One of the biggest considerations for those of you accompanying your soldier overseas is “how can I make the most of my time when employment opportunities are limited?” A big question for which there is no one answer. AFF’s Manager Overseas, Esther Thomas investigates…

For many of you it will depend on the specific location, or what stage of life you’re at. Whilst some may view it as a great opportunity to take a career break, gain qualifications, start a family or trigger a new career path, others may have to take whatever employment they can get for financial reasons. Some of you may need to consider how to keep your professional qualifications current so you can continue your career when you’re back in the UK.

When chatting with army spouses overseas, we’re never surprised at your resourcefulness…

Ceilidh

Ceilidh (main photo) left a high-profile sales job in 2013 to follow her husband to Germany. Whilst lucky enough to ‘pick up a job on the base’, she fell pregnant and didn’t return to work after maternity leave. By 2015 she was back in the UK. Having spent almost a year out of work and expecting again, she recognised her options were limited.

Benefitting from free further education in Scotland, she started a Psychology degree which kept her busy during a short 10-month stay north of the border. Whilst the degree was mainly online, a new posting to Canada threw up 5am lectures and some residential components in the UK which she had to manage, often with two kids in tow and funds to find for long-haul flights. Nonetheless, she successfully graduated in 2020.

Now back in the UK with another addition to the family, Ceilidh is employed in pastoral support at her children’s school: “This will be something wonderful for my CV moving forward in my future dream career of school psychology.”

She’s just started a MSc in Counselling Psychology, despite a posting to Cyprus this summer. She says: “I’m aware that I may have to move during the practicum part of my MSc and that the chances of my placements leading onto a permanent role are very much dependent on future postings.”

Her advice to others is: “Jump at any volunteering opportunities for experience – sometimes it will lead to a job! Keep an eye out for courses in your location, often the MOD runs them for very little or no cost, it keeps the brain alive and is brilliant on your CV.”

Helen

Helen

Helen

Helen was an English teacher in a secondary school before accompanying her husband to Naples. Unfortunately, there is no British MOD secondary school there, and her professional qualification isn’t valid in Italy. “I would only be able to work if I retrained or accepted work as an unqualified teacher,” she says. “Since EU exit, I require a visa to work so would need to find an employer willing to sponsor it.” In Naples, there are very few employers prepared to go through this process, with all the attached costs and delays, to employ someone for a maximum of three years.

Trying to maintain professional qualifications has also been a hurdle. “Most CPD and teacher training is delivered as part of all-staff training in schools, or by local authorities/ academy chains for employees.”

To keep up her skills, Helen has worked as a freelance English as an Additional Language teacher and took the opportunity to learn Italian. With her husband leaving the military next year, she should be able to reenter teaching when back in the UK.

Her advice to others is: “Think very carefully about the potential ramifications. Have a plan to keep yourself up-to-date with developments in your professional field.”

Suzie

Suzie

Suzie

Suzie’s first overseas posting was to Cyprus, where she gained an admin role whilst studying biology through the Open University.

Seven years later she returned to the island as a qualified diagnostic radiographer specialising in mammography. But as Cyprus doesn’t have a breast cancer screening programme, there were limited opportunities to gain work. She told AFF: “I resorted to getting a locum job in the UK and had to travel back every three months to tie in 7-10 days’ work, this kept my registration current.”

Currently in Saudi Arabia, she’s unable to work as a mammographer easily as her qualifications are not recognised and she would need to change her visa type at personal cost. Luckily, she still has a locum job, but due to flight times and costs, she returns less frequently for longer periods. To fill the gaps when in Saudi, she has set up her own company, working ‘virtually’ to help military spouses and veteran business owners introduce new systems.

Suzie’s advice to others is: “Don’t assume you won’t be able to work, you’ll be surprised what you can do. If you know you can’t, speak to your professional body about how long you can go without working. Talk to your employer about a sabbatical or what they can offer as alternative employment.”

Suzie’s final comment is great advice: “Don’t turn down an overseas posting just because you can’t work. It gives you alternative experiences and, in many cases, family time and adventures that you don’t often get in the UK.”  

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