Case study

Sergeant air traffic controller — Sgt Tom Peterson

Discover the benefits a military air traffic controller career has to offer…

How did you get your job?

Before deciding to go to university I visited my local armed forces careers office with the intention of applying to become an officer in the Royal Air Force. Since I was only 18 I was advised to go to university and then apply once I graduated. At the time of graduation, personal circumstances led me not to apply to join the RAF. But a year later - having had little success establishing a civilian career due to competitiveness in the field and my lack of experience - I decided to pursue what was in my heart and apply to join the RAF. I had been researching trades in the RAF throughout university and the role of air traffic controller appealed to me as a tough and pivotal role, but also having its benefits and a skill should I eventually leave.

I spoke with an RAF representative at my local armed forces careers office and as soon as recruitment was declared open for this field, applied for Direct Entry Senior Non-Commissioned Officer ATC.

I was then called back to the careers office for a presentation and routine aptitude test and again later for an interview. Once successful I was sent to Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) to complete aptitude testing. The next step was to go back to OASC for three days to test my leadership potential, at which point I was given a start date for recruit training.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My degree in sports development may not be deemed relevant to my current job, but the leadership and management studies parts of it have been very helpful. My degree is also helpful to me in my involvement with the rugby club - secondary duties outside of work are a normal part of the military.

What are your main work activities?

I perform my primary duty as a controller, in different positions of controlling throughout the day. At any opportunity I will check emails and deal with any problems or secondary duties, as well as managing my subordinates. I may have to attend certain meetings around the station with other squadrons, to discuss any issues or anything related to the efficiency of flying and safety. It is an unpredictable environment and a demanding job so difficult to sum up in a few sentences.

How has your role developed and what are your main career ambitions?

My role has developed massively and I have accumulated several secondary duties within ATC and also several outside of work aiding societies within the station. I manage more subordinates and write reports about them which are vital to their promotion prospects. It is my responsibility to motivate and facilitate my subordinates' ambitions and progression within the RAF.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The best part about being a controller in the RAF is that what you do contributes to the welfare of our country. Also, as well as being a controller I can perform other duties and experience more outside of my trade. Compared with our civilian counterparts, our role is deployable and can be transferred out in the field outside of the tower environment. Plus, you have the opportunity to become an instructor and apply for non-controlling postings.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The most challenging part is dealing with the unpredictability, but this is the most exciting part, that day to day anything can happen.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

My advice to any student who wishes to join the RAF as a controller is not to wait, like I did; I wasted a year before applying. Get to the careers office and declare your interest and arrange a familiarisation visit to a tower, the only way you'll know it's the career for you is by seeing it, discussing it with new controllers and experienced high-ranking controllers who have done all that being a controller in the RAF can offer.

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