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What can we learn from ex-military experience on the battlefield?

Ian Heath

Ian Heath, the Director of Public Sector at EMC UK and former Captain of the British Army on the lessons learned from the front-line

The House of Lords Digital Skills Committee recently launched a report "Make or Break: The UK's digital future" which claims the UK is failing to address its digital skills shortage. By the end of the year, it’s predicted that the IT skills shortage will reach 700,000 people across Europe. In addition to this, a recent survey from EMC revealed that 35 percent of IT professionals from around the world believe that their organisation doesn’t have the right level of skills or knowledge to achieve key business priorities. A further 69 percent also believe training IT staff to keep pace with the implications of cloud, mobile, social and big data will be a key challenge for their organisation over the next few years. But where should the industry turn to for the right people? 

Clearly, the industry is crying out for IT talent yet one area which offers organisations the opportunity to plug their skills gap is being largely overlooked. Each year, 24,000 servicemen and women leave the forces, a figure that is expected to increase to at least 30,000 a year over the next few years. Many of these personnel depart possessing skills that are transferable to the IT profession including leadership, teamwork, discipline, dedication and broader areas of operational expertise. Yet because they have little experience working in the civilian world it can be much harder to find work. 

As an ex-captain of the British Army working in a company that employs more than a dozen military leavers, here’s some advice and insight from my own experience into why it would be beneficial for you to consider hiring ex-members of the military into your organisation.

The bigger picture

Investing in special training programmes and schemes to help develop the IT skills of ex-service people will not only help businesses find the right employees with the right skills, it will also help tackle the ongoing issue of the IT skills shortage.

We recently announced a new programme in partnership with specialist military support services firm X-Forces, to train up to 20 military leavers in enterprise IT. The scheme, which targets all arms and ranks in the military, gives military leavers the chance to train for a broad range of roles in IT, equipping them for careers in businesses like ours and those run by our channel network. There are a number of people already going through the course now, and with X-Forces we can also offer them ex-military trainee funding and guidance should they wish to use those skills to start their own business.

You won’t be the guinea pig

EMC is not the only business looking to capitalise on the opportunity skilled ex-service people represent – JP Morgan, Barclays BankDeloitte and Jaguar are just a few other businesses embracing the expertise they have to offer. The opportunities these schemes provide are both exciting and essential.

Vast capacity for new skills

Military personnel have a tremendous capacity for acquiring new skills. The nature of a career in the military means that its people are not just put through the initial basic training, but receive continued, increasingly specialised training throughout their career. This makes them capable of acquiring new skills and knowledge within in the fast paced world of technology.

Transitional support

The transition for these service people back to civilian life needs to be managed carefully. The military is full of highly driven and motivated people, but must be given both the guidance and support during their changeover. One estimate puts the failed cost of transition to civilian life at £100m a year. Organisations should see this capable talent pool as a huge opportunity to plug their IT skills gap and invest in ensuring that, where possible, the transition is successful.

Planning for the future

So what do businesses need to do to take advantage of these alternative skill pools? It comes down to three things: considering ex-service people as alternatives to traditional graduate recruitment targets, investing in and developing training and transition programmes like the one we’re running with X-Forces and finally: engage directly with relevant organisations, such as the Career Transition Partnership, to ensure the 24,000 military leavers a year are aware of the opportunities available to them within the tech sector.

If the technology community leaps on this opportunity, we can secure the support of our ex-military personnel to address a serious challenge for our industry: making sure we have the people we need to guarantee the continued growth of the sector in the UK.


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