Subsea UK Hosts Event for Ex-Military Personnel Beginning Subsea Careers

07 December 2011

Subsea UK hosted a lunch and learn event at the Enterprise Centre in Aberdeen to stimulate discussion on how to utilise the skills of ex-military service personnel in the subsea industry.

The event, which attracted 30 delegates from various subsea and recruitment organisations, saw presentations from industry leaders and ex-servicemen now working in the sector. Together, they demonstrated just how well ex-military personnel can perform as part of a team, particularly in the current skills shortage climate.

Gordon Gourlay, ICS and Vessel Systems Manager for Nautronix, gave a presentation highlighting the benefits ex-service personnel can bring to a company. Gordon has first-hand experience working with and recruiting ex-military employees.

"Often these individuals already have a strong technical background; they are multi-disciplined. So their skills are quite easily transferrable,” said Mr Gourlay. "In our industry, "military spec” equipment is generally considered the best; the highest level. And that’s the standard these men and women are trained up to already. It’s just a matter of shifting the focus of these skills.”

Furthermore, through Ministry of Defence initiatives, ex-military personnel are given support funding to build on their skill-set, reducing the cost to companies to train them up to a suitable level.

Mr Gourlay stated that of Nautronix’s workforce, about 12-15% of employees have a military background. "We’ve filled quite a few technical roles using ex-military where previously we had struggled to find someone suitable through conventional advertising means, in newspapers and through agencies,” he said.

Maurice Fraser, Sales and Marketing Director of Tritech International, also gave his presentation highlighting the value of the ex-military. Having worked previously for the RAF, he was able to provide first-hand experience in "taking the plunge” from serviceman to skilled worker within the industry.

"The transition of skills was easy,” said Mr Fraser. "Everything I had worked on in the Nimrod Mk 2 aircraft, for example radar, can be related directly over to ROV survey and inspection technology. My experience in sensors has proved a valuable asset to Tritech.

"Military personnel are a high-skill, high-training workforce, with a high degree of integrity, loyalty and trust. They by-and-large have a "can-do” attitude and significant management and leadership skills, as well as no problem adapting to stints offshore from their experience in remote locations.”

In the second portion of the event, delegates heard from ex-military presenters Richard Stark and Richard Jackson. Mr Stark is a Subsea Support Engineer for Apache North Sea Ltd and Mr Jackson is the Integrity Director at Flexlife. They covered the pros and cons of being ex-military and working in the commercial world, and touched on some of the issues encountered by people with service backgrounds:

"Military men are generalists. We do everything,” said Mr Stark. "But people in the commercial world want specialists. And although we may have a lot of the skills required for a particular role, there’s a lot lost in the translation of terminology from army to business. There’s confusion and doubt from both ends – the employer and the potential employee – as to whether or not they fit into these roles. And nine out of ten times, the answer is they probably can. We leave the military with tons of transferrable skills; all we really need is the opportunity to learn the new terminologies.”

Mr Jackson continued in this vein, reinforcing Mr Stark’s views. He went on to explain that a lot of ex-military personnel have difficulty "making the jump” into the business world.

Mr Jackson also furthered Mr Stark’s concerns about terminology: "But it’s your base skill-set, not your position or your rank that you need to put across to employers. People don’t tend to understand army ranks, so you need to push these base skill-sets.”

The importance of ‘soft skills’ were also highlighted. These secondary skills, such as being able to cope under pressure, your adaptability, flexibility, teamwork and a capacity for dealing with people, are very useful industry skills.

Neil Gordon, Chief Executive of Subsea UK and chair of the lunch and learn’s discussions, concluded the event:

"If we want the best, the cream of the crop, we as an industry need to engage with these ex-military personnel and work with them to address the issues and concerns,” he said. "Subsea UK has listened to the presentations and delegate input and will continue to work with the ex-military to help get them involved in the subsea sector.”

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