David-John Williams left the RAF and transitioned into civilian life hoping to start a career within the NHS. Find out how he successfully used the Step into Health programme to get a foot into the NHS.
I spent 20 years in the RAF and have a background in training management. In 2012, an opportunity arose to take redundancy and it seemed like the right time to take it. On leaving the Forces I went to Ashridge Business School to complete a full-time MBA and then stayed on to work for the school for another year.
At this point, I decided that I wanted to pursue a second career in healthcare and began to consider routes into the NHS and private healthcare. I specifically looked for change management roles, however, this proved difficult as I was up against people that had specialised in change management for as long as I had been in the military. Throughout my experience of trying to get into these sorts of roles, the overall attitude from recruiters seemed to be a preference for people that had ‘done the job before’ to minimise the risk of the employing company. In contrast I was keen to do something different.
After several months with very few leads, I attended an employment fair for service leavers in Southampton. A wide range of employers were represented. It was at this event that I met Danielle Fullwood, the Widening Participation Lead at Guy’s and St Thomas’ who supports ex-service personnel looking for roles within NHS trusts in the South East. I expressed my interest in working for the NHS and she took my contact details. Not too long afterwards, I was invited to an interview for a job to lead construction projects at Guy’s and St Thomas’. It was a job that I wasn’t qualified for but on pointing this out to the Head of Department, she insisted I still ought to come in for the interview. I wasn’t successful due to my lack of experience and qualifications, but I was subsequently invited back about another role within the team. I was offered and accepted this job to join the commissioning team for a £160m new-build project. My role finished in November 2016 but as my fixed term contract still had time to run I was moved sideways into a capability development role within the same department.
My experience of getting into the NHS was a bit different to others that have been through Step into Health. I didn’t complete a placement but was linked directly to a department that had a vacancy – an equally valuable service in my opinion. Indeed, I wish I had made a beeline for Step into Health much earlier and now that I’m working for the NHS I both send job adverts to them and consult them for more connections to try and secure a permanent position.
It would seem to me that once an organisation has taken the risk (as they might perceive it) to take on ex-Forces personnel – for a programme placement or a vacancy - employers are impressed with the talent they have secured. From my experience the characteristics that mark out ex-Forces personnel, whilst all terribly clichéd, are their leadership skills, an appetite for responsibility and an ability to get things done. Step into Health provided me a great opportunity to get my ‘foot in the door’ and demonstrate my own capabilities in the NHS for which I am very grateful.
My one final message would be that it can be difficult to make the transition into civilian employment because of certain recruitment procedures or even prejudice, hence I would endorse a focus on any scheme or contacts which can help you bridge the gap between the services and civilian employment. Options include contacting ex colleagues who are working in civvy street; engaging with military organisations such as the Career Transition Partnership and Officers Association; and seeking out companies that have military recruitment schemes as they are more likely to already recognise your potential and value. If, like me, you are inspired to join one of the many roles within the NHS, then Step into Health would be my recommendation for your first port of call.