Long gone are the days when motorists displaying an AA emblem could expect a salute from an oncoming patrol astride his motorcycle. But quite a few of today’s AA patrol squad have plenty of experience of saluting. They’re ex-servicemen who have been on a ‘resettlement’ course to equip them for jobs in civvy street.
Aldershot, ‘home of the British army’, is also the location of the Resettlement Training Centre which is part of an organisation called the Career Transition Partnership, a joint venture between the MoD and Right Management Consultants, part of the worldwide Manpower Group.
CTP has a cluster of workshops at Aldershot where those who have served their time with the Armed Forces retrain for new careers. Resettlement training manager Liz Taylor explained: “Many of our students are senior NCOs in their late thirties who have transferable skills which need tweaking.”
CTP’s facilities at Aldershot include a fully equipped motor vehicle workshop for those wanting to become garage mechanics/ technicians, along with an AA-sponsored course on roadside assistance.
It’s all part of an ‘exit’ programme where service personnel begin to receive advice and support two years before their return to civilian life.
There are 50 courses on offer, ranging from plumbing to management studies, and most are fully booked – a total of more than 5,000 ‘students’ a year. “Not all are designed for further careers,” said Liz. “Some are intended for those who are retiring and want to acquire home maintenance and improvement skills. Having lived in service accommodation where the regulations don’t permit home improvement, they don’t have much experience of d-i-y. We have a retiring general booked in on a carpentry and joinery course!”
When it comes to fresh careers, though, the motor vehicle courses are one of the most heavily subscribed, along with those dealing with security systems for those seeking jobs installing alarms and CCTV equipment. Liz reports that around 96 per cent of individuals on these courses have no trouble finding jobs.
The vehicle workshop currently takes in around 100 candidates a year, but course tutor Chris Crowhurst says that with bigger and better facilities this number could easily be doubled. Training begins at the basic mechanic level – brake fitting, etc – and goes up to electronic fault-finding. The centre is part of the IMI’s ‘quality assured’ network and those successfully completing the courses are eligible for Institute membership at associate level. There are also plans for candidates to undergo assessment for Automotive Technician Accreditation.
Chris, a former patrol who later became a trainer with the AA, said of his ‘pupils’: “Having come from a service background, they’re disciplined and conscientious. So strict time-keeping is nothing new to them; neither is the expectation that they may be called upon to do extra work and work irregular hours. In other words, nothing fazes them.”
Simon’s still on patrol
Simon Fawcett saw action in Bosnia and Northern Ireland during his time with the army, but his new career with the AA has not been without drama.
Answering a ‘Home Start’ call to a house in Guildford, he found the vehicle but there was no sign of the owner. Simon takes up the story: “I looked through the kitchen window and saw a man lying on the floor. He appeared to be unconscious, so I decided there was no time to lose and kicked down the door. I carried out what first aid training I learned from my army days until the arrival of the ambulance. Apparently, the man had suffered an epileptic fit and was in quite a serious condition, but I’m happy to say he made a full recovery. And I eventually got round to fixing his car as well!”
Simon signed up as a vehicle mechanic with REME at the age of 17 , ending up with the rank of corporal.
While on a six month tour of duty as a footsoldier in Northern Ireland, he narrowly escaped a mortar attack in Armagh. During his time with the NATO peace-keeping force in Bosnia he was not only called upon to service military hardware, but also to carry out repairs to damaged vehicles ranging from ambulances to refuse carts.
Now 34, he joined the AA as a patrol in 2004 after a resettlement training course at Aldershot.
“I was obviously familiar with things like electronic ignition and engine management, but there’s a big gap between army vehicles and technology on today’s cars,” said Simon, “so the course was a big learning curve.”
During his time with the AA he’s received no fewer than 13 commendations from customers for the quality of his service.
Now engaged to be married, has he found it easy transferring to civilian life after 15 years in the army?
“I was a keen sportsman – particularly basketball – so I miss that side of it. What I don’t miss is all the bull!”