Telecommunications

The Armed Forces use some of the most sophisticated telecoms equipment available so what transferable skills can you bring to your civilian career?

From Civvy Street Magazine (June 2014), words: Paul F. Cockburn

In December 2012, an Ariane rocket blasted off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. On board was the five-tonne Skynet-5D satellite; to date, it remains the most recent addition to what remains the UK’s single biggest space project — the creation of a communications system which ensures that Britain’s Armed Forces (and, for a reasonable fee, their allies!) can stay connected over most of the planet.

While it would be great to believe people at the MoD chose the name because they were fans of the Terminator movies (in which Skynet is a sentient computer system determined to wipe out humanity), the more prosaic reality is that the first Skynet satellite was launched as far back as 1969 – 15 years before Arnold Schwarzenegger first promised: “I’ll be back.” Presumably, the MoD boffins simply thought it was an apt name to give to a communications network that was hanging in the sky.

The current Skynet system is based around a fifth generation of sophisticated satellites (of which there are now four in orbit); proof that, even if it doesn’t always feel like it on the ground, the MoD has been working pretty close to the cutting edge of such technology for decades. As a result, Service-leavers who have focused on telecommunications during their career, will return to civilian life with some pretty valuable skills.

OPENREACH

For evidence of this, look no further than more than 1,500 Service-leavers from a wide range of backgrounds and various Military trades who, during the last two years, completed three-month long Civilian Work Attachments (CWAs) with communications company Openreach, and were then given interviews for full time positions in the company, out of which more than 90% were successful.

Earlier this year, Openreach, the MoD and CTP announced a new run of these CWAs, the first of which began on 28 April. Participants will receive an EUSR Safety, Health and Environment Awareness Licensing Card (valid for three years), a City & Guilds 6156 Unit 002 Signing Lighting & Guarding (valid for five years) paid for by the company, as well as a Graduation Certificate, and subsequent coaching and guidance to help the Service-leavers when it comes to making the best of their Openreach job interview.

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Openreach aren’t doing this just out of the goodness of their hearts; they recognise a good recruitment resource when they see one. Liv Garfield, until recently the CEO of Openreach said, as far back as 2012: “We have had great success in recruiting talented people with Armed Forces experience in the past so we are delighted to be able to offer these roles to people who are set to leave the Forces. Past recruits have brought great enthusiasm and professionalism with them and I have no doubt the new recruits will as well.”

THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT…

Telecommunications really is a 21st century industry; wide-ranging, highly competitive and fast-changing to boot. In fact, developments in communications — such as the internet, broadband and smartphones — mean that the telecoms industry is fast becoming indistinguishable from the IT sector. Proof of this ‘convergence’ can be seen by the increasingly common usage of the term Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Thanks to the combination of new internet-enabled devices with broadband data networks, ever-higher volumes of multimedia content (sound, text, images, videos, etc) are being shared around the world, with definite consequences when it comes to the skills needed to keep everything running smoothly.

As recently as April, e-skills UK welcomed news that there had been a 12% increase, year-on-year, in the number of students in England studying computer science courses during 2013, with a further 13% increase in applications for 2014. Yet, in itself, it’s still not enough; there’s a looming shortage of suitably skilled ICT workers for the next few years. Opportunities are likely to be good if you have technical knowledge about the systems that underpin the networks and devices which support our increased voice, video and data transmission. Cloud computing has also come into its own of late; it may all work like magic to most people, but that’s only because of the skills and expertise of a lot of highly skilled people like yourself.

SERVICES MANUAL

For the usual operational reasons, each of the UK’s Armed Forces has had its own ‘expert’ telecoms staff in their specialist communications and electronics branches, for years; if this includes you, then you’re in a good position to successfully transfer over into a parallel civilian career, especially if you already have a degree-level qualification and have kept your eyes on the ball through the regular application of additional training and learning..

If you have previously specialised in telecoms and/or electronics as part of your career path, then you’ll still have some very transferable and marketable skills, although you may need to complete some additional courses to widen your knowledge beyond particular specialisms. For example, you might wish to brush up on your knowledge of fibre optic cabling systems, or indeed the protocols for streaming data through them — and being able to bandy around terms like ‘Synchronous Digital Hierarchy’ with actual understanding.

If you don’t already have the necessary technical background, you can still enter the ICT sector, albeit at a lower level. Nevertheless, your Military training will mean you have some skills many of your civilian peers are likely to lack, especially when it comes to working out in the field – such as map reading, first aid and even just previous experience of working safely high above the ground.

CTP offers a wide range of appropriate training courses covering the ICT sector, but it’s worth chatting with people (especially former Service-leavers) who are already successfully established in the industry, as they’ll be in a good position to suggest the kind of knowledge and skills needed by the sector and the most appropriate courses and qualifications that will get you to the front of the line.

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e-skills UK

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