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Opportunities: Volunteer Reserve Forces

Employers struggling to find the money - or time - to equip their employees with management skills may be surprised to know they can provide training without having to fork out anything. How? : by supporting employees who join the volunteer reserve forces.

There are 46,000 volunteer reservists in the UK, most in the Territorial Army. According to SABRE, the Ministry of Defence's initiative to support Britain's reservists and their employers, 'the intensive training that reservists undertake fosters a wide range of skills and qualities, which translate directly into greater effectiveness in the workplace'.

These include teamwork, leadership, communication and organisational skills, problem solving ability and presentation, plus personal qualities like reliability, self confidence, initiative and flexibility.

Steve Little, a 25-year-old graduate project manager with BAe Systems, agrees. 'I've benefited a lot, ' he says. 'When you start work as a graduate the opportunities to develop your personal skills are pretty limited because the focus is on improving your technical skills. But in the TA that's crucial, and you're developing on a week-to-week basis.

'My employers can see the benefit they're going to get, and it helps a lot with presentations and communication.'

Little joined the Officer Training Corps at Bristol University while studying for an MEng. He joined Thorburn Colquhoun as a graduate and transferred into the Royal Engineers as a sapper (the equivalent of a private). An officer's commission followed and he now commands a troop of 30 men and women of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, which specialises in reconstruction, rebuilding damaged bridges, establishing water supplies and repairing roads.

There are two different types of TA regiment: the traditional 'territorially-based' regiments located throughout the UK; and a handful of units recruiting specialist personnel such as doctors, chefs or engineers. However, most territorial regiments specialise in one discipline, such as engineering, signals or bomb disposal, so reservists do not have to join a regiment that mirrors their 'civvy street' job. Anyone joining a territorial regiment will be given the training required for its specialism - so a Royal Engineers regiment like Little's is just as likely to contain nurses, plumbers or barristers as civil engineers.

Jeremy Blades, an engineer in WS Atkins' airports group, opted for a South East-based regiment specialising in bomb disposal when he joined the TA. Although he has never been called up, his regiment was this year asked to deal with conventional bombs in the UK while the regular Army was committed in Afghanistan.

Blades, a Major, was one of the small team called in when two World War II incendiary bombs were found in St Albans.

Everyone in the volunteer forces can serve a tour of duty with the regulars, but this can be difficult for those working for consultants or contractors. If you want to volunteer, the Army checks with your employer, and if permission is granted, you are called up. But, given the choice, most employers will not let you go unless they absolutely have to, so those in construction often miss out.

Keith Down, a Major in Little's regiment, has seen members of his squadron go to Kosovo and Bosnia, and would have liked the chance to do a tour of duty. At 47, Down, a highways engineer with Parkman, is two years over the retirement age for the volunteer reserve forces, but has been asked to stay until next August because his skills as a chartered engineer are highly valued. Like many employers, Parkman gives him two weeks' extra leave to go to his regiment's annual camp.

Margo Cole INFOPLUS For more information visit the SABRE website at nelc. mod. uk or the TA website at army. mod. uk/ta.

The Volunteer Reserve Forces consist of: the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve, the Territorial Army and the Reserve Air Forces.

To join the reserves you have to be aged between 17 and 30, and you can stay until your 40s.

You do not have to be super-fit, but must be willing to work hard to get fit.

Volunteers get paid the same daily rate as their equivalents in the regular forces for each day they give up.

Volunteers in territorial regiments must commit one evening a week, every second weekend and two weeks in the summer.

Specialist units require a lower commitment.

Employers do not have to give volunteers any extra time off, but many offer two weeks' extra leave (often unpaid) for VRF duties.

Volunteers can gain recognised qualifications such as NVQs and can get training in specialist skills such as IT and logistics.

Benefits to the employer include skills such as teamwork, communication, leadership, organisational ability, personal presentation, problemsolving, administration and personnel management.

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