How the army readied me for a new consultancy career

24 June 2022

Last year, Opencast signed up to the Armed Services Covenant, confirming our commitment to the UK’s armed forces community. To mark Armed Forces Day 2022, client relationship director Rob Adkin talks about his experience of finding a new post-army career on ‘civvy street.’

After leaving university I spent four years in the British army on a short service commission. When I was younger, it was a childhood dream to join; so I didn’t really consider what I would do on leaving.
Photo of Rob Adkin smiling
"Coming to a place that has an affinity with the service community makes my work more meaningful"

My army experience

I joined in 2005 and left in 2010 as a captain – I was second in command of a squadron of tanks or armoured vehicles and soldiers. Generally, this meant ensuring the operational readiness of the squadron, including the development and training of its soldiers.

I was lucky enough to do a variety of work in the four years I served, starting off of as a troop leader and finishing as a squadron second in command and including deploying on operations to Iraq on OpTelic 10. I was also fortunate enough to be the regimental gunnery officer, which meant planning multi-arms live fire exercises for around 200 people on Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Interestingly, that was one of the roles that translates most easily into civilian life – I was essentially a project manager.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the army, and packed so much into four years, in 2010 the time felt right for a new challenge. It was a time of continual deployment and I felt that wasn’t really conducive to family life – it was time to move on.

Transition to civilian life

No one really prepares you for the transition to civilian life and I found it quite difficult. I don’t think I’m alone in this – you feel a huge loss of purpose and can feel quite lost and alone. It’s not that you don’t leave with a bucket load of leadership experience and behaviours that many organisations are crying out for. Rather, it can be quite daunting to know how to apply yourself and to some extent, play the game – to network and get noticed.

Thankfully, there are plenty of organisations supporting people to transition, which is really important and helpful because so many ex-servicemen and women leave the military not really knowing what they want to do next. There are also a growing number of organisations that have established programmes for former military personnel.

It’s not easy though, as you start off thinking you need to find one organisation for one illustrious career. In reality, I’ve had a very ‘squiggly’ career and I don’t regret this for a moment – you soon realise that you don’t have to fit a mould.

After a short stint finding my feet working for a recruitment agency in London, I joined Waitrose, who at the time were recruiting service leavers into their branch management scheme. I joined as an operations manager and cut my teeth on the shop floor of a number of London branches. It turned out I enjoyed retail and spent the close to eight years working in the John Lewis Partnership, which is where I began to build a career in project and programme management.

A man, a woman and three military officers smiling with a contract on the table
Opencast signed the MoD's Armed Forces Covenant in 2021

Translating to the real world

That’s another thing about leaving the military. There's a whole piece around translating what you do, and what skills you have in the military, into the real world. If you read a PRINCE2 manual you could basically translate everything that was in there into what you were taught to and trained to do in the military. In addition, you discover that agile principles were clearly recognisable in military doctrine from the 1800s to present day.

But no one spells this out to you. It was a bit of light bulb moment for me – I realised I’ve actually done this, I’ve practised it and I love working with people – which is such a huge part of working in the military.

I eventually did 10 years in project and programme management; building digital products and services, working across both the retail and charity sectors.

Joining Opencast was just a coincidence really. I saw a picture of a LinkedIn post about Opencast signing the Armed Forces Covenant and it had some people in I recognised, so it grabbed my attention. It was to a large extent another squiggle on the page.

Opencast saw my potential

I’d not done a pure relationship role in the past, nor come from an account management background, but Opencast could see my potential and was willing to take a bit of a risk with me.

I think organisations need to be more willing to take risks on hiring people who might not fit the mould – for me this is about seeing potential and understanding the values and standards that service leaders bring with them. These are hard wired and difficult to replicate.

I knew Opencast’s chief people officer Cate Kalson from school days. We hadn’t spoken to each other for a long time but I recognised her and saw the company’s commitment to the covenant and thought that was pretty cool. It has been really nice coming to a place that has an affinity with the service community – it makes work more meaningful and this goes straight to purpose.

There’s a real sense of affinity and purpose to the work that Opencast does – there are values at its heart. I’d love to see other service leavers join the business. I feel genuinely excited about working for an employer doing something in this space.

To those who are in the process of leaving the forces, or who have just left, I would say believe in your own ability, but be humble, be prepared to learn and translate your skills and be confident in taking the path less trodden.

Read more about Armed Forces Day 2022.