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Insights How John went from policeman to engineering consultant

I've always been fascinated by the Police – two of my earliest memories are about them. My first is receiving a pedal police car for Christmas. The other was eating a jam sandwich in a 'jam sandwich' – officers had found me after I'd wandered off from my mum!" 

Here's John's story about how he went from constabulary to consultancy.

You're very proud of your time in the Police – tell us about it.

I began my career in the British Transport Police (BTP), patrolling the Northern and Victoria lines' underground stations south of the Thames. I spent a lot of time in Brixton, which sometimes seemed like the wild west!

I then diversified and joined the Support Unit, where I was trained in Search, Public Order, CBRN and response-driving. No two days were alike. The challenges and pressure were exhilarating at times but could also break you in pieces at others. 

Chasing promotion took me into response and Neighbourhood Policing. I became a staff officer to an Assistant Chief Constable (ACC). I went from the operational 'Business As Usual' into the strategic BTP world. 18 months of working in the Counter-Terrorism division as a support officer to the Senior Leadership Team rounded off my skillset.

image of John smiling

Why did Consultancy in Project Management seem like the most logical next career to you? 

I identified parallels with incident management, stakeholder liaison, taking a situation and transforming it into another and accurate record-keeping, amongst others. I understood pressure situations. What to do and say at the right times, ensuring everyone involved feels included, empowered, and informed. I also could converse at all levels in a confident, knowledgeable and polite way. 

BTP has a unique relationship with the rail industry. The processes and ways of engaging with them assist me in Stakeholder management and liaison. The experience and knowledge I have as a Police officer serve me in different ways every day.

What professional and personal qualities would you say a good policeman and a good consultant share? 

I believe there is a lot of crossover between the behaviours and competencies of a good police officer and a good consultant:
Discretion & professionalism – knowing what not to say is as important as knowing what to say, especially whilst maintaining the professional demeanour; being ethical - demonstrating morality in all that you do;
Communication – being able to converse at multiple levels across different mediums to inform and check understanding; and resilience.

What did you have to do to change your career from police sergeant to consultant? 

Recognizing that I wanted to leave the Police and change my career was a huge decision for my family and me, and that took a long time. Accepting that I wasn't going to 'do my 30' and collect my pension with early retirement took a lot of inward searching and acceptance. 

Identifying the signs that I was no longer being fulfilled actually took me years. But once I had decided I was going to go and had found my new career path, things happened fairly quickly. Writing a CV 17 years after the last one helped with my focus. I took it upon myself to 'home learn' and qualify in PRINCE2 and Agile PM, gaining valuable insight into project management. 

One conversation, numerous forms and a nervous wait for a decision later, I was offered a starting date for my new career with Atkins. That was just five months after I decided to change.  

What inspired you to go into engineering and construction? 

One of the many roles I kept going back to in between my various jobs before becoming a Police Officer was a site labourer. I enjoyed being on-site and seeing how all the different trades came together to deliver the finished product, be it a new roundabout, warehouse or housing estate.

What advice would you give to people in a similar situation looking to change careers into a STEM industry?

Do it and never underestimate what your experience and knowledge can bring to the role. Policing is a unique challenge that routinely draws on problem-solving and critical thinking, key attributes within STEM and innovation. These are skills that officers are encouraged and expected to display every day.  

What have been your biggest challenges and opportunities?

My biggest challenge has been overcoming imposter syndrome. Accepting that I deserve to be here and have the skills necessary to be great at my job. I'm currently a mentor in Atkins' Forward Mentoring Programme, which has helped me challenge this impostorism. I've rediscovered that I have valuable insights and experience to pass on by supporting a colleague, even though I've only been here for six months.

My biggest opportunity is definitely the whole career change and being here at Atkins. The options and career directions are endless, and with experience and time, the sky is the limit!

How does your unique experience as a police sergeant help you at the organization? 

Big picture thinking. Understanding how things affect each other. Our ability to rationalize and make decisions, escalating only when necessary. I believe that allows seniors to perform their roles more effectively. We can operate with little or no supervision and get the job done.

What makes you the happiest about your new career #InsideAtkins? 

The work/life balance and being treated like an adult. The opportunities for training, professional and personal development and friendly, like-minded colleagues that are always willing to help or lend support. I also feel I've exchanged one family for another. Both with different attributes and goals, but both are willing to look after you and ensure you are there for the things you value and hold closest.

What is the most exciting thing you're working on/or have worked on so far #InsideAtkins. 

I'm currently working on the National Underground Asset Register for the Geospatial Commission. The project intends to provide a centralized database for underground asset data in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The current, complex process for acquiring data is "time-consuming and inefficient." This can lead to project delays and cost overruns. Reducing accidental utility strikes and disruption and delays to asset owners and local communities is a significant challenge, but eliminating the safety risks is also critical. 
Interested in a fresh career start? Join our #InsideAtkins Talent Community to stay in touch with and explore our opportunities.