At BGES Group we’re proud to have several forces veterans on the team, including our Regional Director Lewis Locke. Ahead of Armed Forces Day we caught up with Lewis to look back at his Navy days and how it has shaped his career.
What inspired you to join the Navy?
It was when I only 15 and still at school. I arrived back from lunch late and was ushered into the back of the hall where the Navy were giving a presentation to classmates on joining up. The idea of seeing the world, getting a career and getting paid to do it… that sold it for me! It’s been a huge part of my life and has made me the person I am today – so it’s funny to think that I nearly missed the presentation!
After leaving school I had a couple of jobs and gained some engineering skills there. So, when I spoke to the careers office about joining the Navy, they recommended I apply to join as a Marine Engineering Mechanic. I took the exams and was accepted and enrolled at 17 years old.
What was it like doing the training?
The first 8 weeks of basic training is an intense experience and you can’t really explain it! The discipline was a massive shock. Having your head shaved, having to fold your overalls to a perfect A4 size, running a mile and a half in 10 minutes…. it was all a bit unreal. Essentially, I was going from living with my parents to training for a war time scenario. I’d never considered that bit!
It was really tough, but as a group we were all in it together – the friends I made in those first weeks are friends to this day. The next phase of training was to learn the engineering side of the role. Suddenly we were allowed to go out in the evenings and things got a bit more fun!
Where were you posted after your training?
After my training, at the end of 2002, I was deployed to the Gulf as part of Operation Telic [the invasion of Iraq]. The realisation that we were going to war was a real shock. Later in my career I spent time in the Caribbean on HMS Richmond, and I also in a minesweeper around the coast of the UK.
I was both an engineer and a firefighter and worked a shift rota, so it was very hard work. But I had some incredible experiences and went to places I could only dream of! The memories and friendships that you make in the Navy stay with you for life.
How did you get into the career you have now?
I decided to leave after 5 years of service, and train as an electrician. The Navy offers excellent support for force leavers to resettle into civilian life. They funded all my electrician training, for example. My first civilian role was at an electrical company as a full qualified electrician. I progressed through to roles in domestic and commercial BMS, and facilities management. From there I joined BGES Group, where I am now Regional Director for London and South of England.
How has your forces career benefitted you in your civilian career?
The mechanical and electrical training I received in the Navy was an excellent grounding for my career. But it’s definitely not just about the technical skills. The Navy teaches you an attitude and way of doing things that is so valuable in the business world. It taught me integrity and honesty – that’s a big thing in the Navy. But also being professional and respecting other people’s time. For example, preparing as best you can for meetings and getting there five minutes early.
Do you have any advice for Marine Engineers entering civilian employment?
I would definitely recommend BMS engineering as a route to consider. Marine Engineers need to have a good idea of how a boiler works, how a pump works for example. You can’t become a BMS engineer unless you have this technical knowhow – so it’s a solid foundation for taking on more specialist BMS training. There is currently an engineering skillset shortage and the technology is moving fast, so we need these skills. In the next 10 years there will be self-healing, self-commissioning buildings instead of engineers on the ground.
My general advice is, be proud of your forces background and what it has made you. The attitude and mentality you gain from that experience is an asset to any employer. We’re always keen to hear from people with a forces background for that reason.
What is BGES Group doing to support forces leavers?
I owe a lot to the Navy and I do feel as though I want to give back. One thing I’ve championed at BGES is our signing of the Armed Forces Covenant – it’s our public promise to being a forces-friendly employer. So, we think carefully about how we can support people coming out of the forces and into civilian employment.
We recognise that structure and planning is particularly important to service leavers, as they’ve been in that kind of environment and on such a well-defined career path. So, we’ve created an engineering grading skillset that gives anyone in the business a clear pathway to move up to the next level. We’re really big on training too and help people to progress in that way.
What would you say to someone considering a Navy career?
I would always recommend a Navy career to anyone. It is hard work, but I look back at it now and reflect on all the amazing things I got to do. I had some incredible experiences and went to places you could only dream of. The friendships you make are a huge part of it – a lot of the people I met in the Navy are still my great friends to this day – I think it’s because we shared such a unique experience.
There is a saying that you never leave the Navy, you just get drafted to civilian life, and I think that sums it up!
Regional Director Lewis Locke in his Navy days