Forces fit the energy bill

Established in the UK last summer to improve the energy industry's access to skilled personnel retiring from the services, Forces4Energy and is already assisting clients in the selection, training and strategic placement of highly skilled technicians. Meg Chesshyre talks to the organisation's director Kip Morton.

Ex Jaguar fighter pilot and instructor Kip Morton is convinced that the military have a huge role to play in offsetting the ‘skills shock' he believes is looming just over the horizon. Nuclear newbuild, maritime, wind, oil & gas and decommissioning will all be looking for skilled, reliable, dedicated and hardworking individuals, he says. ‘I am aiming to fill some of the knowledge gaps and help smooth the transition for both parties and reduce the risk to business. If businesses are willing to engage and discuss their requirements, we can work together to provide the strategic skills solutions, mitigate risk and enhance profitability.'

With its new website [] designed to serve as a ‘one stop shop' for service leavers, Forces4Energy (F4E) describes itself as a collaborative partnership between the industry and key bodies in the public sector and academia to bring people into the industry and ensure the continued competitiveness of the existing workforce.

The organisation's aims are threefold: to provide up-to-date information and training advice to the service leaver; to increase access for the industry to these individuals; and ultimately to bring both the service leaver and industry to a better understanding of each other. ‘I have spent the last year working alongside the energy industry getting to know as much of the people, companies and demands as possible in order to be able to pass this on to the service leaver, says Morton.

‘F4E works on a much more strategic footing than most recruitment companies,' he adds. ‘I work with service leavers for an extended period (sometimes up to two years before their exit date) to ensure they have the right skills for the sector. I have the capability within the company to deal with most forms of employment (be it short/long term contract, agency or otherwise) but the processes in place are geared to the longer term planning and the calculated positioning of key skills.

The website is a search facility which employers can use not only to browse for individuals of interest, but also to upload job specifications, key phrases and skills and leave them on the system to be continuously matched to the service leavers on the database. Each employer has a discrete and secure area to the website, the capability to organise and shortlist candidates of interest and email CVs and information on candidates of interest between individuals in their organisation.

The aim is to give as much information as is possible under the rules of data protection to allow the organisations to make an informed decision about a candidate's suitability for a given role. ‘We have pioneered the development of a skills-specific addition to the CV which lists the candidate's technical abilities and gives the search engine a greater depth of information with which to generate the matched lists.'

There are somewhere in the region of 17,000 UK service leavers every year, of which around 2000 have engineering or technical backgrounds. Currently on the F4E database there are individuals with between five and 30 years' experience and the skills range from mechanical fitters, electronic and PCB repair qualified technicians, hydraulics, pneumatics, gas turbines and electrical technicians.

And this doesn't take into account, Morton points out, the inherent man management, QA and supervisory skills which are embedded early on in any military career. Other skills include logistics, project and programme management, procurement and fleet management, all of which would be highly transferable in a variety of energy industry arenas.

Language gap
According to Morton, the language gap has been one of the biggest hurdles for both employers and service leavers. Fortunately there is some crossover under the ‘engineering' umbrella, he says and this is the focus of the additional technical annex to the potential candidate's CV.

‘Just knowing the companies and getting a better understanding of what they are looking for allows me to advise the service leavers of the qualifications requirements in a general sense and also on a more detailed company level. I work closely with the military to move them away from their "military speak" and try to deal directly with clients at the operational and engineering level to give them a thorough understanding of the individuals' background.

‘In terms of transferable skills, where do you start? Gas turbine deep strip, NDT, electronics, comms systems, hydraulic, fuel, hydraulic controls systems, project/ programme and fleet management, risk assessment, COSHH, engineering management, logistics and warehousing, the list is endless. With an early employer engagement I can help strategically place individuals within companies and assist in the pre-employment training and preparation for their specific workplace. This can reduce the training burden and reduce the time to productive service for the candidate, all of which can represent significant financial benefits for the employer. It is also possible to organise work placements for candidates from a few days to weeks, which gives companies a chance to assess the candidate's proficiency, skills and work practices over an extended period.

‘I am generating fast-track courses in conjunction with training partners to NVQ level 3 for ex-military technicians. Once the gap analysis has been conducted on their core skills the course will be aimed at ‘industrialising' them and addressing any areas where there competencies are lacking. This will be achieved by theory distance learning, online assessments and access to tutors coupled to short residential periods for the practical elements and assessments.'

Morton says he expects to have the pilot programme in place and ready for deployment shortly and once it is proven he will look to expand beyond offshore mechanical and electrical technicians, ‘if the industry requirement is there and we can provide the right quality and price for the market'.

Once ex-service personnel are in the workplace, they work so hard to prove themselves and have such a wide range of skills to fall back on, that they quickly find they are being looked at for supervisory roles. ‘In all my dealings within the energy sector, I haven't yet found an employer who is not convinced of the benefits of employing the ex-military,' says Morton. ‘Time and time again I hear the phrases "mindset", "reliability", "dedication" and so on. They are high worth individuals once embedded in their organisation so easing the transition can only be good for business.' OE

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