Considering working for the UK’s largest employer? We highlight the health career opportunities in the National Health Service.

As a member of the Armed Forces, you’ll be used to working, as part of a larger team, towards a common goal; indeed, you’ll be familiar with both command structures and the responsibility that comes with making and carrying out important decisions. You could well have some specific qualifications underlining your ‘trade’ or management skills. So, if you’re looking to work in a comparable environment, when you step out onto civvy street, why not consider a nationally recognised employer that depends upon teamwork across a whole range of professions to achieve the mutual goal of serving the health needs of the UK population.

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s – indeed Europe’s – largest single employer, with over 1.3 million people – or about one in twenty of the adult working population – on the payroll. By its very nature, it is an employer that could offer a wide range of career opportunities for service leavers – and we’re certainly not just talking about those with an interest in medicine!

As the UK’s major healthcare provider, it’s no surprise that the NHS employs the majority of the UK’s nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, midwives and health visitors; nor is the fact that, despite major recruitment campaigns over the last few years, they’re still looking for more!

Yet the NHS offers many more career opportunities: clinical staff make up slightly under half of the NHS’s total workforce. The NHS also employs people in Allied Health Professions (AHPs), such as physiotherapists,
radiographers, podiatrists (aka chiropodists), speech and language therapists, counsellors, occupational therapists and psychologists.

Then there are areas such as Biomedical Scientists (also known as Medical Laboratory Scientific Officers); after all, someone’s needed to carry out tests on samples from patients as part of the diagnostic process for conditions such as diabetes, HIV, meningitis and cancer.

Even all these, however, are not enough to keep our health service running on its own; the NHS employs over 35,000 people in management and administration, and over 164,000 ‘infrastructure’ staff ranging from cleaners to IT specialists. Indeed, the NHS offers employment in over seventy different professions. The main requirements for nigh on every single job in the NHS are good communication skills, and an ability to work in a range of environments, with a variety of people, both as part of a team and on your own.Now, does that sound at all familiar to you?

Truth be told, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ service leaver, so there’s no simple answer to the question of how you can enter the NHS; you may be heading for civvy street after only a few years, or you may have completed the minimum period to qualify for an immediate pension and are now looking for a new career to keep yourself busy. You may wish to begin or continue a clinical career, or one in management, each of which requires different qualifications.

Increasingly, decision-making and the allocation of resources within the NHS are now under more local control, with the vast majority of clinical staff working in NHS hospitals and healthcare centres employed by NHS Trusts or Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). Many vacancies will be advertised locally or through specialist publications – such as Nursing Times – as well as on the NHS’s own careers website.

If you’re already a Registered Nurse, Doctor or Consultant, you are in a very good position when it comes to finding clinical employment on civvy street. Indeed, thanks to the closure of separate military hospitals over the last few years, you’re likely to spend at least some of your military career working in NHS hospitals which host Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MODHU).

According to Commodore Annette Bicton, Director of Resettlement at the Ministry of Defence: “Qualified doctors, dentists, consultants, nurses, technicians, etc. are so employable that it isn’t much of a challenge to resettle them. Many of them who do their full training with us train in civilian hospitals, so the training is very similar (to civilians).” That said, you may still wish to use the move to civilian life as an opportunity to further develop your career; for instance, Registered Nurses may choose to concentrate on areas such as children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing.

Nor is the NHS just an opportunity for medically-trained personnel; 21st century military forces require the particular management skills of Human Resources/Administration staff and logistics personnel. Working in these areas within organisations as large as the armed forces – often on a worldwide stage – will have given you highly transferable and marketable skills – and qualifications that would be well suited to the managerial side of the NHS – large hospitals, after all, need the most appropriate and cost-effective organisation of appropriate staff, supplies and equipment!

NHS staff at all levels can access eduational provider NHSU, which provides a variety of new learning opportunities for current employees, managers and those planning to join pre-employment programmes. Through the NHSU, you can work for qualifications ranging from NVQs to Foundation Degrees, depending upon your existing qualifications. The NHSU helpline – u-i – offers information and advice on learning opportunities, and the kind of support and funding that may be available.

No matter the length of time you spent in the services, at some point you are likely to have been given some basic first aid training; that may have wetted your appetite for working in the healthcare sector. Alternatively, you may already be working as a healthcare assistant or Combat Medical Technician (CMT) and wish to train to become a fully qualified Nurse. As a CMT, you are likely to hold, or be working towards, qualifications such as City & Guilds or National Vocational Qualifications (Levels 2 or 3) in subjects like Direct Care or Emergency Clinical Care; such qualifications can prove particularly useful if you’re now planning to enter a civilian nursing course, regardless of whether you opt for a Diploma in Nursing Studies, or a Nursing degree.

