LIFE on Civvy Street can be a challenge for the thousands of men and women who leave the British Armed Forces every year.

Many struggle to find jobs – studies by the Royal British Legion suggest veterans of working age are twice as likely to be unemployed as their equivalents in the general population.

But a new company just launched in Brighton is tackling the problem by offering free training, qualifications – and employment.

And it’s something of a personal mission for the team behind The Crucial Group because nearly all of them are ex-military themselves.

The chief executive is Neil Williams, who joined the Royal Marines in 2009 and served for eight years before leaving last year to spend more time with his growing family – he has a 13-month-old son, Ashton.

As part of the Lead Commando Group, Neil, 34, who lives in Worthing, saw active service in Afghanistan and carried out operational exercises in the Gulf.

He also led Arctic warfare training in Norway.

He said: “I was proud to serve my country and want to give something back to the military for all the skills and experiences the Marines gave me.

“I was fortunate to benefit from guidance and support, which gave me the freedom to set up my own business.

“Now I am committed to helping other ex-servicemen and women transition from the military to civilian life.”

Crucial, which is based in North Street, Brighton, focuses on cyber security, a rapidly growing industry.

Selected ex-servicemen and women will be trained at its new high-tech academy where they will gain recognised qualifications.

Most importantly, they will be placed in a job at the end and will continue to receive support for two years, more if needed, from Crucial’s experts.

Several big name companies are lined up as partners, though these are being kept under wraps until the paperwork is finalised.

Neil said: “The qualifications and practical skills on our courses have been identified through extensive market research and by speaking to businesses who are looking for cyber security professionals.

“There is a huge market in cyber security as every high-profile hacking shows.

“There’s a shortfall of 1.5 million professionals worldwide predicted by 2020, so there are lots of opportunities out there.”

Crucial’s lead cyber security instructor is the perfect advert for the company.

Ollie Spence is another ex-Royal Marine.

His ten years of service included two tours of Afghanistan and jungle warfare training in Brunei.

He left in August last year because he became a father. His daughter Luna is now ten months.

Ollie, 30, who lives in Brighton, said: “Changing careers was not easy but with a baby on the way I decided I had to consider something other than the Marines.

“Like a lot of veterans I started working in security – physical security, that is, mostly conducting investigations and surveillance.

“But then I learned more about cyber security and decided that was the way to go.

“I had no technical experience and no university degree so I knew it would be a challenge.

“But one of the many things I learned in the military was that determination and hard work pay off so after countless hours of studying – and frustration – I qualified as a consultant.”

Ollie has plenty of advice for ex-servicemen and women considering a career change.

He said: “It is hard getting out of your comfort zone but sometimes you just need to take the plunge and go all in.

“It is a known stigma for many ex-military personnel that they are limited to working in the physical security world.

“But a quick look at the job market shows there are more than enough roles that would suit ex-military professionals, cyber security being one.”

Head of business development Matt Roberts makes it a hat-trick of ex-Royal Marines.

Matt, 30, who also lives in Brighton, spent nine years in uniform and has been on active service in Afghanistan three times and operational exercises in the Gulf.

He said: “We know that some of those leaving the forces end up on the streets because there is no support mechanism in place. We’re basically offering them the free training for a new career – and a job. It’s an exciting time.”

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Careful selection process

PEOPLE who want to apply for the free courses will go through a selection process to ensure they are right for the role.

Crucial says the three-week “camps” will be demanding but will give candidates industry-recognised qualifications.

There are currently three courses  – offensive cyber security defensive cyber security and information assurance.

The first is protecting computer systems, networks and individuals from cyber attacks.

Defensive security focuses on reactive measures such as finding and fixing system vulnerabilities.

Information assurance is ensuring policies and systems are in place to protect data and ensure it is secure.

Black tie ball to show support for charity

NAVAL charity The White Ensign Association (WEA) has supported Neil Williams since he decided to leave the Marines and is backing Crucial as the company develops.

The WEA’s mission is to “inform and provide guidance to all serving and former members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, their Reserves and also their families”.

Supporting those leaving the services is at its heart and it is working with Crucial to help with the transition to civilian life.

Neil said: “I was helped a lot by Dom Hill from the WEA, who really made me feel valued. 

“He encouraged me to join one of the WEA’s industry events  and that was the first step to where I am today.”

Crucial is hosting a black tie ball at The Grand hotel in Brighton on Thursday, April 12, as a fundraiser for the WEA to help it continue to support veterans like Neil.

Tickets are £50 each or £450 for a table of ten and are available from 01273 0060210 or by emailing