Transitioning to civilian life after 22 years in the Army

23rd June 2023

Reading time 5 minutes

Derek Allison joined the Army as an Apprentice Soldier back in June 1984 and retired 22 years later in December 2007 as a Warrant Officer Class 2. In this article, we find out more about his experience in the army and transition to civilian life.

Can you describe your transition from the armed forces to civilian life? What were the biggest challenges you faced during this period, and how did you overcome them?

For me it was seamless as I was fortunate to have my family already settled in the Midlands, my biggest challenge was looking for career or job with pop star wages. Getting into management roles can be stressful for ex-forces as soldiers don’t question your authority and this took some time.

How have the skills and experiences you gained in the armed forces influenced your work or daily life as a civilian? Can you provide specific examples?

For me it’s about being able to listen and to engage with all members of the team irrespective of their role, being able to adapt your approach and converse with people to build trust. As a manager, I am still able to have the craic with the team but know when it’s time to focus such as when dealing with senior management.

What transferable skills did you acquire during your military service that have been particularly valuable in your civilian career? How do you apply these skills in your current role?

Having the confidence to speak in front of groups of people and being able to hold the attention of the audience, this is particularly useful when having staff meetings.

How has your military background shaped your approach to problem-solving and decision-making? Can you give an example of a situation where you utilized these skills outside of the military?

Having a can-do attitude always helps, as does leading from the front. Many staff are amazed when I get on my hands and knees to assist them but I’m part of the team, and we work together to get the job done.

What strategies have you employed to manage the transition from a highly structured military environment to the comparatively flexible civilian workplace? How do you maintain discipline and focus in your current role?

Again, I would say the best way to do this is by leading from the front, meeting with and engaging with the team. Sometimes it’s just about listening and learning, everyone is different.

Have you encountered any misconceptions or stereotypes about military veterans in your civilian life or career? How have you addressed or challenged those misconceptions?

As forces personnel we were often expected to be able to get on with anything that was thrown at us. In my current role, often simply showing you’re human and being empathetic with the team brings dividends, not always though so it’s important to be adaptable.

How do you handle stress and pressure in your current work to maintain your mental health, do the coping mechanisms you developed in the military contribute to your resilience as a civilian?

Being able to let off steam both individually or with colleagues (in a controlled manner) is important and especially when you know they are ex service personnel as you have that connection.

Can you discuss any leadership experiences you had in the military and how you have applied those leadership skills in your civilian career or personal life?

Simply leading the teams I’ve worked with in everyday tasks, showing them that nothing is beneath me (or all of us) and that if I’m happy to get my hands dirty the get a job done, then hopefully they will be too.

Do you continue to stay connected to and support other veterans or service members in your community? Have you found ways to give back or assist fellow veterans in their transition to civilian life?

I am often on social media with my ex-forces friends and contacts, if you need support you can simply ask for it, there is no stigma. When I was diagnosed with cancer, although it’s a serous thing the banter was amazing, they know me well and what would help, they didn’t let me dwell on it or feel sorry for myself, they kept my spirits up with laughs and even mickey taking which helped me to cope.

What advice would you give to someone leaving the forces and considering a career in the cleaning sector? Do you feel there is support, development and genuine opportunity to progress within Carlisle and the wider industry?

For anyone looking to work in any civilian role not just management, I would say just be honest with yourself and others, and always ask for help if unsure. Confidence is fine but bravado is not always the best way forward.

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