Final Rank: WO1
Years Served: 31
Current job: Project co-ordinator/manager (self-employed contractor)
What was on my CV was hot at the time and it was the right time for me to leave, although only two years prior to my extended TX date.’
While serving, James specialised in communications and information systems (CIS), gaining several trade-related qualifications during his career. He also racked an impressive array of civilian qualifications too: English, Maths, PRINCE2 Practitioner, Agile Practitioner, APMP (the Association of Project Management Professional Qualification – since renamed APM PMQ, the APM Project Management Qualification) and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) v3, also obtaining MAPM (member of the Association for Project Management), MCMI (member of the Chartered Management Institute), MinstLM (member of the Institute of Leadership & Management), and applying for Fellow and MCMI status.
Use of ELC
James says he registered for ELC when they were first introduced, and ‘used them for the most expensive courses, but with dual outputs – for example, PRINCE2 Practitioner and APM combined/bundled and split over two months. I have also used ELC to renew my PRINCE2, as it had expired, and gained my APMP. I have one more ELC to use and will do so via the route of post-exit.’
James’s PRINCE2 Practitioner and APM combined course was taken with QA via CTP. He says ‘The course was well run, but you need to follow the instructions for the prep work and do it! If not, you will be behind the curve from day one.’ The course was a mixture of academic and vocational: ‘You can gain PRINCE2 academically only,’ says James, ‘but you need to have experience and express it with examples in your answers for the APM PMQ.’
He reiterates: ‘The pre-course prep work is important, no matter how experienced you feel you are. This is true for both the APM PMQ and PRINCE2 Practitioner courses. While on the course, you will have homework each evening and, if you can detach yourself from work and home distractions and live on camp while on course, it will help you to focus and manage your time better.’
James says that his education adviser recommended he, ‘Take his resettlement and courses regardless of what is going on at work. It goes against your working ethos I know – we are used to thinking service and ops first. But this is your payback time, and course places and the availability of those courses do not work around current operational commitments in your job. It’s easier to say than do, and we are used to working as a team, but when it comes to resettlement, to get the most out of it you have to put yourself first.’
As well as the above-mentioned course, with an eye to self-employment in future, James also took courses in running your own business and consultancy management, to accrue ‘further insight into running my own business, taxation etc., on top of what I had already learned from working with many contractors over the years’.
New working horizons
Asked to tell us how he found his first civilian job after leaving the Forces, James says: ‘I did five interviews over summer leave and had three positive responses. Two of those were for contract roles and one for a permanent role. I registered with a recruiting agency, updated my LinkedIn profile and attended employment fairs, literally touting my CV in my areas of specialisation/interest. You will find that if you have done a good enough PR job getting yourself out there, the calls and interview offers will come.’
Now working as project co-ordinator for Regional South 2 and 3 Site Readiness, as part of the Defence as a Platform Programme, James explains: ‘I have a number of MoD sites, both military and mixed with industry, from Bristol down to Poole.’ This involves him in ‘stakeholder management with the site, ensuring they are ready for each stage of the programme of upgrades that are planned over the next couple of years. I liaise with the suppliers’ project managers to ensure we gain customer buy-in for each stage, from surveys, design, approvals and installation to migration over to the new provider and service. Embedded with the MoD regional customer manager teams, it’s a fast-paced and versatile role that allows me to be proactive and customer facing. Reporting to the Joint Programming Office, it’s a varied and diverse role.
‘I enjoy stakeholder management and gaining customer buy-in, as well as working in a manner where you get judged on your outputs and the ability to arrange your own diary to deliver them. Getting out of the office and conducting site visits, whether for meetings, presentations, surveys or installations, is also something I enjoy about the job. You are involved at every stage, and you are working with industry and the MoD.’
JAMES’S COURSES IN DETAIL
- PRINCE2 Practitioner – Projects in Controlled Environments: This is all about the PM process and methodology. You will need to do the Foundation course too, unless you already have it. The validity of Practitioner status is five years.
- PRINCE2 Agile for PRINCE2 Practitioners: As for PRINCE2 but working in a fast/sprint agile fashion on fast-moving projects.
- APM PMQ – Association of Project Managers Project Management Qualification: This is knowledge and experience based, and tests your skills on project management tools and techniques.
Service and civilian crossover
Asked what training or experience gained during his Service career James is now finding useful in civilian life, he responds: ‘The ability to coach and mentor to get the best out of people, as well as engaging stakeholders and winning their buy-in.’
There are similarities between his Service and civilian careers too: ‘Most definitely! The ability to capture an audience and instil enthusiasm, taking people on the journey that is your project is what SNCOs do on a daily basis but just see it as part of their job. Yes, there are professional and academic skills you must possess too, but leadership and the ability to win over your followers/stakeholders are key SME skills if you are working in your specialist area. I have found that anyone with leadership skills and a proactive self-starter type approach is in great demand, both in the public and private sectors. We underestimate ourselves in HM Forces, and our ability to lead as well as manage.’
As for differences: ‘People are now your “clients”, or “customers”, so you may find you have to know your audience to pitch your sell accordingly. And, oh yes, a little more thought is required about what to wear each day now! My tie-matching to shirt and suit colour is improving slowly.’
‘I am self-employed now, with my own limited company, and the salary difference is significantly better, however that doesn’t mean self-employment is for everyone. You have to be comfortable without the security that permanent employment brings and also financially prepared to ride out any dry spell between contracts. New IR35 regulations in the public sector have hit hard, with many contractors leaving. However, depending on your daily rate and experience you can still earn much more than you were previously.’
Some final words of advice …
‘Use your ELC wisely and ensure you plan well in advance,’ says James. ‘For instance, you can use only one ELC in each financial year, so you might find yourself planning two or three years in advance. Be prepared to part with some of your own money so you get the best and most relevant course(s) for your chosen path/career.
‘Plan, adjust as necessary and plan again … well in advance! Be prepared to rewrite your CV multiple times, but bear in mind that not all advice is good advice – it depends on what sector you are aiming for. Book your courses early, remembering that, if you’re in your last two years, you come first not work when it comes to resettlement, so there is no need to check the work calendar first!’