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A successful new career – engineered!

A successful new career – engineered!


08 Jun, 2017

Wanting to take his electrical engineering career in a different direction, former RAF Chief Tech Michael Harney hung up his uniform for the final time last September and is now working as a reliability maintenance engineering technician for the largest internet consumer company in world. He tells us how he planned his route and has plenty of sound advice for Quest readers too!

After 28 years with the RAF, former Chief Tech Michael Harney, General Technician Electrical, left the Forces in September 2016, wishing – among other things – to give his family more stability. ‘My eldest son was approaching secondary-school age,’ he says, ‘and I wanted to live in my own home in an area of my own choosing. I also wanted to give my wife and children time to enjoy the wider family, as well as to pursue a more hands-on job role and take my electrical engineering career into a different area.’

Planning his future direction – professionally as well as personally – has clearly been of utmost importance to Michael’s successful transition to civvy street. It’s something he started thinking about seriously while he was still serving – which is an approach we at Quest always advocate – and his dedication is clearly demonstrated by the long list of qualifications and certifications he has achieved to date (see box).

Use of ELC

‘I registered for ELC in 2002,’ he says, ‘with the intention of completing further education in trade subjects. I wanted to build on the foundation courses that were given to me by the RAF and eventually prepare myself for my future transition to the civilian workplace. Most recently, I used my ELC for an HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, which I completed in January 2015. I wanted to build on my BTEC ONC in the same subject, so chose the next higher course. I undertook the HNC some 20 years after I had completed the ONC, and the modules reflected what employers and industry saw as relevant. Most of the civilian positions I was interested in wanted an HNC as a minimum qualification.’

On course

‘I took the course at Grantham College for the University of Bedfordshire. It was very well run – a mixture of academic and vocational topics. I found some of the topics challenging (e.g. business management and programmable logic controllers) because they had not been covered in the ONC that I completed in 1994. Even so, the course naturally built on my ONC qualification as well as the City & Guilds qualifications I had received from my basic training. It gave me a depth of knowledge that complemented my trade experience in the RAF.

‘The college is used to Service students, so is well prepared for the possibility of them being either deployed or posted away during the course, which I discovered for myself halfway through my course when I was posted to another unit. The college continued to offer me distance learning support, however, and I arranged to attend practical lessons there. My managers were understanding and supportive too.

‘The course topics were very relevant to what employers in industry required – one of the reasons I undertook the course was to keep abreast of my civilian counterparts. I have found in my current job that topics such as programmable logic controllers, motors in conveyance systems and means of detection in automation are very relevant. I wanted the course to take my understanding of electrical engineering to a new level. I had hoped for a wide spectrum of topics that reflected what was current in the engineering sector. The course did not disappoint and in retrospect was very relevant to the engineering sector.

‘The most enjoyable part of the course for me was the project – it gave you free rein to project manage the design and build of an electrical/electronic device or machine. I chose to build a musical instrument called a Theremin [see], using old circuit designs and electronic components from the 1970s. The project had to be compiled into an extensive report and finally presented to a group of lecturers – a bit like in the TV series Dragons’ Den.

‘I found study challenging at times, especially in the evenings after finishing work, but it was worth it and, looking back, I enjoyed it.’


To complement the impressive tally of qualifications noted in the list above, Michael also attended several resettlement courses, at RRC Tidworth and Aldershot:

  • Networking
  • Interview Techniques
  • Financial Aspects of Resettlement
  • Verification of Inspection and Testing (C&G 2394)
  • Periodic Inspection and Testing (C&G 2395).

‘Networking identified all the various ways to expand my profile footprint, which is something I did using the many online media available, such as LinkedIn. It’s thanks to social media outlets like that, and through website registrations, that I found my current job. Interview Techniques helped me plan my interviews and gave me useful tips – things I might have overlooked without the course.’

