Having a father who served in the military was hugely influential: even though there was no direct pressure to follow him, I still had an appetite to meet a certain benchmark. So, in 2003 I joined the Parachute Regiment at the age of 22: quite a late entry, compared to all the 16- and 17-year-olds who signed up alongside me.
By 2015, I decided I’d done everything in that world that I wanted to do, and settling into family life with my wife and son became my main focus. I began my transition by terminating my contract through the official MoD channels and, in my circle of friends, people provided me with plenty of reassurance and guidance.
However, once I exited the Army, reality kicked in and I saw how exceedingly hard I’d have to work to gain a foothold in civilian life.
I’d extensively harnessed my own network of fellow veterans, and I’d also tapped a secondary network comprised of family friends from non-military backgrounds. But nothing much seemed to be working – until I bumped into one of my old colonels, Stuart Tootal. Now best known as an author and motivational speaker, Stuart was at that point head of physical security at Barclays – and head of the bank’s military programme. Up to that point, I hadn’t fully grasped just how important the relationship we’d developed on the battlefield would turn out to be.
We’d met quite often in the field when I was on operations or exercises, and I’d always had that type of sixth sense you get when you feel like someone is looking out for you. But it was only once I was out of the Army that this really came to fruition.
Stuart was so enthusiastic: “Chalky!“ (my forces nickname…) “Come in and have a chat, and let’s see what we can do for you.” His message was simple: “Look, the world’s your oyster, here – you just need to put all the right mechanisms in place to get where you need to be.”
After he talked me through the routes that Barclays offers ex-military personnel, I embarked on the bank’s track towards civilian work. There are two programmes: Armed Forces Transition Employment and Resettlement (AFTER), which offered me the opportunity to take part in a civilian work attachment within the bank, and the Veterans Employment Transition Support (VETS), which is more of a one-on-one mentoring scheme. They went hand in hand.
I got a lot out of the programmes and, following a two-week Barclays work placement, I was offered a job as programme coordinator within the VETS programme, responsible for helping other service leavers and veterans find meaningful employment. That role led me to where I am now: project manager, Armed Forces Banking, where I oversee different products and services designed to help our armed forces community maintain financial wellbeing.
Although I no longer work directly in the VETS team, I’m still doing as much as I can to give something back by mentoring people who are dealing with the same challenges I faced. I will always give the time of day to anyone from the military who’s dealing with transition – regardless of background, education, service or rank.
It’s very daunting to come out of the military without really knowing what’s on the other side of the fence. You hear some amazing stories about people who’ve been hugely successful – but, on the flipside, you also hear some incredibly harsh and scary stories about people whose plans did not go accordingly.
One of the biggest hurdles is impostor syndrome. Veterans may struggle to enter or adjust to certain professions as they haven’t amassed the years of relevant experience logged by civilian staff. But what I came to understand was that there are lots of people behind the scenes at a bank who take care of tasks unrelated to banking.
Curiously enough, I’ve had chats with some of my civilian counterparts who’ve said, “We’re actually quite jealous of what you guys and gals have got – you’re part of this thriving, readymade network of people with similar experiences, but we’ve had to build our own professional networks and credentials from scratch.” It’s really interesting to consider transition from that angle.
To promote our programmes to veterans, we do a lot of external communications work at Barclays. Not only that – we’re also in touch with other cogs in the post-services machine. For example, we’re part of the cornerstone Ministry of Defence scheme, Career Transition Partnership (CTP).
Some still have questions about what sort of benefits people from a military background can bring to the world of business and banking. For me, it all ties in with the old adage: “Anyone can manage – but not everyone can lead.”
In the forces, when it comes to leadership courses, not only do we sit down and talk about it, but we also go away for months at a time to learn how to lead in predominantly practical environments. We go on operations and utilise those leadership skills. So, I think our main advantages are one, we can adapt quickly to changing scenarios, and two, we can make decisions really effectively.
To close, I have a bit of networking advice for veterans: when people exit the military, they are still very loyal to their own cap badge and service. That tends to determine their first port of call – for example, engineers will, by and large, seek out other engineers, RAF leavers will seek out RAF veterans, and I myself initially sought out someone who’d served in Para Reg. We do this because it helps us feel comfortable with who we’re talking to. However, what I’ve learned is that every Service, regardless of rank, wants to help you – whether by providing you with an ear for your worries and frustrations, or by saying: “Look, I’ve got loads of roles here that need to be filled – let’s have a chat and see where you could fit.”
Don’t restrict yourself to your own specialist field and cap badge. There are so many other services and cap badges out here that want to help you.