Project management is a natural option for many Service-leavers, although experience gained in the Forces should be backed up by qualifications for those who want to make it to the top.
Project managers plan and organise resources and people to make sure projects finish on time, stay within budget and meet the requirements of the business. They are needed in tasks as varied as the development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, or the expansion of sales into a new geographic market. Their role has always been practiced informally, but began to emerge as a distinct profession in the mid-twentieth century, and is now a booming global industry – employing 158,000 people in the UK alone – in which recognised qualifications can be achieved.
A project manager will help define the goals and objectives of the project, determine when the various project components are to be completed and by whom, and create quality control checks to ensure that completed components meet a certain standard.
The average income in the industry is almost £36,000, and you could be employed directly by a company, or by a firm of project management consultants. Freelance contracts for the duration of a project are also common and almost 20% of project managers are self-employed – a popular option for those who prefer flexibility to stability.
Such a role requires a number of distinctive skills and prime candidates must be good at juggling several tasks at the same time, have excellent people skills and the ability to lead a team. Service-leavers – especially those who have served as officers and NCOs – bring plenty of this experience to civilian life, so it’s little wonder that the Armed Forces form a rich source of recruits for the project management industry.
One former Army officer who now excels in project management is Brigadier Ian Townsend, Secretary General of the Royal British Legion since 1997. Made a fellow of Chartered Management Institute (CMI) during his time in the Army, he feels that Service-leavers are well suited to managerial roles.
“My experience in management is that one has to have a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of an organisation or group and then set about organising to achieve your aims. In Civvy Street, as in the Services, you have to lead by creating a team spirit. Running a charity is not unlike running a business. In fact I regard running a major charity very much as a business. We have to run on business lines. In the charities world things just take a little longer! The key is to develop a team who may be better than you,” he reflects.
This natural alliance between the Military and the domestic is reflected by the number of former Service personnel in the industry – and a number of the leading project management bodies are even actively seeking to train and recruit Service-leavers.
Obtaining your PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) certificate is often the best way into the industry, as it is the standard developed and used extensively by the UK government. Widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and internationally, it embodies established and proven best practice in project management.
Consisting of three levels of qualification – Foundation, Practitioner, and Professional – the exams can be sat at the end of a training course, or after private study then booking the exam without a training course via one of the PRINCE2 Examination Institutes.
Those keen to continue their professional development can be helped by further professional qualifications, such as those offered by bodies such as the Association of Project Management (APM), the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), some of which can be taken while still in the Services.
CMI claims to offer management and leadership “qualifications of choice” for those leaving the Armed Forces and the institute works with the Forces to provide career enhancing qualifications in the areas of management and leadership that support your skills pathway.
Qualifications offered by CMI are actually designed in partnership with the Army and in consideration of what civilian employers are looking for and those still in the Forces can apply for funding through the Army skills offer.
The highest qualification available is that of Chartered Manager – a goal suited to personnel holding positions that enable them to demonstrate ‘impact’ and adding value. Eligibility for becoming a Chartered Manager is not rank dependent – however, it tends to have greater relevance to appointments that involve elements of strategic management.
Gunner Tony Clare served in the RA for nine years, leaving in 2000 on a medical discharge. In an interview with www.questonline, when asked about training/experience gained during his Service career that he has found useful since, he listed “confidence, discipline, sense of humour, openness, integrity and hard-working ethic”.
During resettlement, he undertook City & Guilds 3466 with CNet Training in Bury St Edmunds, a course he praises as “very well run and useful”. He also found his first job, as a data engineer, through a work placement thanks to CNet Training.
He is now working as a project manager at NG Bailey’s IT Services division, a role he has been in for around eight years and much enjoys. “I project manage large IT installations,” he explains, “these cover all elements of a fully networked building from external WAN services coming in to LAN systems within the building (eg utilising a full Cisco environment); structured cabling systems, using copper and fibre networks; CCTV, access control, security systems, mobile phone connectivity and satellite systems. The list is quite extensive. We do installations from data centres through dealer banks, to general offices, to rail networks. I love my job!”
Asked to highlight the major differences between his Service role and current job, he continues: “The main differences between Military and civvy life are the levels of responsibility, completely different work ethic in staff, discipline, time-keeping and employment rights. For example, you can tell a soldier at 4:30pm on a Friday that he’s working the weekend, but, with civvies, it’s a very different can of worms indeed, so a substantive learning period and steep learning curve is required for those Service-leavers who joined the Forces straight from school, or at a younger age and with little or no civilian work experience.”
Project Management Institute (PMI)
Tel: 020 8751 5626
Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
Tel: 020 7497 0496
The Association of Project Management (APM)