In response to my request for your own transition stories, I am delighted to present the first story received. It comes from someone I now count as a friend, Jim McDermott.
Reaching a pinnacle after 25 years’ military service, Jim went on to reflect on his own career and transition, along with the experiences of others he interviewed, and was awarded his PhD after presenting his research.
Now, as Dr Jim McDermott, he continues to research and contribute to supporting others in their own transitions.
While Jim has experienced a successful military career and transition overall, both entailed some setbacks, which Jim refers to in the middle of his story below.
Essentially, it is a story of success from boy soldier, to Dr McDermott, proving that a military career can lead you on in life. Among the messages are that taking advantage of training, education and preparation opportunities can be crucial in helping to transition more smoothly.
The following story has been submitted by Jim McDermott:
I joined the army in 1958 and left in 1983, having completed 22 years colour service and three years as a boy soldier. So, I had spent a large chunk of my adult life in uniform.
But my transition story begins probably in 1981, when I was recommended for a commission from my rank as a WO1 in the Intelligence Corps to be an officer in the same corps, effectively doing the same job.
I was not successful, there being just one vacancy that year, which I didn’t get. So, my hopes of serving on having been dashed, instead I looked forward to what I could do as a ‘civvy.’
The easy option was to go and do much the same job in a related civilian agency, which would have been entirely desk bound. With a wife and three kids, I had already purchased my own house and, when stationed in the UK between frequent overseas tours and ops, I had undertaken various part time jobs. In a sense therefore, my transition to civilian working life had mentally begun well before I handed in my kit and ID card.
Three years before I left the army, I also enrolled on a certified Management course at Loughborough College funded by the army and the following year completed a similar course at Diploma level. These courses included company structure, security, accounting, personnel management, company law and a host of other things. Coincidentally, I was involved at that time with the City and Guilds in evaluating and comparing a number of specialist military courses with City and Guild qualifications. This eventually enabled me to obtain certification in electronics and, after a City and Guilds examination, a certification in telecommunications.
This meant I had several items to include on my CV which were a lot more meaningful to a civilian employer than the fact that I had come top of my course in military skills and knew how to operate a film projector!
Parallel to my own preparation, my wife had already started to become civilianised, as she had a part time job and we lived in our own house (with a mortgage of course), while the kids went to a civilian school.
In 1982 the Falklands war erupted and I was disappointed not to have been part of the operation. Thereafter, in 1983, I began counting the days to my departure and started looking for suitable job opportunities. My leaving date was in June 1983 when I was 40 years old. With terminal leave and unused annual leave, I was effectively off duty from April. I applied for a job with the British Red Cross and was called for interview. As soon as I walked in the door, I was told I was far too young! They had been expecting a retired ‘on a pension’ ancient person who would work for peanuts. I declined.
At that time the government, via the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) (an organisation which no longer exists), was running Youth Training Schemes (YTS) and I applied for a job as a centre manager in Stoke on Trent. I was called for interview, offered the job the next day, with a salary and expenses package far exceeding my pay as a WO1 and asked if I could start immediately.
The job was initially to oversee the fitting out of a building as a training centre, then to hire the staff, recruit trainees and run the centre. The overall task was like a model exercise from my management course!
So, having consulted my wife, I said yes and by early May was traveling to Stoke daily and getting the place organised and up and running. This meant I was being paid by both the army and my new employer! I used my army experience to create the necessary systems to run training courses to City and Guilds level in electronics, and in office skills. I created a payroll system, based on the army acquittance roll, to pay the trainees their weekly ‘wages’ in cash; along with various processes to run and maintain an office, a workshop, several training rooms and all the associated equipment. Plus managing 10 staff and maintaining discipline among 200, at times, unruly ‘youths’.
I was dined out of the mess in late May 1983 and went for a final interview with my Commanding Officer. “We can’t afford to lose experienced people like you, so we would like you to stay on with a one-year renewal contract, keep your WO1 badge but paid as a WO2” said he. “No thanks” said I, much to his amazement. I thought, if I had been offered that chance to renew months earlier, I would probably have said yes.
And so, my military career ended.
