Training is part of your soldier’s career from their very first day of service until their last. So is it time for you to take a leaf out of that book?

Whatever your age, learning new skills can serve as a major boost to your self-esteem, writes Jill Misson.

After taking a Level 2 Principles of Business Administration course, Gemma from Bovington says: “I wanted something that I could do from home in my free time that was flexible around our little girl and our working patterns. I did lose myself in being a wife and mum, but this helped me to get my identity back.”

AFF’s  employment & training specialist Jenna Richardson understands, having completed a Level 2 course recently. She says: “The feeling I got when my certificate came through the door was incredible! I was more emotional than at my university graduation because it was something I’d done for myself, that I’d completed alongside being a working parent and military spouse.”

By upskilling, members of an army family can make themselves more employable, Jenna explains. “When you’re going through the recruitment process, it helps to stand out from the crowd. There are many reasons for gaps on CVs, such as overseas postings, short-notice postings or being a stay-at-home parent, but completing training during these times tells employers that you’re keen to keep developing your skillset. Acquiring qualifications may also improve your family’s quality of life by adding an additional income, which is useful as more serving personnel purchase their own properties.”

Free and flexible

Many educational establishments recognise the need for flexibility. The Open University’s Director of Development Jhumar Johnson says: “Our courses are delivered in modules enabling students to study at a time and place that works for them. One of our students even studied in Chinooks as he travelled between operating bases.”

Bournemouth & Poole College offers free online courses at foundation level. Nela Vrabie says: “They are flexible around a partner’s unpredictable work pattern and childcare, and can be taken to a new location if you’re posted. All learners are assigned tutors who offer academic support if you’re struggling due to the challenges of military life.”

Project JEMS [Jobs & Education for Military Families South West] is making progress. Michelle Claridge says: “One of my key roles is to raise awareness of the issues associated with military life and the challenges that can prevent engagement with education and training. I get out to unit events such as coffee mornings to let families know what is available and to find out what they would like to see.”

Turning up at one drop-in session proved fruitful for Layla Murphy-Plant, she says: “I was a design draftsman but after seven years out of work raising my boys, I couldn’t return to that role. After finding out more about me, my qualifications and experience, they suggested I become a maths lecturer for Project JEMS’ outreach provision. This is the perfect role for me. It fits in with school hours and term-times and I’m building on my existing knowledge, carving out a new career.”

The RBLI LifeWorks-Families course has also been well-received. Filo, who took part in Larkhill, says: “It was very thorough and a relaxed atmosphere. The hardest part was fighting the nerves and showing up on the first day.”

“There are many reasons for gaps on CVs, such as overseas postings, short-notice postings or being a stay-at-home parent, but completing training during these times tells employers that you’re keen to keep developing your skillset.”

Funding your studies

Cost is always a deciding factor and many colleges across the UK offer free courses funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. Many training providers moved their services online as a result of COVID-19 and made more quality courses available free of charge. The Open University’s free learning site, OpenLearn, saw a surge in visitors during lockdown. There are also bursaries available, including the Royal British Legion’s Employment Grant Scheme. The Open University offers a full fee waiver through the Disabled Veterans’ Scholarships Fund.

BFBS Academy is running free Social Media Spouses courses. Chloe Petrylak says: “I wanted to learn more about the various platforms in order to develop my skills in this amazing world of instant news and communication. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire course and the high level of positive feedback received from the coaches made it even more worthwhile.”

Families overseas can face barriers including time differences for online seminars, unreliable internet or lack of childcare. “In some of the larger, more permanent locations there are Army Education Centres, but these are in demise and this is a concern for AFF,” says AFF regional manager, Esther Thomas. “Spousal training is often focused more on recreational courses as opposed to professional career development. The offer has always been very dependent on whether other spouses have the skills and ability to deliver training.”

Access to training

The Armed Forces Covenant has highlighted the importance of access to training for military families. A year on from the launch of Forces Families Jobs, Jenna reflects on its success: “The site has helped organisations to understand the difference between spouses’ needs and veterans’ needs. It’s important for employers and training providers not to lump the two together as many often do. We now want to see more collaborative networks where people can support, learn from and mentor each other. Hearing how another spouse tackled a challenge is reassuring and can help immensely with progressing on your own journey.”

Investing in your future is important and when there are so many free and flexible courses out there, there’s nothing stopping you from getting started.

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