As part of their programme to recruit more Nursing staff, the NHS currently offers favourable funding arrangements for Nursing students, including the payment of course fees (at either diploma or degree level) – and the provision of a bursary.

Anyone looking to enter a Nursing programme should contact NHS Careers, or look through the prospectus of any trust or university of interest. Applications should be made through the Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service (NMAS), which will also provide information about all nursing HE courses.

Three-year Nursing programmes are divided equally between theory and practice. The first year is the ‘Common Foundation Programme’, and it is taken by all students, regardless of branch choice. It includes core issues and topics in a wide variety of care environments. The second part – the ‘Branch Programme’ – concentrates on specific subjects and contains practice placements working in Adult, Children’s, Mental Health or Learning Disability Nursing.

At the end of the programme, newly qualified RNs will probably have a three-month period of supervised practice when they start their first real job. First steps after qualification will usually be spent in the specialisation developed during the second part of the training programme. All professional Nurses registered with the NMC are legally required to re-register every three years, and must also state that they have updated their knowledge and skills base.

The current Labour government has very much nailed its reputation on its increased investment in the National Health Service; this is set to continue over the next few years, and much of this continues to be concentrated on the recruitment and retention of staff. For, while the NHS may have already met initial targets for recruiting new Nurses, there remain significant shortfalls in the numbers of full-time staff working in the NHS; indeed, with many nurses working part-time, the situation is hardly improving. Meantime, the private medical sector is continuing to grow as a major employer of medical staff.

As a result, demand for nurses – as well as other clinical staff – is almost certain to rise, particularly with the continued development of helpline services NHS Direct (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and NHS 24 (in Scotland). There are also good opportunities for other clinical professions. NHS-employed Dieticians, for instance, can work in a wide range of environments, and the increase in their usage means that a newly qualified Dietician can rise to a Senior II position (earning between £18.9K-20.4K) in around only a year; chances of further promotion within two years are also good.

Even if a permanent job is not available or not wanted, part-time positions and job-shares are now very common. Most hospitals and a number of nursing homes run Nurse banks, a useful way of testing the environment while also earning, while a number of employment agencies specialise in Nursing and Allied Professions. “NHS Professionals” is an in-house agency that matches the preferred working patterns of staff with the clinical needs of hospitals and departments across the UK.

Pay and conditions in the NHS continue to improve, with increased emphasis on encouraging career progression. The following list offers a sample of minimum payments; how much individual staff will earn will depend upon their skills, experience, responsibilities and the hours that they work.

Newly qualified nurse: £17K.
Staff nurse: £20K.
Ward Sister: £27K.
Modern Matron: £26.6K – £34.9K.
Dietician: £18.9K – £20.4K.
Staff Doctors: £29.8K – £56.7K.
Consultants (Full time): £55.6K – £72.5K.
Primary Care Development Manager (PCT): £18.7K – £23.7K.
Clinical Site Manager: £23K – £27K.
Deputy Head of Supplies (procurement) NHS Trust: £30K.
Drama / Music / Art Therapist: £18K – £20K.
Senior Drama / Music / Art Therapist: £19K – £29.4K.

(Figures published by NHS Careers and British Medical Association.)
Since April 2002, many NHS employees have benefited from revised Cost of Living Supplements for those living in more costly parts of the UK. Eligible nurses in London and the South East, for instance, can claim an additional payment of 4% of their basic salary.

Employers also offer: a minimum four weeks annual leave, increasing with length of service; paid sick leave, increasing with length of service; occupational health and counselling services; and a range of other employment benefits. To encourage as diverse and skilled a workforce as possible, the NHS also increasingly offers flexible working patterns and other resources (such as affordable nursery provision, childminding networks, holiday play schemes; and after-school / breakfast clubs) for staff with family or care commitments that make the normal 9 – 5 pattern difficult; there is scope for part-time working, job sharing and term-time working, as well as evening and weekend work, and special leave policies for those caring for elderly or disabled relatives.


NHS Careers
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service
Tel: 0870 112 2206

NHS Education in Scotland
Tel: 0131 226 7371

Health Professionals Wales
Tel: 029 2026 1400

Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council for Nursing and Midwifery
Tel: 028 9023 8152

u-i helpline: 08000 150 850

Oil Industry

It brings together cutting edge engineering technology and some of the most challenging environments on Earth – and if you have the right skills it could offer you a lucrative career. Civvy Street takes a look at jobs in the UKÕs offshore oil and gas industry.

