Training initiatives for army leavers

We are working with the Ministry of Defence to provide a chance at a second career for thousands of soldiers leaving the army each year

14 April 2014

For the estimated 25,000 army personnel cut from the British Armed Forces in 2010, finding civilian jobs was a tough battle. Alongside the poor state of the UK jobs market, many soldiers and other military personnel are likely not to have had a job interview since joining the forces as a teenager and may never have written a CV.

‘Even soldiers who stay the longest in the army will only do 22 years, so if they join at 18, they’re out by the age of 40,’ says Alex Firmin, a former soldier turned leadership and development coach. ‘The necessity of a second career for all soldiers is inescapable and there are some real problems here, especially for infantry units – the fighting troops.’

Alex spent 10 years of his life dedicated to the British Armed Forces, managing education projects for soldiers in Kenya, Afghanistan and the UK. One of Alex’s main roles was to deliver the ILM accredited training programmes now on offer to all serving soldiers, which provide them with a nationally-recognised vocational qualification in leadership and management.

‘A lot of the people who join the army as teenagers are joining without strong qualifications, so their ILM training might be the only civilian qualification they have to show at the end of their 22 years,’ continues Alex. The problem, he says, is that employers often fail to recognise the levels of responsibility soldiers have during their time in the forces.

‘Employers don’t understand the transferable skills soldiers have, so in the majority of cases a soldier who has had wide-ranging responsibilities in the army ends up having to do something that is a big step backwards because they can’t demonstrate their skills and experience to employers in the civilian world.’

Every year, the Royal British Legion takes more than 1,500 calls from homeless ex-servicemen and women and the unemployment rate among former soldiers is significantly higher than the national average. With recent statistics outlining the rise of mental illness among former military personnel, the work being done by Alex, ILM and charities to bring about a smoother transition from military to civilian life is crucial.

For more than 30 years, ILM has provided civilian accreditation for military training in leadership and management, while City & Guilds provides apprenticeships and technical qualifications to enhance the military training.   

Alex headed up the major training project at the Army Foundation College (AFC) in Harrogate, UK where he helped train young recruits in a year of developmental education to supplement their military training with City & Guilds qualifications. ‘Although learning is primarily military-based for the 16-year-old recruits, there was a very strong supporting confidence, character and leadership development side,’ says Alex.

The courses, which Alex spearheaded between 2010-2012, were the first sign of a change of philosophy within the British forces. ‘The army was just starting to make a transition into more coaching-led techniques. Training became more developmental, reflective and as a result the retention rate increased dramatically. The overall performance of what the young people were delivering was getting better and better.’

Alex wasn’t safe from the military cuts, and in 2013, after a seven-month stint setting up a training academy in Kabul, he was released from the army. He recognises he was one of the luckier ones. ‘I spent a lot of my time in the educational side of the army, which thankfully provides some scope for transferable skills.’

Having recently achieved a Level 5 coaching certificate, Alex won the ILM Learner of the Year award for coaching and mentoring in the City & Guilds Medals for Excellence in 2013 for his work with training and consultancy organisation Chapel House. This June, Alex will find out if he has won the prestigious Lion Award for ILM Learner of the Year in recognition of his specialist achievements in leadership development, cross-cultural mentoring and developing training solutions.

Alex now works on a consultancy basis for Huthwaite International, a professional and commercial skills company. ‘The coaching approach I developed in the army – leading people to their own development rather than pushing key messages – is incredibly useful to me today. Even though my clients are different people, the philosophies I learned have stayed with me,’ he says.


Our research reveals that three quarters of young people demand skills-based training to achieve their ambitions Read full research article