New working horizons

Now employed as a reliability maintenance engineering technician (RMET) by Amazon UK, Michael says: ‘I was contacted by their HR department after leaving my details and CV on various Armed Forces leavers job-search sites. Now, as an RMET team member, I have a direct impact on the customer experience and directly influence the site, its productivity and operation. The role impacts on all operational staff within the Facility Centre (FC), specifically those using conveyance, sortation or MHE (material handling equipment) in the warehouse. ST responsibilities are daily maintenance activities on shift and an expedient fault-finding capability to quickly resolve issues; this can have a significant service and financial impact during peak times.

‘My role provides a reactive and proactive, multi-skilled engineering maintenance service to all end users, and for operational equipment and facilities infrastructure within the FC. Working in MAN1 FC, equipment ranges from robotic drive units, multiple receive lines, cardboard compactors, ARSAW pick stations and lift conveyors, to tote conveyance including spiral conveyors, multiple pack lines, automated sorters, pack stations, various pick carts, stow carts, Rebin walls and so on.

‘I like the fact that I am working for the largest internet consumer company in world. There are lots of staff benefits, and hard work and positive input are openly rewarded. The journey to work is well within civilian average travelling times too. And, as Amazon likes to employ ex-Forces staff, I have a lot in common with the majority of team members.

‘I’m not so keen on the swing shifts, but I do enjoy the four days’ rest after each shift as it gives me time to work on home improvement projects.’


Military qualifications
NVQ level 3 Electrical and Electronic Engineering
CMI levels 4 & 5 Management and Leadership
Quality Management Audit Skills ISO9001/2000
Defence Instructional Techniques
Manual Handling Instructor Techniques
Managing Safely
Risk Assessor
ADB Aeronautical Ground Lighting Training
Lean Fundamentals and Techniques Facilitator
Baines Simmons Occurrence Investigator and Error Management System Coordinator

Civilian qualifications
ONC Electrical and Electronic Engineering
HNC Electrical and Electronic Engineering
17th Edition IEE Regulations
C&G 2377 Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment
IPAF Instructional Techniques for PAV Access Equipment

Service and civilian crossover

‘My world-class trade training is naturally essential in my new role! My leadership training is useful when I’m required to step up and take the lead on certain issues, but I am equally happy to follow within the team. The health and safety courses I did while serving – such as Managing Safely, COSHH, Risk Assessing and Manual Handling – are all completely relevant in the engineering environment. Lean fundamentals and techniques training completed during my time in the RAF is vital in my new environment and I have already utilised the techniques. And, as I will take on the role of safety champion in future, I feel that the training I received during my time as Local Error Management System Coordinator and Investigator (Baines Simmons) should prove useful in diving deep towards the root causes of issues.’

Looking to the future

‘I would like to progress further towards an HND or foundation degree in engineering,’ says Michael. ‘My current role as an RMET demands that I be both electrically and mechanically proficient, so I am going to also look at relevant mechanical courses.’


The course was split into two semesters, broken down as follows.

Semester 1:

Electrical power, engineering science, analytical methods for engineers, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), project, combinational and sequential logic, and utilisation of electrical energy.

Semester 2:

Business management techniques, project, utilisation of electrical energy, analytical methods for engineers and PLCs.

Michael comments: ‘The PLC modules used Allen Bradley PLCs and the associated Rockwell software, this being a very common PLC in industry. This module was an excellent introduction to PLCs in industry and had the student develop a ladder programme for selected working models – for instance, my own was a conveyor section used in quality control.’

Michael’s top tips

  • Make sure you spend your ELC wisely.
  • Take time to research what the course entails and its relevance.
  • Ensure that you have time in your personal life to complete any extra study and work the course demands.
  • Ask the learning provider (if on day release) whether they support members of the Armed Forces during times of deployment or even postings.
  • Try to enrol on courses as soon as you can. Don’t make the mistake of rushing into a course simply because time is running out.
  • Start developing your CV now and constantly evolve it following creditable feedback – it is a living document.
  • Spread your profile footprint by using social media services such as LinkedIn.
  • Clean up your Facebook page before applying for jobs, as employers will search you out. Think first impressions!

Finally, ‘Never lose hope if you don’t get the first job you apply for – there really is a lot of work available. A lot of managers are in awe of ex-Service people as they understand the pressures you have faced and the kinds of qualities you possess. You really are a goldmine for them.’

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