SaluteMyJob chats to Ralf Topping, a Senior Programme Engineer at Severn Trent Water, who previously served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers. We find out about his role in the military and his successful transition into civilian employment.
SMJ: What was your role in the military?
RALF: I was in the Royal Engineers for 37 and a half years and left seven years ago, in May 2010. I was what they call a garrison engineer. I joined as a young 15 year old apprentice and was commissioned through the ranks, finishing as a Lieutenant Colonel.
SMJ: What is your current role at Severn Trent and your key responsibilities?
RALF: A senior programme engineer. Within the Asset Creation, Water Production team, we have responsibility for our treatment works and plants where we are constructing or refurbishing assets, such as filters or pumps. So it’s a lot about engineering, all disciplines across the civil, mechanical and electrical and I am the electrical lead for the team. So main day-today business is managing contractors, making sure we deliver projects on our sites, so I have to look at the finances, the timescale of the programme and all of the other idiosyncrasies that come with working with contractors and projects across our numerous sites.
SMJ: In your opinion, what training or experience from your Armed Forces career, has made you successful in your role at Severn Trent Water?
RALF: During the latter stages of my career, I was predominantly engaged with working with contractors, I was head of facilities management in Cyprus, before that I was out in Brunei. In Cyprus, I was working with civilian contractors, building on our fixed sites - or during operations, which is very similar to the job I am doing now. I have 37 years in the Army with a background in engineering - and another seven years with Severn Trent, so over 40-years of experience now.
SMJ: What additional skills, work experience or qualifications did you gain to help with employment?
RALF: The qualifications I gained in the military helped me into the company as all my experience ticked all the boxes when I came across the role advertised at Severn Trent. Specifically, I got my Higher National Diploma in Engineering, as well as completing a number of other courses that I knew would help me into employment when I left the military.
SMJ: What did you want to o when you left the military?
RALF: I did not have anything fixed in my mind, I was quite open when I left the military and thought I was well qualified to do a lot of jobs, given my background and experience. I was attracted to the role at Severn Trent, because it was engineering and I knew I had the skills and experience needed for the role.
SMJ: How did you hear about Severn Trent?
RALF: I attended Career Transition workshops in the military and gained a few leads during those workshops. I spotted a job advertised by Severn Trent and simply went for it. I left the Army on the Friday and started my job here on the Tuesday!
SMJ: What were the challenges with transitioning?
RALF: I did find transitioning challenging. You go from something you have been doing for 30 odd years. You have an element of support from the military to prepare you for civilian life, but when it is there in front of you, it’s quite daunting. It was an experience you can’t fully be prepared for, however many courses you do, when you are faced with the prospect that you do not have a career in the military anymore and you need to find your own way in life, it is daunting.
SMJ: What would help other going through the transition phase?
RALF: Start preparing as early as you can. A lot of people just leave it until the last two or three months of Service and I don’t think that is long enough. You always know when you join the Army, your time is going to end and a lot of people get so caught up in their role and life in the military - they forget that civilian life is at the end of it.
SMJ: Why do you think it is important to give opportunities to ex-Service men and women?
RALF: I always take the analogy of a football team, you can’t all be star centre forwards, scoring lots of goals every week, you need a number of different players to make the team work. I just think employing ex-military people is a great opportunity for a company to bring a different mix and skill set. It’s great to get a mixture - life is all about meeting different people and it’s just great to give the opportunity to ex-military.
SMJ: If there was anything you could advise businesses who want to employ Armed Forces candidates, what would it be?
RALF: I think it is all about just giving people the opportunity. I would just say, give ex-military people the chance, see what they can do within your company - I’m sure you will be surprised.