“A lot of organisations talk about being inclusive, but we are really doing things, we’re doing things now.”
What is your background and how did you get into this job?
My background is in HR and recruitment, working in the private sector. After that, I worked for Defence Business Services for about a year and a half, before joining DE&S in 2014. Initially I worked with the engineering skills development team, with a focus on early careers. From there I worked my way up, and tried various roles in different teams and different business functions, before deciding to have a career change and now I work as a planning and scheduling specialist in the Air domain, in the Lightning project team in the Project Delivery function.
What made you make that leap from HR into Project Controls?
After working here for couple of years I reached a point where in order to progress further I needed to make a move. As DE&S is a largely project management and engineering orientated organisation, the best way to make the career progression I wanted was to switch to a larger function where there were more jobs available at different levels. DE&S was very supportive in this move. That’s one of the great things about working here. If you want to try something different, you have the freedom to do it.
What kind of training did you need to make this move?
There were some key competencies I needed in order to move role, as well as some formal and on-the-job training which was provided after the move. DE&S takes a 70/20/10 approach to learning: 70% of the learning is on the job, 20% is through coaching and shadowing, and 10% is through formal education. So I was trained on the job and then I did a classroom-based course. After that I was learning from others on the team. Now that I’ve been in my scheduling and planning role for around two and half years, my goal is to gain professional qualifications with the Association for Project Management (APM) to support my career, which will involve a one-year course and then an exam at the end. All of that is funded by DE&S.
What transferable skills and qualities did you bring to your role?
I’ve brought a number of important soft skills from my previous role, such as working well with people and leadership qualities. I’m also very much a person who takes initiative in learning new things, which has supported my career move. I also have good IT skills which has been useful. You don‘t need to bring technical skill to the role as such, as you get trained on that, but it’s helpful to have an attitude for learning and taking on new challenges. Every single project involves a new set of challenges, so you need to have confidence in yourself to learn and take on those new challenges.
What does your day-to-day role involve?
When a project starts, we have to prepare the schedule from start to finish. There are lots of teams here who work on different stages of the ‘CADMID’ cycle for a piece of equipment or technology – that stands for Concept, Assessment, Demonstration, Manufacture, In-Service, and Disposal. I work on the manufacturing stage, so my team prepare the schedule and track progress, ensuring projects stay within their timelines and budgets. We work with project managers, cost control team, finance, industry partners and our customers in the armed forces. We work as a one big team.
You mentioned you were on the Lightning team – can you tell us a bit more about this project?
The Lightning project is one of the biggest acquisition programmes in the whole of defence. Lightning is a fleet of stealth combat aircraft – it’s a new piece of kit and our team is responsible for bringing that kit into service. This is a highly advanced aircraft, and well ahead of its time.
DE&S has also overseen the construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – two aircraft carriers that are the most powerful warships ever built for the Royal Navy, and they house the Lightning aircraft. It’s exciting to be a part of, not only because it’s high profile but because we’re working closely with the Royal Navy and providing a really important piece of equipment for our customers on the front line, to allow them to do their job. It makes me feel really proud.
Why is what you do important?
What we do here is equipping front line commands with the best kit and tools that they need to do their job, which in turn is ultimately protecting the UK and our people. That feeling of doing something that’s important on a really big scale, with that level of impact, is very rewarding.
Now you’ve been in Project Controls for over two and a half years, where do you see yourself moving next?
I’m looking at career progression and looking to lead a team of my own, leading a project and working with more senior stakeholders and making even more direct impact on a project. There’s lots of opportunity to work on different projects and in different teams – whether that’s working in the Land, Air or Ships domain, or even in the digital team.
Have you experienced any updates in technology that are helping your team to deliver with pace and agility?
Across our team, we use lots of different IT software in order to do our jobs, such as a scheduling tool, a finance tool when working with the cost control and finance teams, market intelligence data and dashboards software. We’re currently implementing a new and advanced piece of software that brings everything together under one platform. It’s going to make our lives much easier and much more efficient! DE&S is working hard to develop and launch it in the next couple of months, so there’s lots of training going on at the moment so everyone is ready and the transition is as smooth as possible.
Would you recommend your job to someone looking to join DE&S?
Yes, I would definitely recommend it because the organisation provides amazing training and invests a massive amount of resources and the time in upskilling employees. We even have a training team specifically for the Project Controls specialism, with regular training sessions.
You’re part of the Race and Culture network – could you tell us a bit more about your role?
I’m one of the oldest committee members of the Race and Culture network. Anyone can join the network, not just colleagues from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, we are very much open and inclusive of all cultures. At present my role is helping the team with organising various events and making sure that we are at the forefront of the diversity and inclusion agenda. As a committee, we are here to promote that agenda for all staff as well as externally and across the MOD. The network is about seven years old now, and we’ve really seen things change over time. Now we are running a lot of events remotely, but before the COVID-19 pandemic we ran in-person workshops, seminars and conferences for members of the network.
We organise activities in support of key events like National Inclusion Week and Black History Month. This includes arranging to have guests come from outside the organisation to speak, as well as running discussions and Q&A sessions. We’re writing thought pieces and interviewing staff members from DE&S and the MOD, which are published on our intranet pages for staff, and sometimes shared externally on our website and social media channels too.
How does the network support Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority colleagues within the organisation?
The network is very proactive in supporting its members. We are feeding in at the top levels in the organisation. Every network here has a champion within the senior leadership team, so the Race Champion is an Executive Director and is a voice for us at a senior level. Not only that, we work very closely with the D&I champion and D&I team on various policies including the Bullying and Harassment policy and Unacceptable Behaviour policy, and using the Race Equality Charter framework to identify institutional and cultural barriers for people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. As another example, for some colleagues English is not their first language, so we work to ensure that as an organisation we’re being mindful and inclusive in that respect too. It’s important with lots of people working remotely that we maintain a network presence online, and help members recognise that we are there, that they know where to go if they need support, if they have any issues they want to discuss. As we have seen more people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities join DE&S, our network is continuing to grow and there is high attendance for all our events. And in turn more people are realising that they can join and have a voice at all levels through the network. There is a platform for them.
Thinking about DE&S as a whole, how does DE&S ensure that every voice is heard?
We have a wide range of networks, such as the Pride, Young Defence, Disability, Parents and Carers networks, as well as Neuro Inclusivity and Social Mobility networks, too, giving lots of different people a community to be a part of and a platform they can use. Each and every one of these networks has a champion who is representing them at a senior level and providing a channel of communication. We also have the People Survey which takes place each year, and staff can anonymously respond to lots of different questions about how we operate and how they feel to give honest feedback.
Would you say that DE&S is dedicated to leading in inclusion? How does it feel to be a part of it?
Absolutely. In that respect, I think DE&S is a very advanced and modern organisation compared with others. We’re dedicated to being a centre of excellence for this. A lot of organisations talk about being inclusive, but we are really doing things, we’re doing things now. We’re implementing a lot of new policy changes – like better performance policy, flexible working – all those things that are directly impacting people.
And it feels brilliant. It makes you feel like you want to stay with this organisation. I think from an organisational perspective, all of this brilliant work is strengthening our position in retaining a very diverse community of talent – people from different backgrounds, bringing different opinions and experiences, and making us a truly inclusive organisation.
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