. Everyday I was dealing with issues that, if not addressed correctly, could result in disaster. It was a world where even a bodge had to be done right. I've had occasions where I've come up with a solution on the spot, to then be told it was a better solution than the 'proper' one.
It's about not getting flustered when talking to others - whether they are high-ranking officers, line managers, or company directors. It might sound odd, but it's crucial to understand that these people ask you questions because they actually want to know the answer. They want your opinion because that's what you do, and that's what you're good at.
When you're faced with difficult situations, difficult customers, short timelines, and so on. Instead of sitting down and moaning about it, you simply ask yourself "What do we need to do to sort this out?" I think I learned that in the Army.
Although, however complementary they are, it’s also absolutely true that army engineering and commercial engineering are very different. I had a friend call me recently who was just leaving the army, asking me about my approach to my post-service career. I had to break it to him that starting out in commercial engineering is starting a new industry, in a new world. My time in the print industry was a fantastic bridge from one to the other.
Finally, I think one of the big things that chimes with me and other ex-military employees at Ocado Engineering is a set of values that should be somewhat familiar. In the army we had CDRILS - the values of Courage, Discipline, Respect, Integrity, Loyalty, and Selfless commitment. At Ocado Group we have the values: We’re in it together, we are proud of what we do, and we can be even better. These lay the foundation for our outlook, our culture, and the opportunities that unfold when you're part of the team.
Change your world with us
We are proud of the opportunities we provide for ex military personnel across our technology, tech ops, and business portfolios. If you have relevant experience and qualifications from time served in the military, find your next job here.