This month, we spoke to three Forces Employment Charity staff members to shed light on the importance of upskilling and training for future employment and to understand the support available for veterans and Service leavers.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling broadly means expanding and improving your knowledge and increasing your skills.
It is best to approach upskilling and training in a targeted way. Decide what you are aiming for – whether it is a specific role or entry into a specific industry – and then target your learning in pursuit of a particular outcome rather than upskilling across a range of areas, which can lead to a shallower understanding of each area.
The benefits of training and upskilling
Many military personnel undervalue themselves and struggle to articulate or translate their military skills to civilian employment. This can cause some of the Armed Forces community to be underemployed, meaning they are not using their skills or experience to optimum potential.
Training and upskilling allow you to make the most of your skills and experience and help you build a sustainable career.
Before committing to courses and paying for qualifications, do your research and find out if you are eligible for financial support to help you pursue your career goals.
There are opportunities for Service leavers and veterans to gain accredited qualifications through ELCAS – the Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Service.
All three military services provide Enhanced Learning Credits, a Ministry of Defence Scheme which gives financial support for qualifications at Level 3 or above for Service leavers and veterans, all listed on the ELCAS website.
Exact details on how much financial support you can claim towards qualifications vary depending on your length of service and if you have registered for ELCs – the full details of which are outlined here. However, broadly speaking, if you served between six to eight years, you could be eligible to make three claims of £1000 per claim. Those who served over eight years could be eligible for £2000 per claim.
To access ELCAS, you must have registered for it whilst in service (most Service personnel are enrolled automatically). You can claim your credits within five years of leaving the military (if you left on or after 1 April 2016). You can read the full eligibility rules here.
It is essential to follow the ELCAS process on the website and allow enough time before the start of your chosen course to claim funding – ELCAS advises a minimum of 25 working days before your course start date/registration date for those in service and slightly longer for veterans as the process is being completed remotely. The Single Service Resettlement Officer might only check this email once or twice weekly. Read the procedure for how to make a claim here.
What’s on offer?
Whether you’re looking for a career change or to upskill, the ELCAS has a range of learning providers, from established universities, further education institutions and private learning providers, with a wide variety of part and full-time courses. You could be looking for a qualification in nursing or finance, law or engineering – courses and qualifications are available across a range of vocations and subjects. You can browse using their advanced search here.
Annette Berry, Employment Lead for the Forces Employment Charity’s Military Women programme, explains that using your Enhanced Learning Credits can help with employability and your future career and can provide an accredited qualification to evidence your knowledge and skills to an employer formally. Enhanced Learning Credits can also help if you’re looking to change career or become self-employed, with accredited qualifications giving you a base to build upon.
The courses are flexible, whether you want to do part or full-time, distance or in-person learning. It is worth considering how you learn best and what learning style will most benefit you. If you struggle with self-motivation whilst working at home, perhaps an in-person course would suit you better. If you’re juggling busy work and family life, a part-time remote course might work best.
A key factor to remember is that you need to be motivated to complete the qualifications – don’t throw away your hard-earned credits on a course or qualification you can’t complete. You have five years after leaving the forces to use your credits, so start planning when and how to use them to benefit you most.
Before committing to a course, it is worth checking with a Forces Employment Charity Employment Consultant, as they have up-to-date knowledge of the careers market, which will help you get into the role or career you’re seeking. They may be able to advise other, cheaper alternatives, freeing up your ELCs for another qualification. Moreover, if you are looking at information technology or tech, first register with TechVets to see what is on offer for free before using your Credits.
For complete and up-to-date information on ELCs and how to claim them, you can contact ELCAS directly on 0330 0564202 or visit their website.
Employment and education grants
Aside from the ELCAS, another way of obtaining financial support to undertake vocational training and education is via the Royal British Legion’s Employment Support Grants. The main eligibility criteria for these grants are that you must be a veteran and your annual salary must be below £22,000. However, some exemptions exist, depending on individuals’ circumstances and outgoings.
Applying for a grant
At the Forces Employment Charity, we can support veterans by building a funding case for an RBL Employment Support Grant. If this interests you, following registration with us, you will be assigned a dedicated Employment Consultant who can advise you.
To build a funding case, your Employment Consultant will ask you to obtain:
- A quote for the training course or qualification for which you are seeking a grant
- A supporting letter from an employer – this doesn’t need to be an offer of employment but confirmation that to interview or be hired for a particular role, you would need to have completed the training for which you are seeking a grant. This helps strengthen your case that to gain specific employment or career advancement, you need this training.
Your Employment Advisor will also create a supporting statement explaining your job search, CV, and how this training would benefit your future employment.
All of this will comprise a claim which will be sent to the Royal British Legion (RBL). An RBL caseworker will then assess the claim and refer this to external funders. In some cases, funding can come via multiple funding streams, including the RBL and other charities.
It is essential to note some regional differences in funding. In Scotland, Scottish students don’t pay any university tuition fees, and there is also the SAAS (Student Awards Agency Scotland), which provides student loans and bursaries regardless of military involvement. Moreover, other grant-giving organisations, such as AF Bikers, are worth investigating. Your Employment Consultant can advise you on alternate funding streams where needed.