Smokers of the world – smile! Smoking in enclosed public spaces may have been banned in Scotland, with the rest of the UK set to follow within the next year, but thereÕs one unexpected exception to the legislation. Bizarre as it might seem – what with all those flammable substances nearby – you can still enjoy a fag in any designated smoking areas on the numerous oil rigs standing in UK waters.

According to the UK Offshore Operators Association (UKOOA), the UK is the ninth largest producer of oil in the world, has been a net oil exporter (in terms of volume) for more than 20 years (a situation expected to continue until 2010) and in 2005, was also able to meet 93% of its overall gas needs.

Although the biggest and most easily developed oil fields around the UK have already been found, and are recognised as being ‘past their peak’ in terms of the number of barrels of oil and gas extracted on a daily basis, this doesn’t mean that the industry no longer offers career prospects. The equivalent of 35 billion barrels of oil and gas have been removed from beneath the North Sea since 1970, but it is estimated that there are still reserves of between 16 and 27 billion barrels to be recovered from both existing and new, smaller fields. Chris Ball, Manager of the RigTrain training centre at Bridge of Don, insists that “The North Sea is very much a viable area for launching a career,” and, according to the UKOOA’s Elizabeth Glover, the region is also aiming to become an industry Centre of Excellence: “Worldwide the oil and gas industry is really taking off. So the North Sea is positioning itself as a major centre of learning, of skills and experience, for the years after the oil and gas has been fully recovered.”

According to the most recent estimates, the UK offshore oil and gas industry will provide employment for 380,000 people during 2006 (up 20,000 from 2004), including some 19,000 working offshore.

Though this latter figure is significantly down on the 1990 production peak of 36,000, career opportunities remain good thanks largely to a growing skills shortage. Already, according to statistics from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the average age of oil industry workers – including those working offshore – is edging close to 50, meaning that nearly half of the workforce could potentially be retiring within the next ten years. As a result, the industry is looking for new staff with particular skills. “There are specific areas,” according to Elizabeth Glover. “Technicians (electrical, mechanical and instrument); riggers, the people who lift things and basically move things around; scaffolders; and then the drilling foremen.”

Employment is spread across the UK; while some 100,000 skilled jobs are based in and off the coast of Scotland (with a high concentration around Aberdeen, the ‘Oil Capital of Europe’), more than one in five jobs is located in the south-east of England, while other notable locations are the north of England and East Anglia. Many North Sea workers choose not to live near Aberdeen, preferring to commute northwards to join the regular helicopter flights out to the rigs. After all, in the North Sea, you can expect to work either two/three weeks on, two/three weeks off (depending on employer). No wonder some offshore workers prefer the inconvenience of additional travel when they can enjoy the good weather and low cost of living in the likes of Spain or Malta rather than stay in the UK!

Typical large oilfield platforms will be home to around 100 personnel at any one time; discipline and safety, as with everything else on these remote outposts, is a team effort. Many people speak of there being a ‘family feeling’ amongst those on board, including the cooks, medical staff and engineers who keep both platform and people in A1 condition. So, if you’re looking for a working environment that can offer a genuine equivalent to the discipline, camaraderie and common goals you enjoyed in the Armed Forces – plus the opportunity to ‘rise through the ranks’ – then working offshore could be what youÕre looking for.

It can be physically tough; much of the offshore work directly connected with drilling is, of course, dirty and noisy and it’s also important to remember that weather conditions in the North Sea – particularly in winter – are far from pleasant. As many jobs on oil and gas installations are outdoors, most jobs will in some way be affected by low temperatures, up to gale-force winds, and heavy rain or snow. Despite the best waterproof and warm clothing available, you’ll need to accept that you will get cold and wet sooner rather than later.

If you are already trained as an engineer, electrician, plumber, mechanic, crane operator or fitter – to name just a few jobs – then you’ll have a very good chance of finding work either as a qualified technician or trained craftsperson. You will be expected to have A-level/AS or equivalent qualifications for a technician role or GCSEs for entry at craft level. However, it is also possible to be taken on as a ‘roustabout’ (an unskilled offshore worker) or ‘roughneck’ (someone who carries out drilling under supervision) if you can show your willingness to work hard and the reliability, discipline and focus gained during your time in uniform.

