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A lesson in preparation

A lesson in preparation

COVER STORY

22 Mar, 2019

Having decided to leave the Armed Forces after 22 years’ service Carl James (Jamo) set about preparing thoroughly for his upcoming move to civvy street. So thoroughly that he began four years before he was due to leave. Music to our ears as that’s something we at Quest are very keen to encourage readers to do. Here he tells us how he did it …

After serving in both the Army (1 WFR) and the RAF Regiment, I started to prepare for civilian life four years before I left after 22 years’ service, which is what I was advised to do.

For me, the first thing was to get my family settled. This involved buying a house. I took full advantage of the Forces Help to Buy scheme to get the deposit. This gave me four years to pay as much as I could before the remaining balance would come out of my lump sum from my pension (be aware that it will come out – for my lump sum I had to contact JPAC pay and get them to open a case for the FHTB team to phone me so it could be arranged – otherwise you lose your whole last month’s pay, which can cause massive problems). Once my home was secured I could concentrate on getting myself qualified for civvy street …

I only had Infanteer skills and had no clue as to what I wanted to do when my time was up. To be honest, it took me three years of thinking and searching to decide what I really wanted to do. So in the meantime I started to get as many qualifications as I could, so that I could show any civilian employers that I had prepared myself for the transition to civvy life, that I could still learn and that I had drive. You will be surprised at how many courses you can get for free in the Forces if you look hard enough for them. In fact, the only money I spent was on my actual resettlement course at CTTS in Lincoln, studying access networks.

Being in my late forties and having left school in 1986 with a few bad CSEs, I decided to start at a low level. I began with a Functional Skills level 2 in Maths and level 2 ICT at my education centre. I then stepped it up a bit by doing Managing Safely and Risk Assessor, and I took GCSE English (where I proudly got an A) – again all done for free through the education centre.

Leaving the Forces is very scary but, passing these courses, I began to feel confident about the future and in my abilities. I also got qualifications through City & Guilds and ILM in Leadership and Management, just because I was a JNCO. I did have to pay £40 for this and send a CV along with details of my JPA competencies. This prompted me to dig out all those other civilian qualifications I had gained in the military, such as my NVQ in Team Leading and City & Guilds Security and Loss Prevention, freebies that I got and never thought anything of them. I was now taking great pride in the fact that my certificate file was getting full and my CV was being beefed up a little. 

You will be surprised at how many courses you can get for free in the Forces

One of the best things I discovered was the Defence Learning Academy at Shrivenham. They have lots of online courses that are completely free. I enrolled on the APM Project Management Qualification; this is done through distance learning so you can take as long as you like to complete the modules. There are also two-day courses you can take at Shrivenham as you go through it, to help you out. These are optional but I did them all, and again they are free, and with free accommodation. I do advise taking the two-day revision course as the exam is very strange – and very, very difficult. The exam is taken at Shrivenham. Passing this gave my confidence a massive boost as it was the hardest exam I have ever taken. It also gave me something I could pursue in my civilian life. Another free qual I gained – and that anyone can gain, which is something employers like – is First Aid at Work.

At my two-year point I entered my resettlement phase, and I attended the CTP workshop as soon as I could. I found this to be an awesome two days and I learned so much. Anyone who misses this course is foolish. Even if you have a job lined up, do this course. I came out of that place with a knowledge of how to write a CV, which is very important because every job you apply for, your CV needs to be tailored to that job. I got interview skills, cover letter skills, learned the importance of networking and much more. They give you a book that is like a PAM for job seeking, but most important they will show you all the transferable skills you have to offer. My advice: do this course early, so you can make full use of the CTP website. There are jobs on there and that’s where I got mine.

Like I said, it took me three years to decide what I wanted to do, and that was the toughest part of my resettlement. I needed three things to satisfy my needs:

  1. be able to work in Bury St Edmunds
  2. earn enough with my pension to cover my bills
  3. a job that I wanted get up for and enjoy.

I toyed with many ideas for so long – from being self-employed to facilities management – but I couldn’t settle on any of them until I met a man called Colin Syme from CTTS at a CTP job fair. He talked to me about telecommunications and data cabling, and that really appealed to me. So I took the four-week Access Networks course at CTTS in Lincoln and realised I really enjoyed it. Colin also supports you for the rest of your life with help in job hunting, and has his own recruitment company in the industry. I still get emails with jobs every week.

Leaving the Forces is scary but, passing these courses, I began to feel confident about the future and in my abilities

After the course I emailed every data cabling company in the Bury St Edmunds area to get some work experience. I was lucky enough to have a boss who was willing to let me go whenever any came up.

I also applied to BT Openreach while I was at CTTS, through the CTP website. BT love ex-Forces and going through the CTP route seemed to fast track my application. I was successful at the assessment centre and started last November. I also found a local engineer who was willing to let me go out with him one day a week to get experience. This made me realise it was a job I would really enjoy.

My advice to anyone leaving the Forces? You get out what you put in. Be selfish and think of your future. Get as much experience as possible. Get qualifications. Do your CTW through CTP. But, above all, start early!

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