A pioneering new pilot project has been launched that aims to tackle the UK’s digital skills…
Not content with a career as a training consultant in engineering and a more-than-sideline as an international champion powerboat racer, former RA ‘gunner’ Daisy Coleman is also working to encourage young people to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers, to address the national skills gap. ‘With up to 20,000 Service leavers facing the resettlement challenge each year,’ says Daisy, ‘I stand testimony to the fact that there is life beyond the Forces – and that we have a plethora of transferable skills.’
My personal development journey started the day I joined the military (after not doing very well in school). I joined 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery (RA), operating Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) purposes. I chose 32 RA as I liked the idea of being guaranteed service on Op TELIC. Sure enough, two months after my 18th birthday, I was there in glorious Iraq! It certainly forced me to grow up quickly – although I started off as an operator, my inherent curiosity and thirst to look at the bigger picture saw me moved to Brigade HQ, where I thrived, able to have a more holistic, systems view of the battlefield.
Quite often in my first civilian employment role (2013) at the Royal Artillery Centre for Personal Development (RACPD) – originally set up to address the skills gap for Royal Artillery serving soldiers (historically, after firing Artillery guns for all your career, once your military career was up, where did you go and what did you do?) – I was approached by individuals at the end of their service asking for advice and guidance. The number of NCOs that had not been recording their professional and personal development surprised me. Call me a nerd, but my personal development record was much more than a doorstop. I kept it up to date with any exercises, deployments or activities I had taken part in. Then, when I came to write my CV, it was so much easier: reflecting on my experience, I could cherry-pick what was relevant to any potential employment role. Particularly in the Artillery, as gunners we organise the logistics, motor transport and comms ourselves. Although many would argue that in the Artillery your skills aren’t as transferable as those acquired in, say, the REME, I would argue otherwise. Being in the RA I was able to dip my hand into different areas, which not only made me a more rounded soldier, able to appreciate procedures in other domains, but also someone likely to be more employable in the civilian workplace (for me, systems engineering).
Think about it in layman’s terms. You were on the mess committee for a year; that involved planning the summer and Christmas balls, and liaising with the relevant internal stakeholders (committee members, mess members, RSM, etc.) and external stakeholders (the local band that would be playing, caterers, etc.). You had to handle the budget, accounting for all costs, then probably had to report back on the success of the event. You’ve been doing low-scale event management and you probably didn’t even realise it!
Experiences like this all add to your CV. Even down to being on exercise or operations – yes, you were stuck in a field in the middle of nowhere in the thick of winter, with your lips turning blue despite being covered in cam cream, your fingers frozen to your SA80 despite wearing gloves (and being woken up in the middle of the night by your mucker with those words you won’t miss: ‘Pssssttt you’re on stag!’); large organisations pay for these sort of experiences for their top-flight leaders, to improve their resilience in the face of adversity. You’ve already done that!
The reality is that allsoldiers, regardless of cap badge, rank or background, have a wealth of valuable and transferable skills, and quite often any idea that they don’t is just a case of communication breakdown or misinterpretation of terminology (i.e. military jargon). At the RACPD we were able to bridge the gap between civilian and military training to ensure that soldiers gained recognised civilian qualifications for their vocational competence that they could take forward to civilian employment. But it’s not only the RA that does this – there are a range of educational opportunities across all cores, and services for that matter. Never pass up an opportunity to gain civilian accreditation; that extra half hour of work could give you the competitive edge over other interview candidates. Also keep an eye out for companies who have signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant; they’ll know even more so how valuable your skillsets are.
If you can, use your ELC in your resettlement period
Another key thing to take away is the importance of networking. As many of you reading this will already have started your resettlement period you’ll no doubt have heard this before. Make use of any contacts you meet, exchange business cards, capitalise on the power of social media – but only for business purposes.
If you don’t have a profile yet, get one – even if it’s just your name and you don’t have the time to create a stellar profile right now. Then, on any course, trade show or any meeting with someone in industry, add the contacts as you go; you never know when they might come in handy. Another useful tip is, when you go to any interview, do your homework and check out the interviewers on LinkedIn. You may have similar interests and find some common ground that could help build rapport. Although don’t shoehorn this into conversations – it may come across as creepy! And, as with any social media platform, make sure you’re clued up on privacy settings.
You might be surprised to hear that a huge amount of Service leavers don’t use their resettlement entitlement, let alone their SLC or ELC. I was fortunate to be on the higher tier for ELC when leaving, after nine years of service. So I dipped in to my entitlement to enrol on my L5 Diploma in Education and Teaching (formerly DTLLS). Since leaving in 2013 I’ve been employed in various teaching roles; I certainly think having that qualification helped get me through the door.