It’s also worth remembering that the companies operating drilling rigs and other offshore installations (including accommodation structures and support vessels) are amongst the largest civilian employers of divers, who work on the maintenance of underwater structures. Following on from this, anyone with practical experience of diver support – particularly through the decompression process – will be attractive to potential employers in the industry.

Cogent – the Sector Skills Council for Chemicals, Nuclear, Oil and Gas, Petroleum and Polymers – is currently finalising new standards, qualifications and training for the oil and gas industry. These will reflect the continually evolving needs of the industry, and in particular its increased focus on safety procedures.

Whatever your existing skills, it’s worth considering basic rig crew courses, which cover not only fire, emergency and survival training but also basic drilling operations and the skills needed by roustabouts and roughnecks.

A new website – www.oilandgas4u.com – has been created to act as a gateway into the industry. “That can be your first port of call,” Elizabeth Glover says. “You can go and have a look at available jobs and do an online test to match your skills against a number of set industry profiles. Depending on what you might be suited to, you’ll then be directed towards companies that are currently recruiting. It’s new – we launched it mid-June – so it’s very much a template upon which we’re going to build.”

Earlier this year, the industry’s main training organization OPITO (Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization) launched its Accelerate Programme to aid people with useful experience to enter the sector. “OPITO have developed this to quickly get people into roles where they’ve had some experience,” says Elizabeth Glover. “The programme tops up what they’ve done to date; it gauges what sort of ‘top up’ they need and provides them with the appropriate training. For anyone who is fresh to working offshore, that includes the key factor of safety.”

The UK’s offshore oil and gas industry can definitely offer a worthwhile career with good prospects, particularly ideal for those with engineering or people-management experience, but also for anyone willing to work hard and enjoy the rewards it can bring.


Cogent (Sector Skills Council)
01925 575 200

01224 787 800

OPITO Accelerate programme

UK Offshore Operators Association
020 7802 2400

Oil Careers Website

Society of Petroleum Engineers
020 7299 3300

Outdoor Learning

If you’re passionate about the outdoors and enjoy working with people, your military experience could provide fantastic grounding for a career in outdoor learning.

The outdoor sector employs numerous former Services personnel who have chosen to utilize their adventurous training and leadership experience in the civilian outdoors. According to The Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL), this is a growing sector with a wide variety of employment opportunities – and the skills and experience that you bring from your time in the Forces will be valued by employers.

The IOL prefers not to refer to the outdoor sector as a single industry, because it encompasses a huge variety of organizations and jobs – roles range from expedition leadership to the therapeutic use of the outdoors. Many people who go into a career in the outdoors will move between different types of employer – including educational institutions, private companies, voluntary organizations like the Scouts and governmental organizations such as the Social Services.

The majority of employers in this sector are small organizations; in fact, according to the IOL, one third of outdoor providers employ fewer than five staff. A lot of outdoor professionals also operate as sole traders; one of these is Cliff Giddings, a former Royal Marine who runs his own business under the name Wild Side Ventures (www.wildsideuk.com). After leaving the Marines, Cliff took an access course in environmental science with outdoor pursuits; he then completed a degree in outdoor education at Strathclyde University. Like many people working in the outdoors, he has had a broad range of jobs since. He was a co-founder of an outdoor centre, taught students on NC, HNC and HND programmes at North Glasgow College, and spent five years working for the Airborne Initiative, a now-defunct scheme through which former Forces personnel used the outdoors as a medium in the rehabilitation of young offenders.

Since leaving the Airborne Initiative in 1999, Cliff has worked overseas as a canoe guide in Burma and a facilitator of adventurous activities in Africa, Thailand and Malasia. But at the age of 38, he now wants to settle down and focus on his company: “I’ve got a small business which is growing and seems to be good. Nowadays I want a more stable lifestyle and to spend maybe two months a year maximum on expeditions.” The rest of the time he works as an independent outdoor instructor, facilitator and leader, and is employed by a wide variety of clients, including Service units.

Cliff enjoys the camaraderie that comes from working alongside other “outdoor folk” and says that he feels privileged to work in this industry because “you’re giving young people and others the chance to get a feel for the environment and the custodianship of the planet. Whenever you go to bed, even if you’ve had a stressful day, you can sleep because you know that you’ve done something which is ethically sound – something you can believe in.”

