Hanging up the uniform icon What happens when someone leaves the armed forces? It doesn’t matter if it’s the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air force, there’s bound to be a shock to the system.
Gone is the rigid discipline and fierce camaraderie. That chain of command and clear routine you’ve gotten so used to? No more. The security of guaranteed housing and wage? Also consigned to history.  
At least that’s what you might think at first glance.
Actually, there are some similarities that can help cushion the transition. Sure, you’re not heading into a combat zone or picking up a weapon but, just as in the military, civilians also work in teams. They have goals and objectives. They have to keep their lives in order. Their jobs offer the prospect of promotion.
Such similarities are important, but what you also need is the self-assurance and knowledge that the skills one picks up in the military are very much transferrable to life in the private sector. That’s the message from both Adam Spaul and Kieran Cassidy, both of whom served in the military before taking up roles at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence.
“I felt a huge sense of trepidation about leaving the army,” admits Adam, who served for 23 years. “But irrespective of the rank you leave under, you will have mastered certain skills and used them in the most testing environments – all of this can be transferred to new roles in industry and beyond.”
Kieran, who served for five years in the Royal Marines and is still a reservist, agrees with this assessment, particularly when your new role is in consulting. “I, too, was nervous,” he says. “In the military you’re told that your job is very secure whereas in the private sector I didn’t know if I would be at greater risk and for example, not be able to pay the mortgage and support my family.”
“But I soon found that in consultancy, you often don’t know what’s coming, you have to adjust to different environments and there are a lot of unknowns. But this sort of thing is second nature to a Royal Marine and all Service Personnel. This skill-set really helps on projects when you have to adapt to new people, new priorities and new tasks quickly.”

Starting afresh

Hanging up the uniform headshot 1 As our colleague Dirk Noordewier has pointed out, there are many factors at play when someone leaves the armed forces. Not only is it a different lifestyle and a different pace of life, but when it comes to finding a new role, a civilian job interview differs hugely from one in the military. 
Kieran, though, is clear that they should not flinch from the challenge but actually take solace in the deep reservoir of experiences and insights they will have garnered during their time in uniform. “Service leavers should be confident,” he says. “Some of the things that you do in the military are the same, but the private sector just uses different terminology. They might not assume they have ever done, say, risk management or risk assessment before but actually they do it every day; they do it when they are prepping their kit, when they understand the ‘commander’s intent’ and relay this in delivering orders – this type of mission/threat led direction is actually something most organisations do and is something the military trains you to do well.”
Adam, who is keen to stress the importance of preparing for life in the private sector – “I was thinking about it for at least five years” – cites the experience of working alongside civil servants prior to leaving the military as a key turning point in his career development.
“I was responsible for the information technology management work stream for the reduction to Ministry of Defence headquarters headcount – which I would now know as a business change job,” he says.
“For me, working alongside civil servants gave me the greatest confidence. I hadn’t worked with them before and it gave me understanding of how they work, their drivers and how they differ to uniformed personnel – all of which is helpful now as a consultant. We’re too quick to think it is going to be difficult. Actually, I think people leaving the military are really well prepared to work in our sector.”

A different kind of impact

Hanging up the uniform headshot 2 Adam’s role at the MoD was a direct consequence of his decision to undertake a Master’s Degree in Information Management Technology.
“As I got to the latter part of my career, I wanted to keep my options open,” he recalls. “I knew that the staff job I wanted required a Master’s and I knew this would develop the academic profile that I needed – having not gone to university I wanted to capitalise on this opportunity and flesh out this part of my CV that was my missing. I think it helped in two ways: it made the change to do something different considerably less daunting, and the Master’s also ensured that I knew what sector I was aligning to.”
Kieran may not have had a job at headquarters on his military CV but his time in the Royal Marines Commandos gave him the opportunity to assess the influence and effect of consultants – which soon gave him food for thought.
“I had no real intent to leave the Royal Marines,” he recalls. “I loved what I was doing, I was working with a highly specialised unit at the forefront of defence and that was really where I wanted to be. But we had BAE Systems teams working alongside us on a several projects and programmes. I started to realise that they were able to make an even bigger impact because they were on the outside looking in, and the chain of command was more proactive in heeding advice given by SMEs in which – relatively junior – consultants were able to speak directly to senior leaders and achieve meaningful and impactful change.”

No regrets

Both Adam and Kieran have no doubts about their decision to take up roles with BAE Systems, citing a variety of factors in helping cushion the switch. “I felt my transition would be relatively smooth and so it transpired,” says Adam. “Although our products and workforce are global, there is a close affinity to a national mission and elements of that have close ties with what individuals leaving the military hold dear.”
And Kieran, too, had a similar experience. “What helped me was that it felt a very familiar working environment,” he says. “I was instantly surrounded by veterans and so straight away they made me feel at home. BAE Systems is also great at giving me lots of opportunities to still serve. I get 10 fully paid days a year to go and serve. So it means that I have never stopped serving the country.”
So what advice would they have for those currently serving and considering a new career in the private sector?
For Adam it comes down to preparation and an ability to look for new opportunities. “Look for those jobs in the military that provide you with openings when you leave,” he says. “Don’t be nervous about doing something new – we’re used to doing new things all the time in the military – but pick the right moment and invest in your transition; take the time to find the right role and organisation you think you can align with.”
And Kieran urges them to make the most of their time in uniform. “I’d urge them to enjoy their service and learn as much as they can from that experience,” he says. “It’s also important to think beyond qualifications. Getting certifications in, say, cyber security is fantastic but actually, getting working experience of some of the technologies and frameworks can be more valuable. What’s going to get you a job is not just the certifications but also being able to back that up with some working knowledge.”
Both Adam and Kieran successfully made the transition from serving officers to productive, impactful second careers with BAE Systems Digital Intelligence. They’re not alone in doing so. 
Are you interested in moving from the military to BAE Systems? Click here to learn more.
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Further reading

  • UK Armed Forces Day, 2021. To mark this year’s Armed Forces Day in the UK, we hear from several of our colleagues as they reflect on the lessons learned from their experiences in uniform
  • Helping Australia’s veterans back to work. Supporting the employment of Australian service personnel and their families has long been one of our company priorities but now, thanks to a new partnership with Fortem Australia, we’re poised to intensify our efforts. Dirk Noordewier explains more…
  • Soldiering on. After 30 years, Brigadier Sara Sharkey is bidding farewell to the army. As she prepares for a new role in the private sector, she tells Mivy James about her experiences in uniform and reflects on the ever-changing landscape across Defence
  • Nick James, Day in the Life. In the first of a new series, Nick James, Executive Engineer, Space, tells us about his typical day at work
  • From Boot Camp to BAE Systems. Jen Openshaw is not your average software engineer. She tells Victoria Knight about switching careers, the benefits of a coding boot camp and leading the charge for more women in the tech sector

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