26 June 2019
Ahead of Armed Forces Day and Reserves Day 2019, we’re celebrating the individuals at WYG who have pledged their service to the British Armed Forces. One of those individuals is John Bowker, Principal Project Manager at WYG.
For John, military life has become deeply embedded in his DNA throughout his impressive 26-year career of active duty with the Royal Engineers (1986-2012). He’s currently serving with the Royal Engineers as a Reservist in a Specialist Water Development Team, prior to which he spent five years working as an Infrastructure Adviser for the Department for International Development. His service has taken him from the UK and Germany to the Falkland Islands, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Ghana, Kenya, Holland, Denmark, Belize, and many other corners of the world.
What led you to join the military initially?
After leaving school, I worked in construction on building sites, and there were no opportunities to get an apprenticeship or profession. I wanted a career with the opportunities to obtain the professional skills and qualifications to progress. The military gave me a chance to develop a very wide range of skills within a community that I would later view as a family.
What did you do with the Royal Engineers while on active duty?
I started off as a plant operator mechanic working in heavy machinery and then progressed to become a Military Plant Foreman, which is a civil engineer manager for site equipment and earthworks, horizontal works such as roads, airfields and quarry management. I was also a specially trained military diver. I worked in the underwater environment, doing underwater demolition, construction, concreting, recovery and search schemes.
Why join the reserves afterwards?
After leaving, I never stopped thinking about the military. It was such a big part of my life and had become part of my psyche. There’s an attractive mindset in the military that no job is too difficult and that the team will always find a way, irrespective of how tough or long the job takes.
What have you been involved with since joining the Reserves?
I have been with the reserve based in Nottingham for 6 months. With the Reserve I have a two-week annual camp in September, working on projects in Cyprus, putting in a cross-country pipeline and carrying out a survey of the JFC assets.
Within WYG, I continue to work within the military environment on Defence projects with DIO and Joint Force Command (JFC). My role includes managing contract works for the DIO, so I’ve got an understanding and familiarity with how they operate that dovetails nicely into both worlds. I’m grateful to WYG for recognising the value of skills and expertise in ex-military and how those can transfer over to the professional consultancy world.
How have you been managing the balance between WYG, the Reserves, and home?
I’ve spent most of my time working overseas, from working in Afghanistan to the Caribbean, so I’ve been away from home a long time and never had a regular routine. Coming back to UK, I’ve suddenly got weekends I never used to have.
One of the great things about WYG is it allows reservists two weeks’ special paid leave in addition to annual leave. WYG respects and appreciates that this is a commitment of an individual and they support that by allowing you the additional time off. So I try to do at least one weekend of camp a month with the Reserves.
How have you grown or benefitted from serving?
It’s given me a complete career and the experience of working in lots of different environments. I obtained qualifications and life skills from the military I wouldn’t have as a civilian. It makes you flexible because in the military, you don’t generally specialise in one area. I got involved with everything from mechanical, electrical, project management, and civil engineering to the surveying, and it wasn’t just focussed on construction.
When you’re part of a military team, you’re not a single person. You’ve got to blend into other skill sets to assist other parts of the organisation when necessary and that generally isn’t true in the outside world. The military is very mission-focussed, and you do whatever it takes to achieve the necessary outcome, that mindset is something I think has benefitted the project management work I do for WYG.
What advice would you give someone thinking about joining the reserves?
There’s no peer pressure, everyone is made to feel welcome and appreciated. They’re very flexible and accommodating. You generally won’t be criticised if you’re only able to commit a portion of time – it’s up to you. They’ll support you in applying for courses and you can even deploy for longer periods of time with military if you want. Give it a go; if it’s not for you, then what have you lost?