There are many different routes into an outdoor career – including further and higher education, traineeships and work experience. Steve Lenartowicz, Chair of the IOL, says that “no one route is necessarily better than the others.” The avenue you choose depends upon your previous experience and how much time and money you are prepared to spend in order to become qualified. For between £1,000 and £5,000 you can pay for an instructor training programme, usually run by a college; alternatively you could complete a traineeship at an outdoor centre, during which you will either volunteer your services in exchange for training, or be paid a small wage. A number of colleges offer Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications (S/NVQs) in outdoor education, while universities including Lancaster, Strathclyde and Exeter run degrees focusing on the outdoors. The Guide to a Career in Outdoor Learning, published by the IOL, details the different routes and lists training providers.

Whichever route into the industry you take, you will need to attain industry standard qualifications – National Governing Body (NGB) awards – that permit you to instruct activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, mountain walking, sailing and orienteering. These are awarded by organizations such as the Mountain Leader Training Board and the British Canoe Union. It is not necessary to be qualified in each and every activity, but the more qualifications you have, the easier it will be to find employment.

The good news is that it is possible to achieve National Governing Body awards through adventurous training in the Forces. But you need to ensure that before you undertake any relevant Joint Services Adventurous Training, you register with the relevant civilian Governing Body so that the course can be recognized and accredited. As Major Kevin Edwards, Chief Instructor at the Joint Services Mountain Training Centre, explains: “You can’t write to the National Governing Body with your Joint Services qualification and expect to get an equivalent qualification handed to you.” Instead you have to think, and plan, ahead: “The onus is very much on the individual to make sure they’ve registered with the National Governing Body and have met the National Governing Body pre-course standards beforehand. We can then massage the course, make sure it’s registered and that we have an appropriately qualified instructor.”

With a sufficient number of National Governing Body awards acquired through military service, you may be able to enter employment in the outdoor sector without further training, but it’s worth getting some work experience first. Leading groups of children is a very different ballgame to working with Forces personnel, as Jason ‘Jaz’ Baughan learned when he left the Royal Marines after 13 years service to become an outdoor instructor. Jaz, who now works as a freelance instructor and expedition leader, suggests that people looking to enter the civilian outdoor sector should “Get as much experience working with different groups, including kids, as you can. Believe it or not, employers aren’t very impressed when they find out that all you have is military experience.” For this reason, Jaz also suggests that, if you can afford to pay for it, you should take your NGB assessments outside the Forces. Even if you complete the relevant adventurous training through the Services, you can pay to take your assessments in a civilian setting, and this will show that you’ve “broadened your horizons.”

It’s unwise to enter this profession expecting to make a lot of money. Outdoor learning is a popular sector and many jobs are not highly paid. It’s also worth noting that much of the work is seasonal, so you may have to find other employment for part of the year in order to keep afloat financially. But when it comes to career progression, the IOL’s Steve Lenartowicz says there is “plenty of opportunity for good people who are flexible, skilled and have the right people skills.”

If you plan to start a career in this sector because of your passion for the outdoor activities themselves, bear in mind that promotion may involve moving away from these to take on a more management-orientated position. Instead, many outdoor professionals choose to specialize in a specific area of the sector after completing their NGB awards. This might involve further developing your people-focused skills in order to work in development training with children who have social and behavioural problems, or in management training. Others choose to go into expedition leadership, run NGB courses, or work in outdoor centres with residential school groups – often on a freelance basis.

As the IOL put it, many outdoor sector workers “are free spirits, who prefer the great outdoors to what they see as the bureaucracy and routine of indoor work.” It’s hardly surprising then that, like Jaz Baughan, a large number of people working in the outdoors opt for a freelance career. This can offer lots of flexibility, as Jaz explains: “I can book up work and cancel work whenever I want. I’ve just been traveling around south-east Asia climbing for three months and now I’m back at work and haven’t had day off in three weeks. You can work when you want; it’s great.” In order to have a successful freelance career, you need to make lots of contacts and be constantly proactive so that you’ll be the first name on employers’ lists when they need staff. Jaz’s advice is “write to everybody, phone everybody, and send your CV off everywhere. Get booked up with as many different employers as possible and, because the work is seasonal, get your winter qualifications (eg Winter Mountain Leader and snow sports NGB awards) if you can. Just try and fill your calendar.”

People who enter careers in this sector tend to do so because they have a passion for it. The IOL describes outdoor professionals as “a very committed and values driven bunch who’ll go the extra mile for each other.” If you too genuinely believe in the power of the outdoors to improve people’s lives, then you could find a rewarding career in outdoor learning.


