Britain’s armed forces, operate, maintain and manage an array of weapons platforms, plant, equipment, supply chains, systems, communications assets and vehicles. They possess the ability to deploy anywhere and, given the nature of what they are intended for, must have their own trained technicians, engineers and managers to ensure everything stays operational.
Keeping the latest aircraft flying, or ensuring all the systems on submarines and vehicles function, requires the UK military to recruit and train a continual stream of technically-qualified personnel.
Most service people join between 17 and 25, although due to manning shortages, the upper age to join the services has increased to 32 for other ranks. The standard duration of a service career is up to 24 years. Regular officers can serve until 55, if they gain the recommendations to do so. But many officers and other ranks leave far earlier and still very much within their working lives.
The services train the majority of their technicians in-house and run the largest industry recognised apprenticeship programme in the UK. As these service people rise through the ranks, they gain further qualifications and as non-commissioned officers (NCO) will move into leadership, managerial and training roles. Commissioned officers joining the services to pursue technical or engineering careers will normally join as graduates, having gained an appropriate degree. While they are principally leaders and managers, their technical knowledge will generally be employed at the strategic level, involving design, systems management and planning.
The last 20 years has seen the services change immeasurably. But, until the year 2000, it remained an offence under military law to be openly homosexual or transgender. The military was often viewed as a racist and elitist organisation with reports of bullying appearing on the front pages. And, since the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mental health of service people and veterans and the alleged uncaring approach of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), has been widely reported. However, more recently, the British Army has consistently featured in Stonewall’s top 100 employers, is the largest apprenticeship employer-provider in the UK, and currently has 13.8% Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic personnel and 10% female representation; numbers that are increasing. Despite this, making the transition from a military to a civilian career, for some, has not been easy.
One individual who has set about helping service leavers make this transition is Adam Fraser-Hitchen, who runs his own business development company (Dragonfly Directors) with his wife Amanda. As a member of the Trustee Board of the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE), as well as being the next President of the SOE (2021-2023), he is also the founder of the SOE’s Military Committee. A chartered engineer, Fraser-Hitchen is well-qualified in military matters. Having chosen to leave the Regular Army as a Colonel following a 30-year career, he has also gone on to serve as an Army Reservist and is Commander Reserves within 7 Infantry Brigade, ‘The Desert Rats’.
While the culture in the military has changed beyond recognition, he believes the military cannot take its eye off old and in some cases, enduring perceptions: “I’ve been keen to stress to those that have previously served in the early 80s and 90s that the army today is, in many ways, unlike the army they will remember. In fact, it’s almost incomparable. There is access to senior officers, the army has formalised and well-tested values and standards which did not exist when I joined in 1986 and we understand, far better, the physical and mental stresses of military service. That in itself is transformational change.
“For me this is one of the great success stories of the military in recent years. You can pluck anyone from a rural or urban background, cultural background, race or gender group and they are given a set of values and standards which they must live up to and be judged against. If they don’t measure up and cross the line, they can expect to face the consequences. This is a wonderful line that simply did not exist in previous years.
“The values and standards of respect, selfless commitment, courage, loyalty, integrity and discipline guide our people to do the right thing all of the time. So irrespective of background, race, culture, religion, gender or sexuality, all service leavers operate on this level playing field, a code of ethics. The application of these standards to the engineering sector, or any other in civilian life for that matter, provides a level of professionalism and respect for self and others.”
There is a perception that soldiers, NCOs and officers only gain military-orientated mechanical and electrical engineering or plant/construction qualifications. But that’s not all. Fraser-Hitchen explains: “What is almost always unseen is the direct translation between the skills and experience gained during military service, with the skills and experience needed in industry.
“Moreover, the military engineer has more often than not been used to operating in austere environments, having to think through innovative engineering solutions and usually under the pressure of significant physical danger. On the qualifications front, the engineering organisations within the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force all offer qualifications that are either the same (gained through civilian educational authorities) or mapped as equivalents.
“And it’s worth placing more focus on the environment in which military engineers are used to operating in. It is about their capacity. Given the level of training and investment in military engineers, and their ability to operate in an environment that would never be experienced in industry, industry is provided with an individual who has significant capacity to deal with stresses and strains.”
The MoD funds a standard resettlement package, for service leavers, through the Careers Transition Partnership (CTP). Individuals can streamline this to meet their requirement and packages are tailored for all ranks. Individuals can choose to extend existing qualifications or begin a new one.
Fraser-Hitchen concedes that CTP has received mixed reviews from those who have been through the resettlement process, but maintains that in most cases, failure is a result of the individual not taking control of their own destiny and ensuring they make the package on offer work for them. “What’s on offer can always be improved, in the sense that we should constantly seek out improvement,” he adds. “Constructive feedback helps this process, as well as a good understanding of the changing requirements of industry.”
PROVIDING A BRIDGE
The SOE provides an excellent example of how to align existing engineering qualifications with that required from a new civilian employer. It is the only professional engineering institute that has a military committee aligned to the requirements of the Engineering Council. The committee’s sole purpose is to provide a bridge from military service into industry at any point.
But the SOE is not alone in the sector in helping service leavers. The Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) launched a 75–75 military transition scheme as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations. The scheme offers service leavers, veterans and reservists the chance to train and receive a work placement in its sector. Working with the CTP, LEEA provides free training either on current courses or on standalone courses for military personnel. LEEA members have also offered 75 work placements, which are geographically dispersed. The placements are not guaranteed jobs, but offer the experience of two days working with experienced staff. LEEA’s training manager, ex Naval Warrant Officer Baz Trehala, says that the scheme has been so successful that there are plans to extend it into 2020.
As around 15,000 people a year leave the armed forces, they represent a significant pool of high-quality, trained individuals ready to join the civilian workforce. Those who are technically trained and qualified, they are a much needed, highly-skilled resource to reinforce the engineering sector.
BOX OUT: SOE Military Committee
Service leavers interested in a career in engineering in the civilian sector or employers looking to engage ex-military personnel can contact the chairman of the SOE Military Committee:
Maj Jon Murley MBE CEng
T: 01980 650886