Graduate: Leading by example

Skills learnt in the Army are just as useful in the business world, says Kate Hilpern
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Ten years ago, a mere 2 per cent of people training to be Army officers had a university education. Today, that figure is 81 per cent. The reason? The leadership and management training course provided to all potential officers at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is, quite simply, unrivalled.

"The course is now completely transferable to the business world and therefore requires a lot more intellectual capability than it used to," explains Colonel Barrie Sairman, chief of staff at Sandhurst. "In fact, it's for this reason that an increasing number of firms are becoming interested in taking on ex-Army officers. They know that anyone who's successfully completed the course at Sandhurst will be able to cope with almost anything."

No wonder, then, that many of today's graduates who would never have considered joining the Army a few years ago, are signing up on a Short Service Commission, committing themselves for three to eight years. Mark Elliott, a 28-year-old operations specialist at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, who left the Army after five years, explains, "You are trained to cope with almost every situation and that, coupled with the opportunity to take on early responsibility, developed my management skills to a high level. I saw that these skills would stand me in good stead for the business world and was delighted to find that several major international organisations were interested in what I had to offer."

Similarly, Justin Bradburn, a 28-year-old business improvement project manager at GE Capital, left the Army after five-and-a-half years. "GE Capital places a high value on the qualities and skills you develop as an officer," he says. "The grounding I received in project management problem analysis and team building in the Army has given me a distinct advantage."

But Sandhurst isn't for every graduate, stresses Major Alisdair Goulden, director of officer marketing: "It's a rigorous 44-week course and you'll be asked to contribute a great deal physically, mentally and emotionally."

In the first term alone, graduates learn how to fire a rifle, read a map, use a radio and march as a squad. They also have to acquire basic first-aid skills and embark on the first stages of a progressive physical training and endurance programme.

In the second term, graduates study the theory of leadership and get to grips with conventional military tactics. They begin to learn about the responsibilities of an officer both on operations and in the barracks. Time is also devoted to developing their understanding of international affairs, communications studies, signals, drill, weapons training and ongoing physical training. "You need, for instance, to be able to cope if you're out in a war zone and the media ask you complex and sensitive questions," says II Lt, Edward Whishaw, a 25-year-old maths graduate who completed his training at Sandhurst last year.

Finally, the last term expects potential officers to put what they've learned into practice. "You're treated as an officer and your Platoon Commander starts to step back as you take responsibility for organising sports tournaments and formal dinner nights," says Sairman.

But what about the subject of your degree? Will you be able to put it to use? "You are a soldier first and foremost," explains Goulden. "So, if your background is in IT, don't expect to be doing programming full time. Rather, you use your IT skills to help lead soldiers. It is for this reason that you will rarely spot an Army representative at an IT fair where graduates are searching for careers that involve nothing else."

Indeed, Goulden claims that while more graduates than ever are joining the Army with the intention of staying for a short period, many wind up deciding not to leave. "The wide range of tasks we undertake means the Army is an exciting, dynamic and diverse environment in which to work," says Goulden. "Officers realise that their role as team leader and manager literally shapes the lives of the people they touch. Few jobs in industry can promise that."

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