Success across multiple industries and career paths
Leanne Bonner, a Forces Employment Charity Employment Consultant, explains that she has helped veterans obtain grants for various training and qualifications for careers in the renewable sector, security services, gas engineering, graphic design and HGV driving. She explains how Employment Consultants listen to veterans, understand what they want from their careers, and construct a plan for getting there.
Leanne supported one veteran to gain a grant to start his own leather-carving business. The veteran says, ‘Leanne worked very hard and managed to get my business plan and cash flows all to fit in the required funding template we had to use and thankfully was mostly successful due in most part to Leanne’s perseverance, hard work and her faith in my business idea and products I design and hand make… Leanne kept a cool, professional head and made it happen for me, for which I am truly grateful. I now, at last, have a good workshop set up and am on track with several orders of leather work and have also managed to obtain four retail outlets that would like to stock some of my products.’
If you are interested in information technology careers and looking for free training and upskilling, TechVets is the best place to start. TechVets is a Forces Employment Charity programme which provides a bridge for service leavers, veterans, reservists and their families, allowing them to pursue information technology careers.
TechVets provides free training, much of which can be conducted virtually, enabling veterans to access opportunities that may otherwise be prohibitively expensive or unavailable elsewhere. The programme partners with 20 companies to provide training covering a wide range of areas, including UX and UI design, Digital Marketing and eCommerce, Cyber Security, Data Analytics and much more. Training partners include Google, Splunk, Pega, Immersive Labs and Fortinet.
The importance of upskilling in tech
Roles are becoming increasingly digital, making it critical for the Forces community to keep developing their digital skills, even at a base level. The ability to navigate technology, stay abreast of trends, and have specialist areas of expertise will enable you to stand out when applying for jobs.
Even if you are not looking for a role or career change, upskilling and training can provide life lessons. For example, TechVets offers free training for how to be secure online – skills that apply to your every day, regardless of your career aspirations.
TechVets also has an online community with over 4,000 members, some of whom have already found tech roles. This network allows members to ask questions, gain advice, connect with like-minded people, and discover others’ pathways into particular careers.
The community offers support by challenging cyber and tech myths and facilitating a space where members can ask critical questions – what certifications do you need? What are the career paths for particular areas of cyber and tech? What salary should you expect? In addition, the community provides pastoral support during difficult periods, such as when changing careers, leaving the military or returning to work [https://www.forcesemployment.org.uk/news/returning-to-work-when-youre-50/]. It also enables members to contact and learn from veterans within the TechVets community who are experienced technology practitioners.
TechVets also provides employment support by connecting members to industry professionals, running industry events, providing a CV distribution service, and providing a platform where members can upskill to reach their target career goals.
What areas are popular or in demand in the current climate?
Deciding where to upskill and what training to do can be a challenge. TechVets’ community can provide advice, and you can browse what TechVets offers following registration.
James Murphy, Director of TechVets, highlights some in-demand areas in the current cyber and tech climate that you might wish to consider.
One of technology’s biggest demands currently is for people who are tech-aware or have tech knowledge and can manage people. Often, individuals don’t want to move into management because they enjoy creative or technical work, which can often be forsaken at management or strategic levels. This has led to a considerable gap within tech, creating a need for candidates who can manage and lead teams. Training and upskilling of so-called ‘soft’ skills would be highly beneficial for individuals interested in leadership and are a considerable asset to tech and cyber organisations.
Cloud knowledge is another key area with high demand for candidates. Many organisations favour storing files and applications on the cloud, as it means they don’t have to manage physical servers to store data – this can all be stored in external cloud servers managed worldwide. It also means that data can be accessed from any device from different locations. The increase in remote working and access has led to an increased requirement for cloud environments and, as such, an increased need for cloud architects and those who understand how to build cloud environments.
Data analysts and data scientists
Data analysts and data scientists are also sought after in today’s climate. The world’s biggest problems are being tackled by data analysts and data scientists, who try to make sense of data to find solutions. Individuals who know how to design, plan and collect vast quantities of data and how to use tools to draw insights and accurate information from data can help inform decision-makers and policy-makers. One prime example of how data was vital in assisting with a worldwide problem was during COVID-19. Findings derived from data were used to help predict virus trends and hot spots and were used to reduce risks. For example, insights from data highlighted which groups were more at risk from the virus. Data was also used to help society return to ‘normal’ after the pandemic.
Despite the rise of generative AI and automation, there is still a need for individuals who can design, build, implement, troubleshoot and maintain computer programmes.
As we do more online, from shopping and banking to storing, processing and transferring confidential data, the risk of cyber-attacks increases. And with technology continually advancing, digital attacks have likewise become more sophisticated. From an organisational perspective, cyber security is integral for keeping intellectual property and confidential information safe and ensuring that its staff and clients are protected. Data breaches can be hugely costly and decrease clients’ trust, negatively impacting business. Consequently, cyber security and individuals who know how to protect online systems and programs are in huge demand.
If you’re a veteran, reservist, service leaver or family member interested in training and upskilling in the information technology and cyber sphere, sign up to TechVets for free today.
What are you waiting for?
Register for free with the Forces Employment Charity to be assigned an Employment Consultant who will support you through your employment journey, from training and upskilling to job-hunting, applications and interviews.