I was too busy to miss the army then, and went from centre manager to area manager, looking after several centres in the space of 18 months. When the company was bought out by a large publishing firm, I was kept on and eventually became the National Training Manager on a very useful salary, a company car and lots of perks.
I then worked for a year on secondment to a major clearing bank developing a computer-based training system for cheque clearing. I hated the tedium of coding the programmes but learned a lot about banking.
Following another merger, I found my post redundant and secured a new job almost straight away as Head of Training at a large industry trade association, a job which took me literally all over the world.
However, in 1999 my wife died suddenly, and a year later my father-in-law died and not long after that my mother-in-law died. As a result, I suffered a period of depression and sought help. A few sessions with a mental health nurse led to me releasing hidden, pent up issues, related to being shot at years before, being very close to a bomb explosion and other unpleasantness, which had been causing me nightmares.
Fortunately, within weeks I was fine again, and with financial support from my employer, I embarked on an academic career.
In 2004 I remarried and now enjoy a really happy and fulfilling life. Looking back on my army career and my transition to civilian life and work, I can reflect that I went from a reasonably well-paid job in the army with a position of some authority and respect and was fortunate, perhaps even lucky, to go straight into a well-paid civilian position with some authority and certainly with, at that time, a degree of security.
I did not immediately miss the army. I did and to some extent do miss the fun, the banter, the excitement of being on ops, the travel perks and sports. I loved being in the army and enjoyed every minute, and I would do it all again without hesitation. That said, the army I joined in 1958 aged 15 was very different to the army I left in 1983 aged 40 and the army in the 21st century is, like society itself, again also very different.
The army gave me an education and confidence and, like many others, a dark sense of humour. I had left my secondary modern school at 15 with no paper qualifications (not because I was thick but because there were no qualifications to be had unless you went to a grammar school).
An understanding of discipline, moral fibre and decency, comradeship and leadership, along with my army education and a multitude of various skills training courses (and years of experience training others in the army), all helped to prepare me for civilian life and work; almost certainly making me the person I am today.
In civilian life I missed being able to ask someone to do something and know that they would get it done. It was frustrating to find people who would spend hours pondering a task, then find ways not to do it and then even longer finding reasons why it could not be done. In my first job I employed a couple of ex armed forces guys as technical instructors and getting the job done was never a problem for them. In that same first job, running a large technical training centre, I very quickly established regular staff meetings along the lines of an O Group [Orders Group, a military means of communicating a mission and tasks to those responsible for carrying them out] and not, which seemed to be the norm, an opportunity for staff to moan and air their grievances.
Jim’s Top Tips:
- Everyone knows when their discharge date is, more or less, so don’t leave it all to the last minute.
- Get on any resettlement courses that the MOD will fund: attending courses on how to write a CV and handle a bank account may seem like a waste of time, but you never know who you might meet at such events and finding a job can be greatly helped with lots of contacts.
- Save up some leave in your final year so you can be job hunting while still being paid by the Queen.
- One tip for self-promotion to a potential employer is to immediately present yourself in a positive way and come across as someone who can get things done – and then demonstrate that this is the case by doing so once in post. This can upset those of a 9 to 5 mindset, but in my experience, people who get things done, get on.
- Getting to an interview in the first place is of course not always easy and a good CV is essential – make it brief and to the point and tailored to the job you are applying for.
- Accentuate the positive aspects of your military career and how these are relevant to the post you want. On a CV, if you have to include military qualifications and courses attended, add a note of their relevance or equivalence. Army ‘Certificate of Education First Class’ for example, comes across much better as ‘Army Cert Ed’.
- Once at interview, make sure you pick up on what the place and the people there are like, how you are received, and whether you could work with these people? Do they employ other ex-forces people? Is this employer good enough for you? In other words, don’t necessarily take the first job that comes along (unless you have to).
- Most importantly, if you are in receipt of a forces pension, don’t let an employer take this into account when agreeing how much you should be paid.
Thank you very much for an insight into your own experience Jim, which while not as difficult as some perhaps, clearly includes some ‘rough’ with the smooth.
As mentioned in the introduction though, taking advantage of training, education and preparation opportunities can be crucial in smoothing that transition journey.
The next story in this series will be presented soon.
While it is not such a happy tale, as its teller is still battling to overcome some adversity, it equally needs to be told.
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