Life as an Army Reservist – from Battlefield to Boardroom

Al Robinson marks Reserves Day by sharing his experience of transitioning back to civilian working life with NPS Group, and his role within the Army Reserves.


Leaving the Army in 2017 was a big step for both me and my family. Having spent 19 years as a Military Engineer I feared that I would not find the same job satisfaction that I had enjoyed since leaving school (and home) at 16. Thankfully I find myself leading an outstanding team here in Exeter and need not have worried about life on the “other side”. I realise I am in a very fortunate position, where the NPS Group has firstly recognised my Military experience but also supported my transition to “Civvy Street” in a number of ways. The Norse Group cemented their commitment to supporting those leaving the Armed Forces into new careers in November 2017 by signing the Armed Forces Covenant. Part of this commitment includes accommodating training, which is the focus of this article, although the scope of the covenant is much broader than this specific element of support.

My role within the Army Reserve is primarily as an instructor and mentor to aspiring potential officers at Exeter University Officer Training Corps. The role is akin to a learning and development consultant and I’m predominantly responsible for the delivery of a variety of training, including; critical thinking, communication skills, and military doctrine- often referred to as “officership”. The commitment is a minimum of 19 days training each year, which roughly equates to five weekends and a two week exercise, which is all field based (usually somewhere wet and cold!).

So how do you manage two jobs? The answer is, sometimes with great difficulty. Finishing work on a Friday and driving straight to Dartmoor for a field exercise doesn’t always seem that appealing- especially in December. But the rewards are most certainly worth the stresses of balancing competing work and family commitments. For me personally, it has eased my transition to a civilian life. Most importantly it provides variety and another strand of professional development that enriches my NPS career; the coaching and mentoring skills used frequently in a Reservist role have been invaluable as a Future Leader’s mentor.

From an employer’s perspective Reservists bring a number of transferable skills; the most relevant to my role as an Operations Director have been problem solving, strategic thinking, engineering consultancy and project/programme management. Military training focuses heavily on teamwork and I try to bring in to the workplace some of the methods used in the military to develop a sense of belonging and cohesion.


Employers also benefit from the mandatory annual training (first aid, equality and diversity, values and standards) but also separate specialist training (which I am able to apply for MoD funding to meet the cost) for personal development such as Prince2 or APMP for example. Reservists come from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds and they provide a meaningful professional network that has helped me quickly establish myself in the South West.

Being part of the Army Reserve is perfect for those that want to challenge themselves in a variety of ways and for me it keeps me young (at least in my head!), physically fit but most importantly mentally healthy. One of the biggest challenges is making the training fun; leadership and resilience training gives you the opportunity to test the students in a different setting (not to mention playing an important role in retention and recruitment). The training is designed to develop team work but also get individuals to deal with uncertainty and fear.

The Reserves are becoming increasingly important in the resilience of UK Defence, both at home and abroad; we are not here to replace full-time soldiers but augment our full-time colleagues when required.


Major Al Robinson joined the Army in 1998 and, having completed his officer training at Sandhurst, was awarded a Commission with the Corps of Royal Engineers. Over the course of his career he has served around the globe, including; Belize, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Norway, Iraq and Afghanistan. Specialising in the delivery of austere infrastructure he has led a wide variety of construction projects, from jungle research stations to operational bases in conflict zones. He holds a BSc in Surveying, from Newcastle University, and a PGDip in Risk, Resilience and Crisis Management. In addition to his day job at NPS South West, he currently Commands the Intermediate Division of Exeter University Officer Training Corps.


(Pictured: Al delivering a set of formal military orders to students on Dartmoor. He is also a Level 2, British Canoeing Union, Kayak Coach- pictured here about to take some students on the water in Bavaria.)

June 27, 2018