Qualities looked for by employers in this sector include:

A passion for the outdoors
The ability to encourage and motivate people
Communication skills
Responsibility, reliability and adaptability
Team working abilities


Institute for Outdoor Learning
01768 885 800

Painting & Decorating

If you enjoy a bit of DIY, you may have considered turning your hobby into a source of income. Painting and decorating is a popular choice as a second career, and you could do a lot worse than get a trade under your belt.

Do you like the satisfaction of seeing a job well done? Are you happy working independently? Do you have good attention to detail? Are you attracted to the prospect of rarely working in the same place from one week to the next?

Painting and decorating is about more than just papering walls. This is a skilled profession that gives practitioners the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings. From offices and houses to bridges and oil rigs, the variety of properties and structures that need painting or decorating is wide. And if you like the idea of knuckling down to a day’s work without a boss breathing down your neck, the independence offered by many jobs in this sector can be a major bonus.

Of course, the precise nature of your job will depend on the type of employer you work for or, indeed, whether you choose to work for yourself. According to David Powis of the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA), around 800 of his organisation’s 2,500 members are sole traders – self-employed decorators who run their own businesses. A large number of the others are small businesses employing two to five people. The larger-scale jobs – painting factories, bridges, aeroplanes, hospitals, etc – tend to be handled by larger contractors employing as many as 600 or 700 people. Some local authorities, hospitals and other large developments also have their own in-house maintenance teams.

Accurate colour vision, a steady hand and an ability to work at height are all important if you want to pursue a career as a decorator. You’ll also need to have good attention to detail and sound numeracy skills in order to measure up areas and calculate how much paint or paper you’ll need for particular jobs.

If you’re scared of heights then painting and decorating really isn’t the job for you, and some people don’t like working with chemicals either. But David Powis suggests that most people who enter the profession as an adult will already have a feel for the job and whether it’s right for them: “They know themselves if they do home decorating whether they like working with paints and varnishes. Some people get on with it; others can’t stand it,” he says.

As a painter and decorator, you should be prepared to work independently and on your own for long stretches of time (particularly if you’re self-employed) but if you work for a large contractor, you’ll also be expected to work as part of a team – and that’s where your military experience will come in useful. But teamworking abilities are not the only skills that you’ll bring from the Forces into a career as a painter and decorator. Barry Punter is section leader for painting and decorating and plastering at City College in Plymouth. He has taught several ex-Forces painting and decorating students over the past few years and believes that the self-discipline and good presentation of former military personnel can be a genuine asset: “When you’re working in private houses, there’s a dress code and you’ve got to watch your Ps and Qs. You’ve also got to be punctual and trustworthy.”

It’s possible to set up your own business as a painter or decorator with relatively little experience, and various providers offer short courses, some of which cover basic business skills as well as practical techniques. However, the PDA recommends that anyone seeking a career in decorating should undertake in-depth training, ideally attaining a National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) at Level 2 or preferably Level 3 – or the equivalent.

For younger entrants (aged under 25) the recommended training route is an apprenticeship, which gives them the opportunity to complete vocational training on the job leading to an N/SVQ, usually over a period of three to four years. The apprenticeship will teach them to use tools like blow torches and steamers to remove old paint or wall coverings; fill holes and cracks; apply paint with brushes, rollers and spray equipment; and measure, cut and apply wallpaper. Apprentices spend part of their time at college on day release and the rest of their week doing paid work for an employer; their training is funded by the Learning and SkillsCouncil in England and the equivalent body elsewhere in the UK.

The apprenticeship scheme is aimed specifically at young people and, if you wanted to follow a similar route over the age of 25, you’d probably need to fund the college training yourself and find an employer willing to take you on in order to complete the on-the-job training required. But you can reach the standard of an N/SVQ through other courses which are purely college-based. At City College Plymouth’s Camels Head Training Centre, for example, courses are offered from a basic level upwards. For beginners, they run a Foundation Construction Award which covers storing materials and equipment, getting work areas ready for operations, preparing surfaces for decorating, applying paint materials by brush and roller, and wallpapering. The Foundation can then be followed by Intermediate and Advanced Construction Awards, both of which are assessed solely on college work and provide certification for people who are not (yet) working in the industry.

City College’s Barry Punter thoroughly recommends that people leaving the Forces should sample the career they want to follow early in the resettlement process. “I’m quite happy for people to come along, have a pleasant chat with me and talk about their experience, or to spend one or two days seeing what we do,” he says. “We’d do the same for our plastering course.”

