Soldiers in Construction

A building construction site in Sydney and a military operation overseas would not seem to have much in common at first glance.

A building construction site in Sydney and a military operation overseas would not seem to have much in common at first glance.

However the work of Army engineers has many similarities with engineers in civil construction…… which is why the Military Engineering Programme (MEP) run by John Holland is so effective.

Over the past 40 years, 118 soldiers from the British and Australian Defence Forces have participated in industry training as part of John Holland’s MEP. The annual professional engineering training detachments and new short-term multiple secondments allow broad exposure to diverse projects, covering everything from engineering skills to the commercial realities of project delivery.

The short-term secondment programme began in June this year for non-commissioned officers on our projects. This initiative involves the conduct and development of a short-term industry secondment programme to enhance trade, technical-design and project management skills. It will support individual career development and unit capability, with the first NCO officer starting recently for a period of one week.

Major Tim Boorman is a member of the Corps of Royal Engineers in the British Army.

“We specialise in a whole range of engineering activities that help troops manoeuvre, and survive on operations - from bridging, explosive demolitions and bomb disposal to infrastructure construction and essential services supply such as water purification and electricity supply,” Major Boorman said.

Major Boorman is one of seven soldiers currently taking part in the MEP across Australia. He is one of four working on the Abercrombie Precinct construction project at the University of Sydney Business School.

“My current placement with John Holland is designed to broaden and deepen my Infrastructure and construction experience and provide skills I can take back and apply in the military,” Major Boorman said.

“My attachment to John Holland is part of a two year Professional Engineer Training Programme run by the British Army. It begins with 9-10 months of full time engineering study at the Professional Engineer Wing of the Royal School of Military Engineering in the UK. I’m currently on a nine month placement with John Holland, gaining experience of larger scale construction projects. From here I’ll move to a sixth month design placement before returning to the UK.

Major Boorman said the programme covers all aspects of infrastructure engineering including design, construction, project management, contract management and commercial aspects.

“As a professional engineer I’ll be qualified for a whole range of technical jobs that otherwise would not be an option, including Engineer Infrastructure Intelligence, Provincial Reconstruction Teams overseas and International Infrastructure development projects.

“As an Officer in the Royal Engineers I have always had the privilege of leading highly intelligent, skilled and motivated soldiers. As a professional engineer I will have the additional opportunity to lead a Specialist Team Royal Engineers, or STRE for short, designing and delivering all aspects of infrastructure in some of the most difficult places the military operates.

“The change of environment has taken some getting used to, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to participate in a rewarding project such as the Business School.”

Captain Andrew Hansell is a member of the Royal Australian Engineers. He has participated in military construction tasks in Indonesia, Nauru and various Australian locations. He is now also participating in the MEP on the Abercrombie Precinct project.


“The programme offers a fantastic opportunity to participate in projects that are much larger, much more complicated, and much more advanced in terms of construction process, than anything that we would do in the Army,” Captain Hansell said.


“It exposes me to a number of construction methods and management systems that represent current and best practise by a tier 1 builder. It provides the opportunity to experience the civilian construction industry and take my experiences and lessons learnt back to Army.”


Captain Hansell said the skills he has learned on the programme will be invaluable when returning to his Army duties.


“It gives me a better understanding of how builders and contractors work, what they expect and what is expected of them. The exposure to the different management systems within the project will provide me with the knowledge and experience to use these systems on my own projects with Army in the future, and should assist me in delivering better projects for Army, as well as passing on my experience to other Army personnel.”


John Holland has had a long and collaborative relationship with the Department of Defence. The company’s founder, Sir John Holland, served with the Royal Australian Engineers in the Middle East more than 60 years ago, and with Z Special Unit Commandos in the South West Pacific theatre.

John Holland’s Group Manager Military Engineering Programmes, John Reddie, said that the training relationship with the Department of Defence was formalised in 1974.

“Discussions between Sir John and the Director of Engineers for the Corps of Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) or more specifically the 19th Chief Engineer Works Land Command ARMY for the Annual 12 month Detachment of RAE officers which commenced on 15July 1974, with the first RAE officer being Major Peter Knight,” Mr Reddie said.

The attachments of British Army Officers in Australia started off on the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme and as the scheme was completed, the Royal School of Military Engineering looked around for a new source of attachments through the Chief of Australian Engineers, then the first British Army Officer joined John Holland’s in Melbourne on 8 Jan 1975.”

Over the years, officers from the Royal Engineers have worked on numerous John Holland projects including Regional Fast Rail, East Link and Perth Hospital.

“We take enormous value from this professional partnership and we are confidence that construction industry training has helped with the continuing professional development of young and senior soldiers in the Australian and British Army,” Mr Reddie said.