They can lead people and act under the pressure of time, they know foreign languages, often have expertise in fields where specialists are hard to find. Former soldiers are a real catch on the labor market.
“Soldiers are very motivated and deal with advanced technologies on a daily basis. They know how to adapt to a very challenging and quickly changing environment,” emphasizes Gillian Russel. She herself served for 18 years in the British Royal Navy. She was, i.a., an officer on board HMS Invincible aircraft carrier, where she was responsible for logistics. Today she works at Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, where she deals with recruiting former soldiers.
The comprehensive project on employing ex-soldiers was launched in the USA five years ago. According to people who run Amazon, the results had been so good that the company decided to implement the program in other countries. “It has been functioning in Poland for over a year,” informs Marta Rzetelska, a spokesperson for a local branch of the company. “We recruit people for many different positions: from low level workers to managers. Privates can join us as lower level employees, then develop their career and move up the professional ladder. As to managerial positions, we are looking for officers and NCOs who had served in the army for at least five years, optimally for seven to ten,” she explains. It is important that they have commanding experience.
Former soldiers, says Rzetelska, must go through the recruitment process. If it is successful, they can start work as a logistics team manager and be in charge of even 100 people. After dome time, they can be promoted to logistics manager, who supervises several logistics teams, i.e. 500 to even 1,000 people in total. “We’re very pleased with the hitherto results of recruitment in Poland,” assures Rzetelska.
One of the former officers who took advantage of the American company’s offer is Łukasz Boguszewski. Earlier, he served, i.a., in the Polish Naval Aviation, or the General Staff of the Branches of the Armed Forces. At Amazon, he works as an operational manager. Recently, in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, he compared his duties to the work at the military operational center. “Amazon appreciates the skills which we develop on an ongoing basis in the army: team management, work in changing environment, taking risk and decisions under pressure of time,” he said.
Time for Business
The program of recruiting ex-soldiers is still something new. However, Amazon is not the only company that has come up with that idea. Big companies are more and more willing to employ people formerly working for the army. An example of such company is BMW, which has recently started comprehensive cooperation with the US Army. Former soldiers of lower ranks are being employed at car showrooms as technicians. Several years ago, a similar contract was signed with the Canadian army by the national railway. A correspondent of the Polish Press Agency informed about this new trend, giving examples of Canadian corporations in which former soldiers have made a whole new career. Keith Creel, a retired officer and a veteran of the Gulf War, for example, is now the head of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Tim Hodgson, also a former soldier, worked as the head of Goldman Sachs Canada.
Similar examples can be found in Poland. One of them is Gen Włodzimierz Nowak, who had been the director of the MoND’s IT and communications department, as well as the operational director of NCSA (NATO CIS Services Agency), and after retiring he joined the management of T-Mobile Polska. He is the director for legal matters, security and compliance management. “He has a very extensive experience and competences in the area of cyber security. He acquired them both at the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Digital Affairs,” says Katarzyna Sosnowska of the corporate communications department at T-Mobile Polska, adding that even though the company does not undertake any comprehensive activities to recruit former soldiers, many positions are in fact taken by such people.
According to legal regulations, those who have left the army can seek help at professional activation centers. The centers provide consulting, trainings, but also help in retraining within the frame of the so-called reconversion process. A soldier can take advantage of this opportunity even two years after taking off the uniform. Depending on the time spent in the army, they can receive even PLN 8,200 for this purpose. In 2018, 3,700 soldiers, mainly non-commissioned officers, began the retraining process. “We get work offers from telecommunications, IT, logistics, or transport companies, but more or less 90% of people who come here already know what they want to do in the future,” admits Daniel Grzelak, director of the Main Professional Activation Center in Warsaw.
In Good Hands
Some soldiers after finishing army service follow the most obvious paths – start work at defense companies, teach security-related subjects at colleges and universities, or join companies specializing in widely-understood security – for example ship protection. Paweł Kalinowski has found a job at the Polish Medical Air Rescue (LPR). Earlier, he served for many years at the Naval Aviation Brigade, where he piloted the Anakonda rescue helicopter. He reached the rank of captain. “I left at the age of 44 to try something new – fly more, pilot a different helicopter. Experience gained in the army helped me a lot,” he admits. As a military pilot, he spent almost 1,700 hours in the air. It is 700 more than required from a candidate for the position of an LPR crew commander. On top of that, Kalinowski is a holder of a civil license, which he obtained already during his studies in Dęblin. “Now, Medical Air Rescue has its own pilot training program. They’ve recently bought helicopters specially for that purpose. However, when I came to work here four years ago, LPR did not have such capabilities. It was hard to find pilots with appropriate qualifications. Searching for people with army experience seemed to be only natural,” he recalls, and adds that many of his friends have followed the same path. First, he had to get familiarized with the new equipment. “Helicopters I had flown in the army had analogue devices, while LPR’s Eurocopters are digitalized. Also, the character of the flights is different,” enumerates Kalinowski. “An experienced pilot is able to handle such differences,” he adds. Kalinowski was formally assigned to the LPR post in Olsztyn, but he is often on duty in other parts of Poland, mainly in Gdańsk. “Within those four years, I spent 700 hours in the air, I was trained to use night-vision goggles, and though I don’t earn as much as I did in the army, I am happy.”
