Captain Kenny Nixon, the Recruiting Officer for the Royal Engineers, speaks about the different career paths, the value of ex-army engineers in the private sector, and why the army wants you - NOW!
What career paths do you offer engineers in the army?
There are two streams. One is as a soldier. In this, you would be a hands-on trade engineer, which can take many forms. Most will be combat engineers; as well as this you would also gain one of many trades including surveyor, draughtsman, geographic technician and so on. These recruits would generally be about 18 years old, and that’s the route in: you could stay in for up to 24 years or more.
The second way is to join as an officer and head straight to Sandhurst
This is for ages 18-25; Officer Cadets may already have an engineering degree or other technical degree. After finishing training at Sandhurst, they commission into the Royal Engineers and spend a few years doing troop command and combat engineering activities. They would then have the opportunity to attain a civilian attachment overseas, an MSc and chartership after the professional engineer course. Otherwise they may stay in the more general combat engineering stream or attain an MSc in Defence Geographic Information Systems.
We also have two spaces a year for non-graduates who can take a paid-for engineering degree whilst in service. These recruits join as an officer, then we send them off to university after their first posting.
What are the main benefits to being the army?
Apart from the pride and honour of representing your country, you get to effect construction and combat engineering overseas. You get fantastic experience in leadership, management, project management and a variety of experiences. You get so much out of it, but the management and leadership experience are well-renowned.
You’ll be managing thirty men and women, from different trades and backgrounds, managing construction projects, managing troops on exercise – and all over the world.
What about pay?
An officer starts on over £30,000 (£24,917 just for training) – so that’s very competitive. It’s probably about £9,000 above what most engineers start on. As a soldier, you start on about £20,000 after training. I’ve been in the army for nine years, and I’m on over £43,000 a year plus subsidised food and accommodation.
What’s the maximum age for someone who wants a career change?
You must be under 26 when starting Sandhurst, although the selection process may take at least a few months before your day of entry.
Are you looking for particular engineers?
Mainly civil, electrical and mechanical engineers. But we will accept any degree at all. However, it’s only with a technical degree that you can go on and become a chartered engineer, for which we also accept architects, physicists and others.
What happens if an engineer wants to leave the army after 5 or 10 years?
There’s a natural outflow in the army. Because of the career structure, coming through the ranks, there are fewer people the further up you go. You have fewer generals than lieutenants. And people who leave generally go on to do extremely well. They often start on high salaries. Engineers coming out of the army are very highly valued in the private sector.
How about female engineers?
Well, women are underrepresented in engineers generally, but they’re not as much of a minority in the Royal Engineers. About 10% of our officers are female. There are no restrictions and all our opportunities are open to everyone. In fact, 15% of the next professional course are women.
And do you only recruit UK nationals?
Mostly, yes. For UK and Commonwealth citizens, it’s quite easy. You have to have been resident in the UK for two years before Sandhurst. We do take people from other nations, including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Someone coming from, for example, the Middle East or China might have trouble getting past the security clearance, though. But a UK national would not typically have any real problems.
Can someone interested do a trial first?
We offer familiarisation visits to our Headquarters, which are three days long. They can come and try it out so long as they have passed their initial selection at the Army Officer Selection Board.
Any final advice?
You’ve got to be interested in being an army officer first and an engineer second. You’ve got to want to join the army and be an effective leader. Our potential officers and soldiers really need to think about that first. However, we always need professional engineers. We’re very actively pursuing engineers right now – take a look at the website
for more information.