The yacht that our participant worked onWhen you’ve spent all your working life in the great outdoors, it can be difficult when you have to make the decision to take an office based job. But sometimes a change of direction is exactly what’s needed.

(To preserve anonymity, this participant has chosen to share his story under an alias. We’re going to call him ‘Mike’.)

From Cows to Cowes to the Caribbean

Mike grew up on his family’s dairy farm in the South West of England. When he was 18, he decided to join the army; “I’m not sure why,” he tells us, “I thought it would be fun! So I joined as an infantry soldier in the local county regiment.”

But Mike’s spell in the military was curtailed when his dad fell ill and there was nobody back home to milk the cows. 

“I went to agricultural college and gained a degree and then ended up shepherding and later managing farms.”

His ‘big-break’ came when he was asked to manage a farm in Portugal where the owner was non-resident. Mike was give sole control, making business decisions and managing the finances: “I basically had a 500 acre playground in the middle of nowhere, where I could play and enjoy the sunshine,” he reminisces.

Sailing the CaribbeanIn the seven years he was there, Mike became a father himself and when it came to thinking about schooling for his children he decided he should look for somewhere more suited to providing their education: “We bit the bullet and came back to the UK and I ended up running a farm on the Isle Of Wight, but that got sold and I transferred with the new owners to a business in Cambridgeshire, possibly one of the biggest farming businesses in the country. 

“My job was to travel around the world, buying produce from other farmers that we could then pack and sell to supermarkets.”

 Mike was 40 years old when that business was sold and he decided to do something completely different. He returned to the Isle Of Wight and learned how to become the captain of a yacht!

“I was six months in Cowes and then I ended up in the Caribbean on a 72′ mono-hull sailing boat where we took (mainly) American’s on cruises around the British Virgin Isles.”

That idyllic lifestyle continued for the next 12 years until a couple of big hurricanes hit the area: “One of them was the famous one that made the headlines when it wrecked Richard Branson’s house,” Mike tells us.

And following swiftly on from those hurricanes came another storm; The Covid Pandemic, which brought the travel industry, like many others, to a grinding halt.

“There I was, in the Caribbean, unfortunately the boat had to be sold, and by this time I’d been out of the UK job market for around 15 years.”

Homeward Bound

Mike returned to the UK at the end of the pandemic, and relocated to his wife’s birthplace in Cheshire. “My partner had been bequeathed the house she had grown up in. But, although we had somewhere to live, I was on the wrong side of 50 by this time and in need of employment.” 

Mike's Employment Coach, AshleyDespite his impressive past experiences, Mike didn’t have much luck finding work: “I think I had a fairly ‘complicated’ CV,” he says, “And also, although I was never told this, I felt my age was against me.

“I was applying for a whole range of junior management positions in whatever industry was going. I realised I wasn’t likely to get anything in sailing, but there were a few tourism jobs, a few agricultural related roles and some positions in hospitality and yet I just wasn’t getting any positive replies.”

Mike was referred to The Seetec Scheme by the local Job Centre Plus where he met Employment Coach; Ashley.

“When I first met Mike, he’d been struggling to find any employment for over a year,” she told us. “I discovered I had a connection with him too, as I’d also previously been in the tourist industry myself – so we were able to exchange stories.

“We spent a lot of time working together to help him explore different job sectors.

“Even though the salaries were considerably lower than what he’d been used to, and after lots of discussion, I encouraged him to look for entry level jobs within the Civil Service, as I felt that this had the potential to lead to bigger and better things.”

Ashley showed Mike the links to the relevant websites to look for jobs and the one that raised Mike’s interest was a very junior role in a call centre, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). “It was just a small advert, but there was something about it, and the fact that I’d had a brief spell in the army all those years ago, that made me decide to apply,” Mike told us. 

The Restart Scheme team were really helpful in prepping me for Civil Service interviews. Ashley’s colleague, Alastair, put me through some mock situations and had a good knowledge of how an interview for the Civil Service can be quite different to many others.

“The whole emphasis of the way they recruit is that they do a ‘blind sift‘ to start with, where your name and age is withheld – and that was brilliant for me, now aged 55!

“Rather than looking at past experience, they look at behaviours and abilities – but not necessarily related to what you’ve done in the past. You get given scenarios and you write a little ‘story’ about how you would deal with it, which helps them to narrow down the field.

“Alastair was great at talking me through the best ways to approach this. He was really, really good!”

Mike got through the interview stage and was successful in gaining a 12 month contract.

A Foot In The Door

“You never quite know how things are going to pan out, and somebody told me some time ago that it’s easier to get a job when you’re in a job which turned out to be true. Once I had my foot in the door, there were far more opportunities,” says Mike.

“Jobs were advertised internally first. I wouldn’t even have known about them if I wasn’t an employee, even though I was only on a short contract. So my message to anyone in a similar situation is; take the job that might not necessarily seem a good fit at the time, because once you’re in, more opportunities are likely to come your way.”

An invitation to Number 10For Mike, this was a complete change of direction. It was an office job, in a junior role when he had previously worked outdoors, travelled the world and held management responsibilities. But he sees it as the stepping stone that got him to where he is now.

“I’d been a farm manager, the skipper of a chartered yacht in the Caribbean and I’d travelled the world – and the thought of sitting in an office had always been the last thing on my mind.

“But what I found was that, although office work might not have been for me when I was younger, it was now a very welcome progression.”

Mike thought that the job would come to an end after the 12 month contract, but being in the role meant other doors were opened for him and he was offered a new role, taking him further up the MoD ladder and an invitation to a very special event.

“In my new role, and partly because of that short time I was in the army back when I was 18, I was invited to a Breakfast Reception for Forces Veterans at Downing Street.

“So by going for a job that I hadn’t previously considered, not only have I got full-time employment, but I’ve also been inside Number 10!

“I think what I’d say to anyone else is don’t be too ambitious about what you’re prepared to take, because taking something that might be considered lower than the occupation you were originally in can mean it’s one step backwards and two steps forward.

“Don’t be too proud!

“And I’d also recommend the Civil Service as a possible career for people of my generation.”

Although he’s now exited The Restart Scheme, Mike has kept in touch with his coaches; “I didn’t need to stay in touch but I wanted to, by way of thanking them for their support,” he says. 

“Ashley and Alastair were brilliant. They were patient and tolerant and always had time for me. The quality of the support really surprised me. I’ve had coaching before in the past so I knew good from bad, they were really focussed and I would happily recommend them.”

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The Restart Scheme in the North West is delivered by Seetec Pluss on behalf of G4S


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