From nine to five, Lara works within manufacturing engineering at Rolls-Royce. Outside of work she puts on a different uniform, as a member of the British Army Reserve's Corps of Royal Engineers.
What’s your name?
Lieutenant Lara Elizabeth Small.
Where do you work?
I work both for the British Army Reserve, Corps of Royal Engineers and Rolls-Royce.
What's your job title?
In the Army I am a troop commander in the 350 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers. At Rolls-Royce I am a team leader in Manufacturing Engineering.
How long have you been doing that?
I have been in the Army for nine years and four years at Rolls Royce.
How did you get there?
I joined the Officer Training Corps when I started university, completing military modules inline with my studies. Upon finishing my degree, I started on a graduate scheme at Rolls-Royce. As I didn’t want to lose the military part of my life, I joined the Royal Engineers as a reservist.
Could you tell us about your career in the Army Reserve?
I joined during Fresher’s Fair at university, probably the best decision I made as I was able to enjoy multiple sports, adventure training and learn military skills – and get paid to do it! Since commissioning, my ‘reserve’ life has continued to challenge me, providing motivation to stay fit and giving key lessons when leading others.
What’s the work of a reservist like?
I really enjoy the coordination and control of up to 30 people, whether at my unit base during a training evening or in a simulated combat environment on exercise. This is my role as a troop commander. I interview my soldiers, write personal reports and manage their military careers.
I deal with a huge variety of people who need different levels of support. Troop management is not via the Army stereotype of shouting and aggressive coercion; it is a form of transformation leadership that develops soldiers in a structured manner - a skill I apply to my civilian team.
How would you describe life as a working engineer in the Army?
The Army, frankly, is unique. There are some opportunities you will only get to have with the Army – working with large military equipment such as a Challenger Tank, or demolitions equipment or a variety of weapons. It is rare to find an employer that gives you as many opportunities while being flexible at the same time. If it’s training and qualifications you need the Army will support you so long as you’re willing to put the work in and of course won’t charge you a penny, quite the opposite, you receive pay while training and benefit from regular raises.
My role is also challenging, which is an element I particularly enjoy. Whether its engineering or managing troops, the Army really mixes it up so you’re always on your toes and pushing yourself. This helps a lot in your civilian role because you have a much stronger sense of self-belief from your Army experiences.
Since joining I’ve not looked back. I knew there would be hard work involved but that this would also be immensely rewarding. The Army is the best around for building up a side of you that you never you knew had – they’ll push you, encourage you, train you, and above all make you surprise yourself.
What's the best thing about the job?
On a training exercise, my role is very exciting. I have to understand the objective (the enemy) and be capable of using a 'combat estimate' in order to complete the objective (defeat the enemy). The combat estimate captures all the considerations a leader needs to complete a task, such as a programme of work to deliver a product. The estimate helps me make, communicate and deliver plans, whether in the field or in an office.
It’s a huge adrenalin rush when you have moved a body of people strategically across difficult terrain, and subsequently rushed the objective with a combination of fire power and aggression – simple, pure leadership at its best. I am immensely proud to wear the Queen's uniform and proud to serve my country. I enjoy being a ‘twice the citizen’, being an effective taxpayer and an Army reservist.
And the worst?
After a tough week at work, sometimes the last thing you want to do is deploy into a field - the sofa/TV can be rather inviting. However I couldn’t call myself a reservist if I didn’t get a grip at that point. Coming back on Sunday after an exhilarating weekend, whether using demolitions, conducting infantry tactics or watermanship training makes it all worth it. The last thing you are thinking about is work. I worked out that the average person watches more TV per year than the total time spent being a reservist!
What standout things have you got involved in so far through this work?
Aside from all the adventure training (skiing, skeleton bobbing, triathlon…), and the travelling (Cyprus, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany…), it’s commissioning that was a huge achievement. I have also enjoyed representing the Army in international training courses and leading my own troop in the field was also very rewarding.
How do you manage both careers?
My favourite thing about my job at Rolls-Royce is the fact I’m working on the very best technology that the industry has to offer, along with the best people and in locations all around the world.Likewise in the Army I also get the opportunity to be surrounded by inspirational people who want to be part of the Reserve just as much as I do.
The crossover is actually complementary. When I have to ask for time away from Rolls-Royce, I can be completely honest about my plans, my management and the company are very supportive. Its important to remember a task is down to one team, no matter how big the company is, so planning around a missing team member is important.
Do you find you’re able to use skills learnt across both roles?
I’ve received the best training that the Army has to offer, having commissioned from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. I used this as evidence during the interview process during my application for the leadership programme at Rolls-Royce.
Decisions in a military environment require clear, calm and accurate direction, combining ambiguity and adverse pressures. These skills are useful when making programme decisions at work and communicating effectively up and down the chain of command - all within tight budgets and timescales.
Is there any advice you’d like to pass on to those wanting to become either a civilian or Armed Forces engineer?
Be prepared for some hard work. I had to work exceptionally hard to get the right qualifications to become an engineer, as a result I have achieved fantastic versatility to go and work anywhere in the world and hold good transferable skills.
I also worked extremely hard to earn my commission, applying a phenomenal amount of grit and determination to get through it. As a result I feel immensely proud when I parade at events in front of the general public.
What do you think you'll do next?
I’d like to continue earning the respect of my peers and hopefully promote through the ranks, both at work and in the Army. I plan to accumulate more experiences and push myself out of my comfort zone.