How One Man Went From The Forces To Family Firm

Iain Sanderson (Senior Instructor / Technical Director)

Once a Sapper, always a Sapper

When leaving the Army in 2000, Iain Sanderson wondered how he would transfer his skills into an alternative working environment.

A qualified civil engineer, Iain spent five years in the Army as a Royal Engineer based in Cambridge. Iain has always had a passion for plant and machinery and so when he was able to spend an extensive period of time learning the complete ins and outs of heavy machinery and plant equipment, to say he was in his element was an understatement.

As a Sapper in the Corps of Royal Engineers, Iain was charged with running equipment, fixing equipment, knowing precisely how every piece of machinery worked, testing it to its limit. Military plant machines are vital for providing force protection. Royal Engineers (commonly known as Sappers) have blazed a trail of innovation and achievement through history. The term Sappers originates from the trenches or ‘saps’ which engineers were employed to build towards enemy positions to allow the placing and detonating of explosive charges.

The Sappers have operated at the cutting edge of technology and frequently in the most inhospitable conditions, improving transport routes, constructing camps, building runways and carrying out the vital task of bomb disposal.

“I was tasked with extensive earth works, and was also part of the specialist bomb disposal team – knowing the capability of all the equipment available to us, how it operated, how to maintain it and how to fix it was imperative.

“Most people in industry get seven days to learn about the equipment they are required to operate during their daily working lives. I got to spend six months dedicated to understanding every inch of how the machinery operated, what it was capable of and hone my own skills to operate it safely, quickly and efficiently in some of the harshest environments.”

Like many armed forces personnel, Iain contemplated his return back into industry and society. “It’s a big lifestyle and cultural change coming out of the army. It was daunting thinking about what I would do. How and where could I transfer my skills into industry?”
Well, in actual fact, Iain has now spent the last fifteen years transferring his skills to thousands of individuals and companies across Scotland.

On leaving the Army, Iain met Brian Gray – an ex-military man himself – who founded Bon-Accord Training in 1986. Bon-Accord Training is a provider of operator and safety training on a diverse range of mechanical handling equipment. Brian saw the potential Iain could bring to the business so recruited and trained him as an instructor. His knowledge and passion coupled with his experience in heavy machinery and communication skills gained as a Royal Engineer stood him in good stead for shifting to this new vocation. Iain made the transition necessary, converting his learning and experience from within the armed forces, and passes his skills and knowledge onto others on a daily basis.

Iain, now a director in the family owned business, is involved with ensuring standards and competence within the firm as well as helping to drive the importance of safety when operating heavy plant and machinery in diverse industry environments.

“You get such a wide variety of machinery and attachments these days. We operate across oil and gas, aviation, forestry and the construction industries; the range and diversity of machinery is huge. There’s a great opportunity for people to learn, in-depth, what these pieces of plant and equipment can do and what they are capable of; however very few people understand the full extent of the machinery they operate. Through training provision, operators could improve production and efficiency – as well as safety.”

“Through the transfer of skills and knowledge operators can improve their handling of materials without damage.”

“Plant and machinery used in industry is very often worth over six figure sums. In addition there is the value of the product operators are actually handling, which could range from pallets of blocks on top of a scaffold to 40ft long pipes, to gas turbines valued at millions of pounds. The skill of the operator becomes of significant importance for the safety and integrity, on a variety of levels, of the individual, the equipment, the product, the team and the organisation.”

“Skills are being lost and it’s important that businesses can adapt and develop multi-skilled operators of all ages. It is a vocation and skilled plant and equipment operators can prove to be hugely valuable to a business.

Every year there are many accidents involving machinery in the workplace with a disproportionate amount of workers being killed or seriously injured. On a daily basis I feel privileged to be teaching and training others, passing on my expertise and knowledge to help keep others safe.” Once a Sapper, always a Sapper.

Missed Iain’s story in Press and Journal Your Job? You can still catch up on it here:

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Carol Gray

Carol became a director in 2006 and has continued to develop her knowledge of plant machinery and training and now successfully controls quality assurance, client accounts and delegating work to staff.   Meet the team