Friday 6th November 2020 12:09
Spencer Whiteley is 42 and lives in Andover with his wife and 17-year-old son.
He joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a junior apprentice aged 16, and went on to serve a total of 15 years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant and completing numerous tours and deployments, his final one in Iraq in 2007, before leaving the Army in 2010.
Now working for Thames Water as a regional pumping manager in the Thames Valley, Spencer is responsible for 1,200 wastewater sites and manages a team of 50 people.
Here he explains why Britain’s biggest water company – which has just received an Armed Forces Covenant Silver Award for its commitment to recruiting and supporting ex-servicemen, women and reservists – is the perfect place for veterans to make a fresh start to utilise their skills.
Nearly 40 roles have been offered to veterans by Thames Water in the past 12 months alone, taking the total number employed to more than 300 out of a 6,000-strong workforce.
“Leaving the military is daunting. For most people there’s a real sense of ‘what do I do now?’- and you’re always led to believe to expect a pay cut.
“I was a classic example. I was discharged in 2010 and was never not going to work. I went to work for an engineering and data analysis company tied to the military, but was on a pretty low wage and wasn’t utilising the skills I had learned in the Army. I then worked for another company working on armoured vehicles, but it was a step backwards to something I had been doing as young soldier years earlier.
“It was pure chance I met a mate who introduced me to a head hunter working for Thames Water and I fell into the scope of two ‘level six’ roles, just below management level. They took me on and I started in leakage detection.
“I was attracted to working for a big organisation with plenty of routes for promotion and personal growth. There are so many opportunities to go upwards at Thames Water.
“It’s a real mixed bag which is the reason I enjoy the job so much. A typical day involves managing about 50 direct labour staff, being in finance meetings for expenditure running into millions of pounds, being on site solving problems, and liaising with the Environment Agency on strategies to prevent pollution.
“Even though I’m a qualified engineer, the main skill I gained from the Army is people management – you know how to speak to people to get them to do something – and operational management. Coming up with strategies, meeting deadlines and solving problems are all the things you do in abundance in the military.
“I would say to anyone who’s about to leave the military, or who has already left, ‘give Thames Water a try. There is a job here for about every single skill set you’ve learned in the military, such as engineering, leadership, logistics and incident management, even if you cannot see a direct link just yet.’ If you can maintain a tank, a weapon system, or even a Land Rover you can maintain machinery at a water treatment site or sewage works.
“And just like the military, it’s a close-knit team environment that relies on you and your team-mates to get the job done, sometimes in adverse conditions, in pressurised situations.
“I have seen all ranks, from privates to colonels, coming in. We have proven to be leading the way with our military strategy. We’ve just received an Armed Forces Covenant silver award, and gold is just around the corner.
“I’ve been involved with the strategy since it started. It’s something I’m proud to have been a part of. I’ve seen many ex forces men and women come into the business and do really well.
“I particularly enjoy attending the job fairs and ‘insight days’ – where we take people around our big water treatment and sewage sites so they get a feel for the business and the teams – because you get to explain to them about their worth and their value to businesses outside of the military.
“The strategy is great because it gives genuine mutual benefit to both the service leaver and Thames Water. As a business we get high calibre recruitment opportunities, and the service leaver gets an opportunity to work for a genuinely brilliant business that has such diverse and wide opportunities to showcase their former military transferable skills.”