“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be in the Army.”

My feelings towards the forces were like those of Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas towards the mafia – except that I wanted to help people and serve my country rather than run with the mob.

When we as a family go back through our photo albums, it’s clear that my obsession with the military has been there practically all my life. There I am, aged 11, swamped by my uncle’s adult-sized kit. And then between the ages of 12 and 16, I’m in my own kit as a proud member of the cadets.

As soon as I could, I joined the Army full-time aged 16. Because of my young age, I spent 12 months – rather than the 12 weeks I’d have spent if I was aged 18 or over – in basic training at Army Foundation College in Harrogate. Here, I received further education and learned vocational skills with one eye on the future.

When my time at the college came to an end, I was proud to join the Royal Engineers. It’s one of the oldest regiments in the Army which travels around the world building bridges – physically and metaphorically – and supplying water resources to areas in need. The regiment also clears mines and provides the capability to counter other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) too. On top of that, our football team even won the FA Cup in 1875, which appealed to me in my fitness-related position.

Forging tech skills

I left the Army aged 24 having trained for, but never seen service in, what’s known as a ‘kinetic conflict’ such as in Afghanistan. I re-joined the Royal Engineers as a reservist, where I am now a Physical Training Instructor. In my time as a full-time member of the forces and as a reservist, I’ve travelled around the world to places like the Falklands, Austria, Germany, Kenya, Cyprus and South Sudan, where I assisted in the construction of a hospital with the UN during the bitter civil war. 

It was here that I forged the skills that have since gone on to be my living as a Lead Service Delivery Manager. I was always interested in technology and the world of business when I was younger; I even took my GCSE in Business Communication Studies a year early. My head of year at school was a former Marine who now taught IT and he encouraged me to think about further education rather than jumping straight into the Army. If I’d followed that path, I would have continued to develop my interest in business and tech with a degree which studied the subjects.

Even after I joined up, my room was always filled with the latest gadgets and I’d help fellow soldiers who had problems with any of their devices in our single living accommodation too. On a professional level, I’d build radio masts to ensure we had good radio reception while on patrol and I’d show colleagues best practice in how to complete administrative tasks online. 

Before my deployment in South Sudan began, I also created the regiment’s intranet. I defined file structure, guidance and documentation together with process flows, all of which meant that more than 100 people were getting the right information about the exercise when they needed it. I’m proud to say that this source of internal communication is still in place today.

Recruiting internationally – what businesses need to know

Leaving the Army

When the time came to move on, I mistakenly assumed that because I hadn’t taken the traditional further education route, a role that encompassed my passion wasn’t open to me despite my aptitude. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I used my resettlement package of time and money that all members of the forces get when they leave to examine my career transition. I assumed that my post-Army life would revolve around fitness and used the financial support I received to take some qualifications in personal training, because I didn’t think my burgeoning interest in tech could lead to a career. However, I found my way to a company called FDM Group and their renowned ex-forces programme. 

They’re specialists with a passion for bridging the digital skills gap which they do by recruiting people like me or people who had been in my position, training them and then deploying them into many and varied roles. They showed me how the skills I learned in the Army were transferrable to this new working environment in which I was interested. 

FDM showed me that I could solve problems and lead teams. The seeds of the latter were sown when I was a member of various teams in the military, during which I always paid attention to techniques employed by leaders. I was taught how to apply my skills in different organisations and with the different terminologies that come in different settings. 

They also highlighted to me the traits that a lot of former forces personnel have in common, and which can find a new home in the world of business. It’s not a perspective that is unique to them, either. A lot of large companies now have training programmes for their teams to understand what people like me and my forces colleagues can bring to them.  

‘We scaled from 20 to 350 people in 2.5 years’

Getting things done

In my current role, my team helps to support those in the company who build our website. Good communication skills are vital not just for me, but for my team too. We need to deliver information to colleagues of all levels of seniority and expertise, just as I would have done in the forces.

Similarly, we need to work at a fast pace but also be adaptive to changes in circumstances. There must be a willingness to learn new things and to retain an experimental approach while at the same time delivering structure and consistent processes for my team, which is another chapter straight out of the Army handbook. 

Former members of the armed forces don’t want the world to feel sorry for us after we have come back to ‘Civvy Street’ and there is no moral obligation to employ us. We bring value to organisations with our characteristics that have been forged wherever in the world we have been proud to wear our uniforms. 

We get things done – and we can get things done in your company too.

Gary Neville: Schools should be teaching modern technologies