July 2021 / News

Insight: Choosing Your Second Career After Leaving the Military

With the recent celebration of Armed Forces Day, Graham Kerr shares his insights into his decision on leaving the British Army to join Hart in 2004 as well as his advice on deciding if the security sector is for you. Graham has an OBE, is a military veteran and long-term member of the Hart team, having worked as Regional Director of the Middle East, COO and now Chief Administrative Officer.

My intention upon leaving the British Army, having completed a full career (35 years plus two at Sandhurst), was transition into the commercial world – preferably living and working in the Middle East. My last tour had been on loan service in Kuwait as Commander British Military Mission for 3 years; earlier in my career I had served in Oman, which we (as a family) had visited several times during my time in Kuwait. Both my wife and I had a taste for expat life and, particularly, the Middle East; neither of us were drawn back to the UK.

Initially, I was not tempted to seek employment within the private security sector mainly because I felt that it was too akin the career path I had pursued thus far; time for something completely different I thought. Circumstances dictated otherwise in terms of opportunities vs lack of prospects!

The Lie of the Land

In terms of global strategy, my time in Kuwait had been dominated by 9/11 and the follow-on US-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Kuwait.  Both the latter spawned a phenomenal transformation within the private security sector – particularly in respect of the numbers of armed, civilian contractors in both theatres and the commercial opportunities.  The number of new security companies grew like topsy during the 2003-07 period, demand was outstripping supply.

A similar Klondike period occurred in the maritime security sector from 2008 to 2010 when the levels of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean generated a comparable scale of demand for armed private security guards by the shipping industry.

In Iraq, in late 2005, the largest contingent of armed personnel were private security contractors – apparently accountable only to the commercial organisation for whom they worked.  It was a Klondike period in more ways than just the commercial prospects! Regulation followed a pace driven by international organisations (such as ICRC), governments and, latterly, civil society and the industry.

Today the world has moved on.  The security sector has readjusted to a pre-intervention era norm – few players, low margins and volume business – such has been the impacts of consolidation to reflect diminished demand. However, the residue is better regulated and arguably more professional. Thus, the first two decades of the 21st century have been a beguiling rollercoaster for the private security sector, which in the past 18 months has had to manage the added challenges presented by COVID-19.

Looking to the Next Chapter

My run-out date was September 2004 and it had become obvious that it would be foolish to ignore the private security sector, emissaries from which had been flooding through Kuwait to get into Iraq since late 2003. This would potentially satisfy the requirement to live in the Middle East and also provide sufficient funds to cover 10 terms of school fees and university costs for two teenagers!

I have worked for Hart since October 2004 – involved with both land-based and maritime security operations and latterly as a catalyst to get the Company certified to internationally recognised management standards.  Given the previously described backdrop, it has been a fascinating, stimulating and – yes, a rewarding time (in a much wider sense than financial). Networking is important in any industry, though i find in the veteran community it is essential to reach out to as many connections as possible when leaving the services. In my day this was mostly in-person though the equivalent now would be through social media channels such as LinkedIn.

Is This The Right Industry For You?

Enough of me and the context in which I have worked since leaving the Army, you want to know if this industry is for you? In the end is up to you – not a helpful response – but a few thoughts may assist you in your decision making. Much depends upon your personal circumstances – married, how many dependants? How much money to you need? Where do you really want to live? How old are you from the perspective of ‘do you want/need a second career?’ or, rather like me ‘Something suitable to see me through to full-time retirement’.  Do you hanker after setting up and running your own business?  If so, I strongly advise that this aspiration is only sensible if you are 45 years old or younger.

You will get plenty of advice as to how to get a job – or you should do – however self-help is vital.  I would recommend delving into ‘What Color is your Parachute’ by Richard Nelson Bolles.  Bear in mind that getting a job is a full-time job – do not rely on serendipity alone!  Often quoted is the adage that there are only three things you must do to get a job – Network, Network and Network!  Trite but don’t underestimate the value of networking throughout your decision-making process and job-hunting endeavours.

Hart and its commitment to Veterans

Hart has always welcome ex-service personnel; indeed, given that its mainstream business (not sole) has been the provision of armed protective security services over the years, attracting quality ex-servicemen and women has been vital to our business. The skills that servicemen and women bring may appear to be obvious – familiarity with weapon handling and firing, tactical-nous, medical training, navigational and, importantly, leadership skills to name a few.

However, it is the innate qualities and values which are usually instilled and nurtured in service life that count as much – if not more.  I cite integrity, moral courage, selflessness, use of initiative and the ability to maintain enthusiasm and a sense of humour in adversity!  Without wanting to produce a synopsis of Rudyard Kipling’s timeless poem ‘If’ – you get the point!  For the more senior veterans – staff college training, analytical skills, decision making and the ability to think at the tactical through to the strategic levels are much valued assets. However, for potential operators you will need to get the appropriate Security Industry Association (SIA) licenses – in close protection and medical qualifications.  These may be part of a resettlement package – as in the British Army.

Being a service provider, Hart’s success has always depended heavily upon the quality of its people.  The company has always recognised this and has striven ensure that our staff are fairly treated in terms of remuneration and welfare.  Understandably this has to be tempered by commercial realities but during my experience (17 years this October) the company has always been supportive of its staff – in good times and more difficult ones.  Our internal training packages cannot match those provided by the services, but they do ensure that skill levels are maintained and that all personnel understand the operating environment in which they are working – legally, culturally and in terms of risk.