Knowledge transfer: Applying RAF skills to the motor industry

Tony Lawson

In this article: The IMI’s very own Tony Lawson, End Point Assessment Manager North, talks to MotorPro about his move from established career in the RAF to climbing the career ladder in the motor industry

What drew you to a career in the military?

I joined the Royal Air Force in 1986 straight from sixth form, I grew up in mid-Wales, and there weren't huge job opportunities.
I was always interested in mechanical repairs and tinkering, I used to do a lot of motor sport with my father when I was growing up and we did all our own mechanical maintenance, so that was my interest into it.

When I joined the RAF I wanted to go into Aeronautical Engineering but I missed out because I hit my 19th birthday during the interview processes, and at the time you had to be under 19, so I then went into Ground Engineering.

What kind of equipment were you working on as part of the ground engineering team?

I joined up as a mechanical transport technician, so if something had an engine then I worked on it, everything from Land Rovers to helicopter refuelling systems, surface to air systems, tankers, cranes, anything related to mechanical engineering really.

There was a lot of consolidation, so I worked with the Army Air Force 16 Air Assault when the tri-service agreements started coming into play and had several tours of the Middle East and the conflicts out there a long with other numerous postings.

You had a 22-year career, what made you decide to leave the forces?

I achieved the rank of senior non-commissioned officer but after 22 years and a lot of traveling – there’s only so many times you'll go to war zones and come back – so decided to dabble in civilian life.

I wanted to use the skills and the knowledge that I had gained in the RAF. As I was completing resettlement training I had a contact who worked at Volkswagen who was ex-military, so gained training and exposure to adult technical training. So, when I left I went to work for Audi Technical and Apprenticeship Training and that's what got me into the automotive industry.

How difficult was the transition from RAF to civilian life?

I did find it a big learning curve because although I had 20-odd years’ experience as a technician I'd never touched or worked on a single piece of Audi engineering. The initial six to 12 months was a challenge and I spent a lot of time at the Volkswagen Group training facility in Milton Keynes getting up to speed on the brand, projects and repair techniques.

How did your career develop from there?

I started as a Technical Training and Apprenticeship Training Tutor. I was doing that for two and a half years before I was asked if I would start managing and quality assuring those processes. That fitted perfectly as a lot of my background in the military when I became a Sergeant had to do with training and quality assurance.

I then moved to Bosch which were delivering multiple manufacturing training courses and apprenticeships for different manufacturers and I went into the management of the delivery, training and quality assurance.

And you’re now End Point Assessment Manager at the IMI, what brought you to the institute?

Working at Bosch and Audi, I had a lot of involvement with the IMI and I’d had an ambition to work it from then because it seemed to be the pinnacle of the automotive industry; training and members, professional register. An opportunity for an External Quality Assurer role came up, and I got it!

I started in 2012 and in 2014 I changed roles to External Quality Manager, managing a team of external quality assurers. When the new apprenticeship standards started being rolled out an End Point Assessments Manager position came up, which I thought would be a challenge. I put my hand up and luckily got the job.

What advice would you give to someone transferring from military to civilian life and a job in the motor industry?

Utilise your resettlement training, and gain as much knowledge as you can, whether that's technical or non-technical, because the biggest challenge I found was not having enough product knowledge. It’s the biggest challenge you will find coming out of the military into the industry.