From the Skies to the Seas

One man’s account of leaving the Royal Air Force after 12 years’ service, to join the Offshore sector.

Paul Draper was an Avionics Engineer in the Royal Air Force where he supervised the day-to-day corrective and preventative avionic maintenance of XV(R) Squadron Tornado jets whilst also servicing aircraft to a tight schedule to meet demand for flying operations. He served for 12 years in the RAF before leaving to join the civilian world as a Survey Engineer in the Offshore sector.

Here is his account of his transition and some of the differences he’s found between the military and offshore world.

September 2008 – A colleague and friend was leaving the Royal Air Force and asked for my help with understanding how GPS and Inertial Navigation would interface into the equipment he was going to be looking after should he get the job as Survey Engineer with NCS Survey. He got the job and started work. A few months later he got in touch and asked if I had found work for when I was leaving the RAF in March 2009. NCS Survey who he worked for were looking for more engineers and he had passed my name on.

December 2008 I had an interview for a Survey Engineer role at NCS survey (now UTEC NCS part of the Acteon group.) I was offered the job a couple of days later to start in January 2009. I accepted and checked with the RAF I could do this in my terminal leave, and it was agreed.

January 2009 – Started work at NCS Survey in Westhill Aberdeen as a Survey Engineer. I was to work offshore and in the base workshop when required plus on standby at home waiting for jobs to come in. I had the security of a basic salary whilst at home waiting for work which kept me grounded and not worrying about providing for my family. It was strange working back in civilian life away from the military. It took maybe 6 months to realise military life and civilian run at completely different speeds. Everything in the military would happen very quickly, yet in civilian life things ran at a slower pace. This was a major adjustment.

March 2012 – I took the plunge to start working as a freelance contractor. I was given the details of Lovewell Blake PLC in Lowestoft, a recommended accountant who dealt with Offshore workers. They explained everything that would be needed and even set up my VAT registration for me and my company name with Company’s House. So that was me set to start working for myself!

Working for myself has had its highs and lows. The biggest positive is you can pick when to be available for work. However, it doesn’t always work out, so you have to be able to look after your finances. Working for yourself also brings better day rates but as mentioned you need a good accountant and also need to be disciplined with money.

Once offshore, be it working for a company or as a contractor, you realise there are quite a few ex military in the industry from all disciplines of military life. Some have carried their skills across from the military and work on similar types of equipment systems and some have a complete change. One of the biggest positives of being ex military is your employer knows you will be punctual, put in 100% effort in your work and strive for the best results in all that you do.

You get a similar camaraderie offshore as you do in the military, and it is quite easy to get in the right mindset when you are on long rotations as often you have had to do that whilst in the military on detachments.

On the whole, my transition from The Royal Air Force to Offshore has been a good one with many benefits. – Paul Draper B Eng(Hons).

Many find a lot of barriers when looking to move from one industry into another however OMPA recognise the benefits new members can bring into a company which often outweigh the lack of industry experience.

Individuals from across different industries can bring with them a wealth of interchangeable skills, experience and a fresh perspective to draw from. New members come with ‘fresh eyes’ and the ability to observe the industry as a newcomer, applying a different viewpoint which in turn can support new ideas and strategies.

If you are looking to transition from the military (or a different background) to the offshore sector please see our top tips below:

  • Research research research! – spend the time to look into the industry you are interested in. This is important to establish which industry is the right one for you. Consider if the roles demonstrate the transferable skills you already hold, investigate any potential training required, how many roles are available within your geographic area, will the transition require you to move, will the move be financially viable? Learn all you can about the industry in order to make an informed decision about your potential career change.
  • Tailor your CV to the industry/job role you are applying for – Produce a skills-based CV to highlight your transferable skills i.e. if the new role you are looking at requires a strong engineering background, put all engineering experience at the forefront of your CV and highlight simply and clearly how these skills can be transferred easily and how they are relevant to the new industry you are targeting. Show your major achievements in bullet point format with short, sharp, meaningful facts.
  • Networking and new connections are key – research networking events within your chosen industry. Attending these events will help you connect with individuals established in the industry and help you build a contact base. Following and connecting with industry professionals on LinkedIn platforms will also help you build your connections and keep up to date with what is happening within the industry.
  • Prepare to invest in additional training – if you are able to show a willingness to fill any skill gaps you may have with additional training, it will show dedication to the cause and prove you are happy to invest in your future within a new industry.
  • Be prepared to climb the ladder if required – unfortunately it may be very difficult to enter into a new industry at the same level/salary you were previously enjoying in your former career. However, if it is financially viable to take a steppingstone approach and begin at a junior level, you will find this path can quickly gain you access to the industry ladder as you acquire that all important industry knowledge and experience along the way.
  • Stay positive – When discussing your reasons for moving industries, stay positive. If your experience was not a pleasant one in your last industry try to steer clear of any negative comments and concentrate on why the move is a positive one, what you will look to gain from it (i.e. new skills, better work life balance, a chance to move closer to family, etc) and what the company will gain (i.e. your transferable skill set and experience, a fresh perspective, someone who is mouldable and does not come with preconceived notions, full commitment from an individual looking to make their mark in the industry). Removing any negative comments allows you to use the positives to your advantage to engage the client / company.