Two years ago this week the Officers’ Association (OA) opened its first regional office; with the aim of supporting officers as they leave the Armed Forces and transition into civilian life.
We started with an empty office on the Bristol Business Park – a real blank canvas - but well placed to start growing our network; just 10 minutes up the road from Abbey Wood, and with Bristol and the South West being recognised as the fastest growing economy outside of London, one of the most economically resilient. With nearly 25% of military personnel settling in the South West each year, it felt like we had the building blocks to establish an OA office here and start making a difference…
A Growing Team….
I joined the OA, with a background in business but didn’t underestimate the learning curve ahead. I often find myself surrounded by military personnel who assumed I understood the TLA’s they were using; documents that started with a 10 page glossary and a lot of conversations about what ‘rig’ to wear at events… just some of the challenges to overcome!
We now have a Bristol based career consultant, Keith Spencer, and the team have conducted over 200 consultations to date. We’ve moved the OA’s employment services function from London to now operate out of Bristol, led by Karen Yates and a recent addition to our team, Louise Clay. So, what have we been up to over the past two years?
We’ve engaged with some fantastic companies…
Airbus, Zurich, Babcock, QinetiQ, SEA, Wessex Water, St James’s Place, Lockheed Martin, PA Consulting, Turner & Townsend, Nationwide, KPMG, Ascent, GE, EDF, NHS, EY, Bristol Port, just to name but a few….
We’ve run workshops, webinars, courses and all kinds of networking events….
LinkedIn, Project Management and CV Skills workshops, employer knowledge swaps held on the SS Great Britain and networking masterclasses; we’ve had some great former OA alumni join us to share their experiences on leadership and change with Broadcaster and Journalist Monty Halls and we’ve even taken a trip to the Zoo, with Paul Boissier, Ex Vice Admiral and now CEO RNLI with over 1000 service leavers and supporters taking part.
We’ve formed some great partnerships….
With Abbey Wood, IOD, University of West of England, Bristol Management Centre, BITC, Deloitte and Resettlement Teams at Tidworth and regimental associations across the South West.
We’ve grown the Military Network and inspired a few others…
The Alma Tri Services network, run completely by ex military volunteers, has grown from 150 to over 450 members in two years and continues to develop a supportive network for serving and former military members in the region to access.
What I’ve learnt….
It’s been a challenging two years, and an entrepreneurial mind-set has often been required. After recognising the demand for OA services, we needed to make sure we could deliver them to a high standard. With relentless innovation, delivery and a tenacity to say yes to opportunities, it often felt like we were ‘punching above our weight’, but I understand that’s the military way, and it has meant we’ve been able to deliver more for Service men and women who want to call the South West their home.
What strikes me from my two years in the Bristol office is the sense of community in the region, the appetite from both Service leavers and companies to engage in supporting individuals to help them make a successful and sustainable transition. In particular, the former officer community has been hugely receptive and generous with their time, support and advice. I guess that sense of belonging from the military and willingness to ‘support those that follow you’ never leaves you and it has been so important in establishing a strong regional presence here.
There’s still a huge amount of work to do and a lot of untapped potential but I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who’s made the OA’s first two years in Bristol possible and continues to support our work, without which we couldn’t continue to do what we do.
Sophia Koniarska, Regional Business Development Manager