The job of a painter and decorator could see you working inside or out, on your own or in a team, and using a wide range of materials. As well as the obvious aspects to the job – preparing surfaces, applying paint and paper, etc – you will also be expected to liaise with clients and offer advice, estimate the costs of jobs, and clear up when it’s all over! You will probably work around a 39-hour week, but may also have to put in overtime when a job needs to be completed to deadline.

According to Learn Direct, painters and decorators at the start of their careers can expect to earn between £13,500 and £15,500, while the average decorator earns £16,000 to £20,000 and those with supervisory duties or specialist skills can earn £21,000 or more. As a self-employed decorator, the amount you earn will obviously depend upon the hours you work, and you’ll also need to develop basic business skills – learning how to market the business and manage your books – plus you’ll have to arrange adequate insurance. But there can be many advantages to being self-employed, particularly if you enjoy your independence, and you will also be able to work for larger contractors on a sub-contract basis.

Whether you work for yourself or for an employer, painting and decorating gives you the opportunity to get out and about and meet different clients from week to week, and that can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of this profession. Sometimes you’ll have to work away from home for periods of time, and you may even have the opportunity to spend time abroad, as David Powis explains: “If you work for a wealthy client who’s got a villa in Spain but doesn’t want to have Spanish workmen there, he’ll fly a decorator over to do the job for him.” And the variety doesn’t stop there: “if you’re working for very well-to-do clients, you can have the opportunity to undertake very interesting work involving decorative techniques, gilding and restoration. There’s a lot more to it than just putting up paint and paper. If you’re working on a heritage property, there’s a lot of technical knowledge you need to absorb and a lot of satisfaction at the end of it as well.” City College Plymouth’s Barry Punter spent 26 years as a painter and decorator; for him one of the most exciting aspects of the job was celebrity clients, but he was lucky – that’s certainly not a guaranteed part of the job!

From houses to hospitals and from stately homes to schools – painters and decorators work everywhere. So if you enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job well done and have good practical skills, you could find yourself up a ladder with a pot of paint in the not too distant future.


01485 577577

Painting and Decorating Association
024 7635 3776

Scottish Decorators Federation
0131 343 3300


In the first of a new series of articles on the Emergency S ervices, we outline the career opportunities open to former military personnel in the UK’s p olice forces, highlighting the similarities and differences between working for the poli ce and the military.

He’s not afraid of authority, doesn’t care what other people think of him and currently ranks amongst the most popular fictional police officers in the UK. Detective Inspector John Rebus has just returned to stalk the streets of Edinburgh in the 17th novel by Ian Rankin, who sometimes considers Rebus to be his alter-ego – sharing his origins in Fife, but with a life that has followed a very different route. Whereas Rankin left Fife to go to Edinburgh University, the fictional Rebus instead joined the Army, and even tried out for the SAS.

Rebus’s subsequent move from the Services to the police is not an uncommon career path in real life. That said, the character’s lifestyle of booze, cigarettes and anger is far from being obligatory!

Although we tend to think of “the police” as one uniformed force, there are in fact 60 different police forces in the UK; 43 covering specific geographical areas in England and Wales, eight in Scotland, the single Police Service of Northern Ireland and an additional eight non-geographic-based forces including the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Whether ‘on the beat’ or in other roles, the job of the police is to combat crime and protect the public, using a mixture of cutting-edge technology and time proven traditional methods. Daily duties for a police officer are likely to include assisting the public and attending ‘incidents’, preparing crime reports and other paperwork, interviewing witnesses and suspects and taking statements, making enquiries into crimes and offences, conducting searches, arresting people, and giving evidence at court.

Other career options in most forces include police community support officers (PCSOs) – who assist officers in areas such as victim support, house-to-house enquiries and dealing with the likes of truants, graffiti and abandoned vehicles – and Special Constables (aka ‘Specials’), unpaid volunteers who provide additional personnel for forces.

Although becoming a PCSO or Special Constable is a useful way to experience police work first hand, neither of them is a short-cut to becoming a full-time police officer. Nor can anyone jump rank; everyone must begin their police career as a constable.

Many Service leavers choose to enter the police because they are looking for a working environment that’s similar to the one they’re leaving: a world where there’s the shared camaraderie that comes from being a part of a close team; the structure from working within a uniformed, disciplined and hierarchical organization; and a job where each day can offer unexpected challenges. Indeed, like Services personnel, police officers are officially servants of the Crown; they must swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch, in whose name and legal authority they act. In that sense, it’s definitely not ‘just’ a job.

