I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about her 18 year old son, who’s just begun the final year of his A-Levels and so will be finishing school in the summer. Apparently, he doesn’t want to go to University and so is thinking about joining the army. Although she’s not very happy about it, my friend is somewhat resigned to the possibility as she doesn’t think that he has much other hope for employment – in the current economic climate, she reckons not many people are employing *just* A-Level students.
I personally not a fan of violence or armed conflict, and I feel no more (or less) proud of British soldiers, sailors and airmen, than I do of our paramedics, firefighters and coastguards. The British armed forces are all volunteer, and most members are young. Generally, under 25. Which, if you think about it, begs the question as to how it’s such a great career move.
Since most members are young, that implies that who join up don’t stay for particularly long. They aren’t in the army, navy or air force for life. Unless they deliberately structure their experience to allow them to get into a good civilian career, they end up in more or less the same position once leaving that they were in when they joined. If they’re unlucky, that’s plus PTSD or another mental illness. If they’re lucky they’ve randomly acquired skills that will help them get a job – but the ability to drive tanks does not translate well into civvy street.
There are of course, plenty of careers open to 18 year olds who are in the top half academically of their age group, and who don’t want to go to University. Like the armed forces, most of these will include more training or education. If you’re looking for something outdoors-y there are careers in areas like telecoms, traffic and roads or utilities which involve site work, and working with both your hands and your brains. There are also jobs in the health service, in local government, finance, the police force, or hospitality for people with a few A-Levels and no degree.
Of course, if you’d like to learn to shoot guns, drive tanks, live in a submarine, or plot bombing raids then a stint in the armed forces is probably the only way that you’ll get to do any of those things as a British citizen. In which case, it’s an excellent idea to enlist. Naturally, I’d hope that people are automatically aware of the downsides – living far from home, people trying to kill you, and shoddy boots – but I’m sure there are a few upsides too.
Joining the army, navy or RAF is not a good career move for the clueless. It’s a fine job if you’re clueless – I’m certain there are plenty of people who will tell you what to do – but it won’t magically translate into a career. If you’re going to go for it then you have to work hard to either create a career within the services, or to create the start of a civilian career within your stint. It’s certainly not the panacea that some people make it out to be.
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