From Mess Room to Class

Many Service leavers want their next job to make a difference, be fulfilling and retain that sense of service so engrained in the Armed Forces. Having served their country, they may want to serve their community. One charity, SkillForce, has made this possible for over ten years by forming a bridge for ex-Forces from the mess room to the classroom.

Today, the charity is developing new ways to give those interested in a new career in education the tools and experience to inspire young people in schools.

Peter Cross, Chief Executive of SkillForce, said: “Our charity sees itself as a valuable bridge between the Armed Forces and the education sector. We have a track record of success, and are keen to develop further this strand of our work.”

“We have established strong working relationships with the Ministry of Defence, Department for Education, Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion over many years. We have become the trusted link for Service leavers interested in work with young people and are rising to the challenge of more servicemen and women looking for new careers and seeking a challenge that draws on their knowledge and Service ethos.”

SkillForce has employed over 600 ex-Forces personnel since it was founded, including wounded, injured and sick personnel. It is an approved provider for Career Transition Partnerships and Enhanced Learning Credits, the official mechanisms that HM Armed Forces use to support Service leavers moving onto next steps and new careers.

Rob Shearing, Development Director at SkillForce, said: “Our mission is to inspire young people to succeed by working in partnership schools and drawing on skills and experiences of ex-Forces personnel. More than 70% of SkillForce instructors are ex-Forces, and they use their empathy and real life experiences to engage hard to reach and challenging young people and raise their aspirations and levels of achievement.

“We can offer Service leavers three ways to get involved: we can train you in the basic qualifications to begin a career in education; you can join our Military to Mentors programme to get hands-on experience of working with young people across the country; or you can see what full-time or supply opportunities we have available across the country. We are always looking for committed, inspiring instructors who can earn the respect of young people in school and motivate them to succeed in a positive and supportive environment.”

Engage. Prepare. Develop.

SkillForce started life in 2000 as a pilot through the Ministry of Defence. Now, the Nottinghamshire-based charity works with over 3,500 young people in 191 schools across England, Scotland and Wales. With their diverse life experiences, SkillForce instructors and mentors are positive role models, something often lacking in young people’s lives. This makes SkillForce distinct from other youth charities.

Under the motto “Engage. Prepare. Develop,” the charity, whose Royal Patron is The Duke of Cambridge, makes a difference in three ways: bringing the hardest-to-reach young people back into the fold; engaging those who need a more tailored approach and helping them find next steps in education, work or training; and (in pilot in 2013) preparing children for the all-important step from primary to secondary education.

The instructors use activity-based learning in the classroom and activities beyond it to inspire. With over one million young people between the ages of 16-24 not in education, employment or training in the UK, there is much to do.

According to their website, SkillForce programmes are designed to help develop the young person’s character, their confidence and self-awareness. At the end of that journey, the young people are more employable, have greater awareness of their own skills, and are ready to take the next step in their lives. Behaviour improves, attendance is better, and attitudes to school are improved.

SkillForce works with some of the most challenging and hard to reach young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the charity’s Social Impact Report 2013, the charity notes that 72% of 16 year-olds on Free School Meals who completed a SkillForce programme went on to Further Education – against a national average of 9%.

The charity recognises that some young people need even more intensive support than a classroom environment can provide. In 2011 SkillForce was commissioned by the Department of Education to find and develop 100 former Service personnel to train as mentors. Now in its second year, the charity is on target to train another 100 personnel as mentors, including a special course this Spring for wounded, injured and sick personnel at Tedworth House in Wiltshire.

This is proving to be a valuable route for Service leavers into the education sector.

From Military to Mentor

The first Military to Mentors programme was delivered over the 2011/12 academic year with additional support from the Royal British Legion. Many graduates of the programme are already working in education or youth projects. All completed a comprehensive accredited training programme and brought with them life experiences gathered during operational military service. Graduates’ strengths lie in innovation, motivation and realising the potential within young people of all backgrounds.

As mentors, the trainees work with young people on a one-to-one basis and, by providing even more intensive support, inspire, motivate and help mentees to make the best of their education and maximise their potential. Mentors challenge the mentees’ behaviour and attitudes, and assist them in taking responsibility for others and their environment for benefit of the community. 95% of “M2M” mentees said the experience had been positive for them.

Graduates completed a ten-week programme, comprising four weeks of classroom training and six weeks of work experience placement with either SkillForce or one of their partners – Endeavour and Knowsley Skills Academy. The placements saw trainers working with young people in schools or youth projects across England where they were able to gain experience during training under supervision.

SkillForce has engaged with Help for Heroes and the Army Recovery Capability network to recruit actively many personnel who are wounded, injured or sick on to the Military to Mentors programme. This programme is taking place this Spring / Summer.

Chief Executive of SkillForce, Peter Cross OBE, explains: “I am delighted that the Military to Mentors programme has provided another opportunity to bring our partners together and support former Service personnel on their path to recovery and career transition.”

One trainee, Mark Isherwood was medically discharged after sustaining Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while serving in Afghanistan in 2010 as part of the Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force. After graduating from the programme in 2012, he is now employed as a mentor for SkillForce and works with pupils at risk of exclusion. When he joined the programme he was apprehensive about the transition to civilian life.

Mark said: “My confidence and self-esteem had taken a big knock as a result of learning to cope with the everyday symptoms of PTSD and I was also worried about the preconceptions that mental health conditions carry with them in the civilian world.

“However, on a more positive note, I can happily say that the Military to Mentors scheme has helped in my transition and personal recovery as it has allowed me to retrain a new skill, and return to a workplace where I feel comfortable and can use my experiences in the military, both good and bad, to help young people reach their full potential.”

From Mentoring to Instructor

Nearly half of graduates who completed the Military to Mentors programme in 2011/12 are now working directly with young people – many with SkillForce itself as full-time instructors and our training partners. Some have been directly employed by the schools in which they did their placements. SkillForce says this is a remarkably high number so quickly after completion of the programme.

Antony McDonald, a SkillForce instructor now working in East London explained: “I got into SkillForce through the Military to Mentors scheme. I had served my country as a vehicle mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and a decided that I wanted a new challenge. I’m relatively new to the charity but I am really enjoying adapting the approach and skills I learnt in my previous job to support the London Team.

“It is demanding work. I have huge respect for teachers and for the challenges that many of our young people face. In SkillForce, many of us have a similar background to our students, which helps. We build trust and confidence in the classroom, and it really is the best feeling when – during the course – you see the students take on more and more and succeed.”

Valuing Military Experience

Over 70% of SkillForce instructors are ex-Forces. Many tried other careers before choosing to apply themselves to shaping the lives of others. Michelle Good from the Moray team in Scotland said: “I served in the British Army for 17 years and was employed in many trades from the Royal Horse Artillery to the Army Youth Team in Aberdeen.

“I applied for SkillForce because I believe in our vision to inspire young people to succeed. I really enjoyed my time with the Army Youth Team, so this seemed like the natural progression. I love the fact that we plant seeds for the future. It is great when a student has that moment when they realise their own self-worth and ability.

“We might not see instant change but I believe that using our experience will undoubtedly create the movement towards positive change and growth for the future. I take such pride in my job, and will do the best I can for my students.”

To find out more about SkillForce, job opportunities and the training courses that the charity offers, please visit