That said, there are many differences; as a police officer, you are far more likely to be dealing with members of the public than during your time in the Forces, and will invariably be living in the community where you work. Also, more of your colleagues will be female; women now make up around 21% of the UK’s police forces, compared to less than 10% of the Services. You will also have more say when it comes to you r pay and conditions; while it remains illegal for police officers to take any kind of industrial action or to engage i n trade union activity (thanks most recently to the Police Act 1996), local and national police federations exist to represent all ranks on matters of pay and welfare.

Not everyone from the Services will be eligible to join the police; you will have to be able to give evidence of your good conduct during your military service. That said, police forces are always on the lookout for people who thrive on challenge, and are willing to work hard; people who have the physical fitness, flexibility, self-confidence, attention to detail and people skills honed by time in the Forces. Although by no means the same, the two professions are certainly close relatives.

Individual police forces are responsible for their own recruitment, so selection and training procedures do vary across the UK – for instance, some forces will require you to wait a year between applications, others only six months – so it is important to get as much information as possible before you proceed. (Recruitment information will be on each force’s website.) Broadly, though, eligibility criteria are the same across the UK; there are no upper age limits for appointments and no formal educational requirements, beyond having a reasonable educational background or ‘other relevant life experience’ – and Service leavers are certainly likely to have that! It’s worth noting that, while police forces normally insist that all candidates have three years’ continuous residency in the UK, they accept that Service leavers are likely to have been overseas.

The whole recruitment process can be quite a lengthy business – lasting up to six or seven months – but if you already know your discharge date, police forces will accept your application up to six months before you leave the Forces – potentially allowing you to move seamlessly from one career to the other.

The recruitment process is essentially as follows:

· You confirm that the police force operating in the area you want to work is recruiting, then request, complete and submit an application form. Remember that you can only apply to one force at a time.

· Your application form is checked to ensure your eligibility, and the competency questions are marked.

· If your application is successful you will be invited to an assessment centre or other venue, whe re you will complete a day-long Police Initial Recruitment Test (Police Standard Entrance Test in Scotland); this covers wr itten and oral English skills, verbal reasoning and number skills in a series of interviews, role-play situations a nd written tests. Although the Police Initial Recruitment Test is not excessively difficult, many people fail to pass due to lack of preparation; exampl es of the PIRT can be accessed through mo st police forces’ websites, or from commercial training companies.

· Assuming you pass the PIRT, you will then attend separate medical and fitness t ests – these are to ensure you meet the minimum standards needed to work effectively as a police officer, and will be repeated throughout your career. They should not be problematic to Service leavers.

· Subject to references and security checks, you will then be offered a position by your chosen force and begin your two years of training in earnest. This will usually include 15 weeks at a traini ng centre on a National Police Training Course during the first year, followed by a mixture of classroom learni ng and ‘on the job’ experience putting the theory into practice under the watchful eye of a tutor constable.

After successfully completing two years as a student officer, you will have the option to remain ‘on the beat’ or to apply for specialist areas; these can range from traffic control and doghandling to police diving and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID); such ro les may well require additional qualifications , but you will be supported by the force during your training.

Exact rates can vary from one force to the next, but police constables generally star t on an annual salary of £20k, rising to almost £23k after completion of initial training. Subsequent salaries depend upon both rank and time of service; for constables, pay rises to £32k after 10 years’ service, while sergeants sta rt on £32k and will earn up to £36k after four years. The pay scale for inspectors ranges from £41k to £43k after three years.

Since April 2006 it has become easier to transfer part or all of your Services pe nsion into a subsequent police pension; however, you should always seek out independent financial advice before making any such decision.

Recruitment requirements do vary from one force to another, depending on the local employment situation, so it’s important to check beforehand. That said, the next five years are likely to be a goo d time to apply; many forces – particularly in Scotland – undertook a massive recruitment drive 30 years ago; in the next five years, many of those officers will become eligible for retirement. Strathclyde Police, for example, could potentially lose almost 30% of its officers before 2010, and is therefore looking to recruit around 400 officers this year alone to help maint ain its skills base. “If you wanted to turn the police into a career opportunity, this is the time to do it,” says Sergeant John Perry of Strathclyde Police. “For people that obviously show aptitude for the job, the sky’s the limit.”

999 – POLICE
The police can offer Service leavers a working environment that has much in commo n with their previous career – the camaraderie that comes from teamwork, the structured organisation and the opportunity of serving the community. While there are practical difference s between the two professions, the UK’s pol ice forces can certainly offer an immensely varied, challenging and rewarding career.


Could You? Police (Home Office website)

UK Police Service (Central portal to all UK police force websites)