Like Fish in Water
Grzegorz Marszałek, who had served in the Navy for over a dozen years, chose a completely different career path. As a soldier, he commanded the ORP Kraków transport-mine ship, and as the deputy commander of ORP Kontradmirał Xawery Czernicki he took part in a mission of the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1). “When I was still in service, I started project management postgraduate studies at the Wrocław University of Economics and Business. During the studies, I was invited for a job interview to Objectivity,” he recalls. It is an international IT company, specializing in designing and delivering software, as well as supporting IT systems. Marszałek was given an offer to manage a team of designers at the Polish branch. “Accepting the offer definitely meant a huge change in my professional life, but it was attractive enough to make me wonder: why not? I realized it was the last moment for such a revolution in my life,” he says. At Objectivity every candidate has to go through the recruitment process. “You are given many problems connected with managing an IT team to solve, which takes all day. The drawback was that I didn’t have technical knowledge, or experience in business,” says Marszałek.
The company was interested in him for another reason. “They appreciated the so-called soft competences – skills obtained in the army, connected with leadership and the way of approaching problem-solving,” recalls the officer. The heads of the company agreed to modify Marszałek’s recruitment process. They invited him to complete a five-month apprenticeship period at the company’s headquarters. After that time I made my final decision: I resigned from my job, I went through the reconversion process and moved from Warszawa to Wrocław,” explains Marszałek. He was transferred to reserve forces at the beginning of 2018. Today, he manages a team of over a dozen IT workers. He organizes their work, he is responsible for negotiations and contacts with clients, he also makes sure all orders are executed on time. “It quickly turned out that the work is not so different from what I was doing in the army. As a ship commander I was also a team leader, and I didn’t have to know everything – I had commanders of particular departments and people they supervised to handle specialist technical issues,” emphasizes Marszałek. He admits that for Objectivity employing him was also an experiment. “The company is implementing a pilot program of recruiting managers from outside the IT industry. Ultimately, the decision to employ me was taken after one of the co-owners of the company agreed to it. He was a Brit who had earlier employed people from the British Army in other companies.”
Another ex-soldier who found a job absolutely unconnected with what he had studied, is Maj (Ret) Szczepan Chrząszcz, a graduate of the Military University of Technology. He had served in the Air Force until 2012. “I started with operating MiG-21 fighters. Later, I served at the 13th Transport Aviation Regiment. In Balice alone I went through a total of eight different positions. Ultimately, I became the commanding officer of the HQ Squadron at the 8th Air Base,” he enumerates. Today, he is a farmer. More precisely, he runs his own trout farming business. “I am one of the biggest producers in southern Poland. One trout in a hundred raised in this part of the country comes from me,” he explains with pride. Where did this idea for making money come from? “It’s my hobby,” admits the retired major. “I have been interested in fish since childhood. I had aquariums in the house, and a stream in the yard. I started my first fishponds in my free time off duty,” he says. “Eight years ago I realized that I would never climb higher than major, so I decided to embark on another journey,” he adds. Chrząszcz invested all his money, including the money he received on leaving the army, to buy a plot of land near Częstochowa and build fish ponds. With time, his business started to grow. “Today I have a fishing farm, a store where I sell fish, and a fishing ground,” says the businessman. Was experience gained in the army helpful? “Running a business is also writing applications, drawing up documents, fighting against adversities, operating various equipment, working with people. In the army, I learned how to move in the jungle of regulations in a methodical and orderly way,” he admits, adding that: “I am not the only one in my line of business. We have an association for fish producers. It’s vice-president, Lech Staniszewski, is also a former soldier. He reached full lieutenant. He used to fly on Iskras.”
The army is still considered an attractive employer. Paradoxically, also because due to the changes the army is undergoing, leaving its ranks does not have to mean tumbling down into a professional void. “Only after I took off the uniform did I realize how little we think of ourselves,” admits a former officer, now an employee at a big, international company. “People are still inclined to perceive a soldier as someone running around the forest with a rifle. Such an image particularly lingers among the representatives of the generation that grew up watching the series »Czterej pancerni i pies« [Four tank-men and a dog], but in fact the army has dramatically changed. Officers have contact with modern technologies, they know English, they constantly develop, train, and they never work on one position for more than three years. They are really skilled and flexible, which characteristics are very much desired on the civil job market,” he concludes.
autor zdjęć: DRAGON/IMAGE SHUTTERSTOCK