If you can, use your ELC in your resettlement period. After all, you’re not likely to be in this position again: taking home a full pay packet but free to complete whatever training you want. Don’t hoard your claims either and think that, because you’ve got such a long time to use them, you’ll save them for a rainy day because that day might not come and you might not get the opportunity to invest your time so easily in the next chapter of your career (which reminds me, the time-frame has changed so I need to start thinking about what to study next). If you’re fortunate enough to find a great company to work for, it will cover the costs for you to train to do the job (if it’s a legitimate business need), so spend your resettlement time wisely and on something that you want to do. Whatever job you end up doing, you might not be afforded the time to take that three-week course in animal husbandry or whatever else floats your boat.
Ah, I mentioned it … boats!
While in my resettlement phase I was introduced to the world of offshore powerboat racing after being invited to a corporate sponsorship day. Being a land lover (a keen horsewoman since I was a toddler) I’d never really been on a boat, aside from a mackerel-fishing trip when I was 8. I went on the mandatory race training with seven times world champion, Neil Holmes, and was mocked throughout – the only female in attendance and the only person with no ‘boating’ experience.
Turns out I did OK. I didn’t realise the race training had a typical 70% attrition rate, with 70% of attendees having to come back for more training. I was the only one to pass and later that week was whisked off to the Isle of Wight to compete in the series’ toughest event on the calendar: a 35nm offshore race, Cowes–Poole–Cowes. Navigating the team to its only ever podium, we came third. Not too shabby for a rookie who barely knew her port from her starboard!
You have a lot to thank the Services for, and employers out there are looking for skills like yours
I was then scouted by ex-champion, John Wilson, to step up into a bigger-class boat. I was to start racing alongside John for Pertemps Network, an award-winning national recruitment company, which has been nominated for the Sunday Times ‘Best Companies’ list for eight consecutive years. Pertemps is a huge advocate of employing ex-Forces personnel, has been awarded the gold standard award under the Armed Forces Covenant Employer Recognition Scheme, and recently put me through my Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) through its Driver Training Academy, which I would highly recommend. The company has offices all over the UK, so do get in touch.
In my first full season racing P1 Superstock we finished third in the overall championship. It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. In my second ever event, in Plymouth (which took place over Armed Forces weekend), the boat high sided and I was thrown out on the racing line, fortunately emerging relatively unscathed – aside from my pride (as we had been winning the championship up until then!) and turning up in the office the following Monday with a black eye, chipped tooth and broken nose. I did get some funny looks!
I was awarded Powerboat P1’s Sports Personality of the Year and we went on to finish third again in the 2014 season. In 2015, we went one better and finished second, narrowly missing out on the top spot. To close my three-year partnership with John (who elected to retire) we made our debut at an international event and stuck it to the Americans on their home turf, winning in Tavares, Florida. At that point my brother, Sam, was managing the Pertemps-backed boat for us. After many jibes about being ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’, I gifted Sam a Neil Holmes’ Powerboat Centre voucher for his 30th birthday. It turned out he was pretty talented in a boat despite having no previous experience, which led to us setting up Coleman Racing in the winter of 2015, where we worked hard to get sponsorship to invest in our training prior to the 2016 season.
In our debut season racing together we won the 2016 championship by a resounding 47 points. This then took us to the World Championship event in Mumbai, India, to compete against some of the world’s finest powerboat racers. We secured the quickest lap in qualifying then won every event to take the world title. It was pretty special, with all the racing televised live globally on ESPN and in front of 250,000 spectators lining Marine Drive.
Back in the UK, we went on to defend our national title in 2017 and are, to date, the only team pairing to achieve podium at every event they’ve raced (our worst weekend result being second step on the podium), having generated more global media coverage than any other team along the way.
It was quite surreal to be crowned with our world title on a global stage at the Sporting Monte Carlo in Monaco earlier this year, considering we only fell in to the sport by chance while I was in my resettlement period.
Anyway enough about me. I’m writing this from my home office after finishing my dinner (takeaway – please don’t judge) and I came across this little quote, which seems quite fitting: fundamentally you have an exciting time ahead of you as you begin the next chapter of your career.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, question the norm and believe in your abilities. You have a lot to thank the Services for, and employers out there are looking for skills like yours (even if you haven’t quite worked out what they are or if you weren’t completely satisfied with your career). Invest time in yourself and remember that, out there, you’re a Mr or Ms – and everything is an opportunity. You never know where it might lead – just look at me!
Daisy is currently employed by Thales, UK, and has worked as a simulation SME and training consultant in defence since leaving the Armed Forces. Alongside her sporting achievements she also campaigns for STEM education in a bid to inspire more individuals to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
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