More must be done by government, businesses and the military to prepare forces personnel for life after they have served their country.
“Servicemen and women need to be retrained seven years before leaving the military in order to be prepared for their future,” said Simon Weston OBE, who has thrived in the media after being dismissed as ‘totally unemployable’ after suffering horrific burns injuries during the Falklands War.
Weston was speaking as guest of honour at the launch of a training hub that is offering free bursaries to former forces personnel to become domestic installers, electricians and renewable energy installers in technologies such as solar PV.
Businessmen, energy consultants, installers and military personnel gathered at Trade Skills 4U’s new renewable training centre in Crawley, West Sussex, on Friday 17 June, when Conservative MP Henry Smith officially opened the site. The day featured key seminars by their industry leading partners and live demonstrations by instructors, helping to demystify the skills and processes involved when installing renewable energy technologies.
Simon Weston presented the first Forgotten Heroes bursaries kick-starting the free training initiative created by Trade Skills 4U. This scheme was purposely created to offer some practical help to our heroes by arming them with the opportunity to begin a new career in the electrical and renewable energy industries. The permanent offer aims to give away £100,000 worth of free training every year to those who have left the forces are facing adversity and are struggling to find a new career path.
Among the bursary awardees stands Ian Lockie, who served in the RAF in Germany and Norfolk for nine years and left the military in 1998. He still receives treatment for PTSD to this day and had found himself looking for a new direction. “I have been a bus driver and satellite installer since leaving,” he said. “I read news of the bursaries in a national newspaper and applied and have been awarded a bursary to retrain as an electrician and solar PV installer. I certainly hope to make the most of this opportunity.”
Golden Zimmaestro of Nottingham, another awardee, served in Germany for three years but was forced to leave on medical grounds. Now 33, he has found work difficult to find since leaving but said he was “really looking forward to my training in Solar PV installation”.
Trade Skills 4U (TS4U) Managing Director Carl Bennett, a former long-serving police officer who now works closely with the military, also appealed for more action to help former forces personnel: “I believe the government and military do not do enough to assist our ex-servicemen. Businesses and the military need to be encouraged to promote our boys and girls for their thankless service for their country. Hardworking, they have plenty of skills to offer. Help our heroes practically and financially by considering them for jobs and advertising your positions in military magazines.”
Simon Weston applauded Carl Bennett for TS4U’s training initiative, stressing that skills learnt in the military were transferable but believing that not enough was being done to help former personnel after they left the services, he said. “When you leave the military, they don’t do enough. Servicemen need to be retrained seven years before leaving the military to be prepared for their future.”
“Troops can be damaged physically and mentally,” Simon Weston said. “I had horrific burns injuries after the Falklands but focused on the opportunities that were available to me and have been in the media now for 29 years as a result. Men and women all over the world have been left injured after serving their country and haven’t had the same opportunities as I so they have been left to cope on their own. There aren’t enough opportunities for these people which is why TS4U’s bursary scheme is brilliant scheme to be a part of.”
When only 21, Simon Weston had to be resettled after suffering his injuries. A year later he was sent to see his colonel in a wheelchair, still covered in bandages and weighing just eight stone. Asked what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he replied: “Serve in the military and play rugby.” After due consideration, the colonel ruled he was “totally unemployable”. “My regiment was a great support and helped with morale but the military did nothing and morale doesn’t pay the bills,” Simon Weston said.
The TS4U initiative should form “a model for other businesses to follow”, he added. “Prepare for the future now and diversify as much as possible. You don’t know what may happen and what you may not have.”
The Trade Skills 4U opening day was a resounding success raising awareness of not just renewable energy but also how employers can help our forgotten heroes. The day highlighted it’s not just about raising money for charity but also crucial that employers look at the skilled labour leaving the forces and take advantage of these very talented individuals.
Trade Skills 4U intends to continue to offer one free training place at its centre at any one time to a forgotten hero over the coming year. This is a massive contribution from what could be considered a small company but it is definitely going to make a huge difference to those that are successful in gaining a bursary place.