We recently interviewed Alistair from the Project Controls team to discuss cost control engineering – what it involves and the skills required for people to be successful in this job

Cost Control Engineer, Alistair, sitting down facing the camera in white shirt with large blue checks

Cost Control Engineering Lead, Alistair

What is your role?

I’m the Cost Control Engineering Lead in the Project Controls subfunction, which is part of the wider Project Delivery function.

What role does Cost Control play?

Cost Control Engineering as a specialism is responsible for providing guidance to Project Delivery teams within the organisation, on all matters to do with cost. They can be focused on what we call the Single-Source Pricing Regulations for non-competitive proposals, although cost engineers can be asked to assist in analysing competitive proposals from industry. When organisations in the defence industry provide a non-competitive proposal or bid into a project team, we engage a cost control engineer to ensure the costs that they present are allowable in accordance with the statutory guidance on allowable costs.

As an organisation, we work with industry partners to develop and support defence equipment for our end customer, the UK Armed Forces. A cost control engineer is someone who will understand the costs involved to build a piece of equipment – they’ll understand labour hours, materials and risks. They’ll understand the factors that make up the total cost of a project, including indirect costs. They will be able to liaise with industry partners and have a detailed level of understanding about what they are presenting.

What experience do you need to apply for a role as a Cost Control Engineer?

Applicants for cost control roles often have an engineering background, whether that’s mechanical, electrical or, in my case when I first joined the MOD, telecommunications. Usually, that isn’t an essential requirement for a role, although we ask that applicants hold a qualification in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) or business subject or have equivalent relevant experience. We’ve seen a shift in the types of people applying for these roles compared to even a few years ago. We have people applying now with a wider variety of backgrounds, which is great as it brings diverse experience and perspectives to the team.

People with engineering, business or other analytical backgrounds are well-suited, because what we’re doing here is buying defence kit so, by its very nature, it invariably has an engineering or analytical element to it.

For anyone younger who is considering a career as a cost control engineer and thinking about their options and potentially going to college, I would say you need to be doing subjects like science, maths, and design technology – subjects that require you to think in a logical, methodical way.

We currently recruit across a number of different locations. What kinds of projects might incoming applicants be working on at these sites?

Some sites such as Abbey Wood, Portsmouth, or Yeovil are DE&S sites, or sites shared with the Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA), our sister organisation. In Portsmouth, that’s a naval base so the cost control engineers would be working on ships, in Yeovil it’s helicopters, so applicants could be working on a range of different projects dependent on where they are applying to. Some locations we recruit for – such as Barrow-in-Furness, Derby and Rosyth – are SDA sites. By their nature successful applicants will be working with submarines, whether it’s the acquisition of new submarines or on-board systems, or support of in-service kit.

I should also mention that with our flexible and remote working policy, we are able to reach applicants in our key locations and beyond too, as employees may be based at a particular site but we now promote an ‘attend for a purpose’ approach, reducing the number of days members of the team need to attend site.

What sort of progression opportunities are available within Project Controls? How is the team structured?

Within this subfunction, we have a small number of Level 1 (entry-level) positions, but tend to recruit more for Levels 2 and 3. The transition from Level 2 to 3 is fairly straightforward. You can be doing the day-to-day job at Level 2, but then the distinction comes at Level 3 where employees are empowered to manage colleagues, lead tasks and liaise with the customer and supplier to come up with a recommendation and solution. Level 4s and 5s are much more involved with overarching strategy, direction, and looking to understand where the pipeline of work is and what we should be engaged in.

The organisation is very committed to supporting professional development, through on-the-job learning, dedicated Functional Development Officers to help you fulfil your career ambitions, and paid-for support through professional qualifications.

What sorts of professional qualifications might people hold or work towards within Project Controls?

Ideally, applicants will have STEM qualifications, but successful applicants may also have analytical experience that has been achieved through non-traditional STEM routes. There is a range of professional associations and accreditations people in the team might have, or be working towards, including membership of the Association of Cost Engineers (ACostE) and estimating bodies such as the International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (ICEAA). We also have colleagues who are members of the Association of Project Managers (APM).

We used to be much more prescriptive in the qualifications we would look for in applicants to our roles, however we’ve really seen progress in our recruitment strategy in terms of focusing on those with the right aptitudes and skill sets, and have broadened out the types of qualifications we now look for.

Would you recommend working in Project Controls and why?

I would certainly recommend working for the organisation because I think there’s a lot of stability, as well as variety and plenty of opportunity to progress and develop in terms of working in this particular function. I’ve been within the wider MOD myself since joining as an apprentice, which also helps highlight that it’s a great place to work. It really offers a chance to mould and shape your career as you develop.

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