After leaving the RAF I replied to an advert for operator technicians at px Group’s Teesside Gas Processing Plant. I passed all the required tests and interviews and was offered a role within px Group. I took the job.
On the run up to leaving the RAF I began attending various courses which were designed to assist with the adjustments required for moving back into civilian life. Some of these courses seemed a little dated but some provided helpful tools for a person making the transition back from the forces.
There are little intricacies taken from the RAF which I still do now, for example if someone gives you a time for a meeting turn up five minutes early. You will never be late if you follow that simple rule, top tip. I won’t lose these traits; they have embedded their way into who I am. They have made me a better person.
As the amount of courses which I was required to attend became less and less I realised that soon my forces career would be a thing of the past. That unsettled me, I began to realise that normality loomed. In the build up to my first day at px my wife could see I was becoming uncomfortable with my change, the regimented routine which was the norm was slowly fizzling away.
When I turned up at the gates I was greeted by security, we had a casual chat and I was given a pass and asked to go into the admin building where I would be shown around and taken down to operations.
The first person I was introduced to was the plant manager. To me this was the equivalent of meeting the Station Commander which would be a very formal affair. The plant manager introduced himself and we began chatting, the conversation was so relaxed and informal it put me on edge. I could not comprehend how such a “high ranking” person could bring himself down so far to converse so easily with the lower ranks.
I moved around admin meeting new people who all held important roles within the company, all seemed really friendly. I then met a colleague, Howard. Howard had worked for px Group for a long time and, as I would find later, was a fountain of knowledge – and he was ex RAF too. I remember him asking me if I was finding it weird, he knew I was. He told me of other ex-forces working in the company at that time and reassured me that it would get easier.
As I walked out of the admin building I remember thinking to myself how much that meet and greet differed from my previous starts at each new base. It was around that time I actually realised I could grow my hair again if I wanted.
In the control room I was introduced to Jon who was ex-Navy, obviously not as good as the RAF but ex-forces nonetheless. He knew what was going on in my head and took his time to explain the ins and outs of working as an operator on the gas plant. He introduced me to the people he was working with, Steve – another ex-forces employee. From the people in the control room and how they worked I began seeing the strong teamwork ethos which I’d known in the RAF. The banter, the ability to switch on when needed – it was all there.
As I started to settle into my new role I became aware of something which I thought odd. No-one actually knew what my work in the forces entailed. Speaking to old squadron friends I have found this to be the case all through Civvy Street. There is an air of obliviousness regarding training and roles within any of Her Majesty’s forces. However as I progressed with px in my operational role I have drawn on my previous training and disciplines to assist with my development.
I became an SAP (senior authorised personnel) which allows me to work on the system more thoroughly, providing isolations and issuing permits to allow work to go ahead. I also became a Deputy Shift Team Leader, this places me in charge of a shift team should the team leader be unavailable. It involves attending meetings, allocating work, monitoring all aspects of the plant and making sure everyone on the team is happy and comfortable with their associated tasks. I have found this role very similar to the role of Corporal which I held during my time in the forces. The man management aspect especially, it’s funny how the human brain remembers certain little quotes or sayings from previous times. One which sticks in my mind regarding teamwork is, “a great team consists of great performances by lots of different players.” To me this sums up leadership and management. There has to be a good understanding of the people you work with in order for them to work at their best. The British forces are the ultimate example of successful teamwork.
The transition from HMF to the civilian world isn’t easy, the longer you serve the harder it becomes. Having ex-forces working in an establishment helps when further military personnel are employed, bridges are already in place to help offer an understanding to people entering civilian life once again and what they may be going through. It also helps put these people at ease quicker, allowing them to show their full potential sooner rather than later.
The number of ex-forces working in px Group is increasing, this shows two things; px are willing to give ex-service personnel a chance after they have finished serving their country and also hopefully that px Group themselves are benefiting from recruiting such dedicated people.
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