A hand up, not a hand-out

Having served in the Australian Army for 27 years, Alan Sparks understands firsthand the experience of transitioning from military to civilian life.

As the CEO of East Coast Apprenticeships, one of Queensland’s largest group training organisations, Mr Sparks feels a responsibility to help his fellow veterans navigate the road to securing permanent employment.

‘We’ve got people here who have served the nation, who in many cases have made significant sacrifices, and it behoves us not to give them a ‘hand-out’ but certainly a ‘hand up’ in that transition out of service life,’ he says.

‘Veterans have a richness of experience, skills and talents which add significantly to the human capital of this nation, and it would be silly on everyone’s part not to recognise that they have a continuing contribution to make.’

Smiling man leaning on reception desk with Eastcoast Apprenticeships sign in background

Under Mr Sparks’ leadership, East Coast Apprenticeships developed the Defence Trade Program, an initiative which saw the organisation win a 2020 Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Award for Excellence in Supporting Veteran Employment.

Offering tailored training and support to give veterans the confidence and skills to enter the apprenticeship system, Mr Sparks meets every candidate, to establish trust, understand their circumstances, background, skills and experience, and develop an individual transition plan.

Alan Sparks

‘What we’ve created is a flexible approach, where an individual, with all the stresses that might be associated with their transitional period, can be accommodated,’ Mr Sparks says.

‘Many veterans will say to me, “Now I have a pathway to follow”, and I think that’s really important. Once they know where to go and they’ve made that decision, it gives them meaning and purpose, it gives them a respect for what’s ahead of them in their life.’

Tom Williams is one such veteran. Disabled as a result of an injury while serving in the Australian Army, Mr Williams describes himself as a ‘complex case.’

The flexibility of the program meant Mr Williams, the primary carer of his two children, could undertake training at his own pace, prioritising the daily school runs and after-school activities.

‘The timeframe was never an issue,’ Mr Williams says. ‘They said to me from the start, whether it takes me eight weeks or eight months — which I think we’re at now — we will get there. The flexibility and support from East Coast Apprenticeships has been phenomenal.’

After struggling to find purpose following his medical discharge, Mr Williams’s advice to veterans is to find a supportive, transitionfocused training program and dive in.

If this story has raised any issues for you, please contact Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling, which provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international:+61 8 8241 4546 ) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au.