Remembrance Day: Robert Half meets... Kofi Assan

By Robert Half on 10th November 2021

Armed Forces veterans take an average of seven months to transition to civilian careers, with more than two-thirds finding it difficult to see how the skills they had gained during their service would relate to a new career – often leaving them underemployed. 

Earlier this year, we announced our collaboration with AWS re/Start, a programme designed to prepare underrepresented and underemployed individuals, like veterans, ethnic minority groups and those from disadvantage backgrounds, for a career in cloud computing.

Recently we’ve been working with a cohort of veterans, and so this Remembrance Day, we thought we should catch up with one of the graduates. Our Customer Success Manager, Dee Robertson met with Kofi Assan, a graduate of the AWS re/Start programme and veteran who served 14 years in the army, to learn more about his time serving in the forces and his experiences of life on the other side. Here’s what happened…

When Robert Half met Kofi Assan

What inspired you to join the army?

My grandad was in the army, and I saw the possibilities that it provided for the family, and I just thought this is something I also want for myself. Serving for Her Majesty’s Forces and the nation during the Iraq war was also one of the reasons I joined.

What was your experience of being in the army like?

I loved every minute of it. At the beginning, it was quite tough – I was 24 years when I joined the army. I thought I was a grown man but I went into the army and I realised that it was a different ball game. I had to learn to obey commands, I had to stay self-educated by taking notes constantly, I was able to keep myself physically and mentally ready so that I could overcome every challenge and obstacle that was in front of me. 

And why did you leave?

Like any other thing, being in a certain environment for a long amount of time, sometimes things happen and I got injured. Unfortunately, I got injured mentally and physically – it was quite challenging, in the sense that I wasn’t able to carry it on. 

What skills had you developed? 

When I left I realised that some civilian environments might be ok for me to use the skills that I’d acquired. I had an excellent education in the army – I was assigned to roles where I could refine my technical skills and leadership ability. It taught me how to meet deadlines and multitask in fast-paced and very stressful environments. 

What was it like when you first left the army? Was it hard to adapt?

Being a civilian is quite a different thing, I mean, the army is a way of life and 14 years is such a long time in the force. I must say I experienced cultural shock when I left the army and people didn’t really understand me. It took time to adjust to environment, but I learned the make the most of opportunities. 

After leaving, I went to intern for Vodafone for two weeks. It really opened by eyes. People were laid back and there was a different way of doing things. There was a lot of discussion and they always wanted your input into any decisions they were taking, even though I was there for a short period. I was sitting in meetings, I was like ‘wow, this is something that I love’. 

As much as there was cultural shock, I realised that I had to adapt. I was able to learn quickly the things that I needed to learn – I did enjoy it. 

What support did you get from the army that helped you with what to do next?

The army is a way of life. Any organisation has its flaws but the army showed me some crucial life traits like self-confidence – they can’t really take that away from you – and loyalty, self-discipline, adaptability. Most importantly, I think learning the technical skills learning was really great, because that’s what helped me most and allowed me to join TechVets. And financially, I received a pot of money that I can tap into – I’ve used some of that already to retrain. 

And during lockdown, how was that for you?

I think I’m still trying to get over it. Lockdown was quite difficult for the entire family. With the kids, we had to learn to adapt to the whole situation of being at home and staying home – it was quite challenging. It was the first time that the family had stayed home for weeks continuously; we’re a family of five and such an environment can be very stressful! 

There was some outside works and gardening, as well as plenty of television. We were able to get some iPads, which helped with the stress level at home.

What was your favourite boxset?

Mr Robot. He’s a hacker with psychological issues and I can relate – we have the same way of seeing things. In the end, all the stuff that was happening was in his head, and it was quite eye-opening in terms of some of the psychological things that people go through. I’ve had my own issues to overcome but in a way that’s over now.

How did you get involved with the AWS?

I first found the AWS programme in 2017, through the CTP (Career Transition Partnership) – the army support service for people wanting to find employment. When it was presented to me, I wasn’t able to pursue it at that particular time but my friend who was ex-army was also looking for a job, so I introduced him to this programme and he applied. He had a three-month internship, which was all through the army, and he’s now an AWS admin, managing peoples’ systems remotely. It’s been really great for him. 

What did you learn from doing the course?

I learned a lot! I got a foundation of AWS cloud computing and the benefits it gives an organisation, as well as how to migrate an organisation from on premise servers to AWS cloud platforms. It was a great opportunity and really interesting. I learnt a lot from the network and infrastructure bits – I loved those aspects of it – and I learned Python. Because the course was delivered through remote working, I could see cloud computing was working in action. I enjoyed it – I didn’t want it to end!

We’re collaborating the AWS re/Start to place graduates in roles, as well as helping them with writing CVs and preparing for job interviews. Many of them have inspiring stories like Kofi, who has been throwing himself into interview processes with the support of Robert Half. If you’d like to hear more about the programme, please get in touch with [email protected]

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