From pulling pints to cleaning pipes – the career change that will make a newborn baby very happy

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Shaun Ciccone has left behind a 30-year career as a restaurant, bar, and pub manager working across Europe to become a wastewater engineer for Lanes Utilities – and he could not be happier.

The trained chef has taken his passion for giving great customer service into working as a drain blockage engineer for Lanes, on behalf of Thames Water, and he has never felt more fulfilled in what he does.

Shaun joined Lanes Utilities in September 2016 after he got talking to a Lanes wastewater engineer in the pub he was then managing in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and got talking to him about his work.

“He told me how interesting and enjoyable the work was, and how you were part of a great team,” says Shaun. “I was looking to move to another pub at the time, and thought, why not have a complete change. I’m glad I did, because it was the best career decision I’ve ever made.”

A life in hospitality

Shaun was born with the hospitality industry in his blood. His parents owned and managed restaurants and pubs, and when he left school it was natural for him to choose the same career.

He trained as a chef at college and worked for his parents before setting out by himself, owning a pub, then managing other pubs, restaurants, and bars. At one point he manages the Costa Coffee concession at Gatwick Airport. He has also been a departmental manager for retailer Alders.

Shaun ran bars in countries across Europe, including Italy, Greece, and Spain. Then, at the age of 50, he left a career he knew so well behind, to work for Lanes Utilities, the wastewater network service maintenance partner for Thames Water.

He has gone from being responsible for managing a sizeable business, and for a team of staff, to starting again, at ground level, in an industry he knew nothing about, having to learn new skills, and a new way of working.

Same colour – different liquid

Shaun loved it. “I guess I have moved from serving one type of brown liquid – beer – to helping to manage another brown liquid – sewage. I’m just a little further along the way in the process!

“It seems a bit extreme, but I have always been adaptable and open to new ideas. I’ve had to continuously learn new skills and change throughout my career in hospitality, so it wasn’t so difficult.

“I knew I was starting a new career, but the people at Lanes were very supportive from the start. They didn’t look down at you. They valued the experience I’d had. The training was excellent.

“I knew from day one I was in a very professional organisation that wanted me to succeed. It inspired me really. I had a good feeling about my work and that has continued.”

Supported all the way

After joining the Lanes team at the Gerard’s Cross utility hub, Shaun continued his training by working with more experienced colleagues, primarily acting as an assistant on a drainage unblocking van, known as a van pack.

Just over three months later, in January 2017, he was ready to go it alone, and was given his own van pack, which has a jetting unit and CCTV drainage camera, to operate.

Shaun says: “I never felt pressured into taking on the extra responsibility. I was given all the time I needed to learn the job and feel comfortable. But when I felt ready, the opportunity came up and I took it.

“Now, I am given a list of jobs to do, and I am responsible for getting on with them. It’s a good feeling to be in control, to be relied by customers who need your help.

“But there is always a lot of support. It’s a team effort. We have great technical specialists and field managers who are always a phone call away for advice, or will come to site if you need extra help. You’re never left in the lurch.”

Not much more than a year after joining Lanes Utilities, a new recruit has been placed with Shaun, so Shaun can pass on his skills, insights, and positive approach to being a wastewater engineer.

Making customers happy

Shaun says he also loves the way customer service is central to what Lanes Utilities does. It is one and the same with the philosophy he had during three decades in the hospitality industry.

“Our work is 100% about putting the customer first,” he adds. “The customer may be having real difficulties because of a blocked drain or another drainage problem, and they are relying on us to help.

“I get a good feeling from every job I do, because I know it has helped someone or probably a lot of people in their daily lives. As I walk away, I feel proud that I have done something good.”

Working with sewers and drains has not put off Shaun either. It is not as bad a people think, he says.

“When I ran pubs, we would have to clean up very dirty toilets, or clear up after someone had been sick. Most people have experienced a certain amount of bad smells and sights. Anyone who has looked after a baby knows that!

“There are moments when you are faced with some challenging jobs, but they’re not as frequent as people think, and we’re given all the equipment, clothing and training, including safety procedures, to manage them properly.

“It’s not something I am concerned about now, and I would advise others not to let that side of things stop them thinking about a career with Lanes.”

Looking after baby

A little over year into his new career, Shaun is not looking back. He knows he has made the right move, not least because it has helped reset his work life balance. And would recommend others to do the same.

He says: “Working in the wastewater utilities industry is not something I would have thought of, if I had not got talking to Steve in my pub that day. So, I am really glad we had the conversation.

“That’s probably the same for a lot of other people. They should take a look at an industry that’s got a lot to offer. I love my job right now, but I know there are opportunities for me to progress and develop at Lanes Utilities if I continue to do well, which is exciting.”

Shaun has just become a father for the second time, and says working as a wastewater engineer will give him more time to be with his partner and their baby daughter.

“I work hard and do overtime as well, but the shifts I work will give me more flexible time to be a dad, and spend time with our baby. My career is important to me, but so is my home life, and working at Lanes Utilities helps with that.

“In fact, I have suggested to my partner, that once our baby has grown up a little, she might want to come and work here. Either operationally, or in the Customer Solutions Centre at Slough, which is an amazing place to work as well. We’ll see what happens.”

Happier customers. Happier Shaun. Happier mum. And happier baby. That really is an impressive outcome from a single career choice.

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