In December 1971, Alan Sparks graduated from Officer Training Unit, Scheyville near Sydney and spent 27 years in the Australian Army as an Infantry Officer.
Over the years he held command appointments with 12 Platoon, 6 RAR (of Long Tan tradition), D Coy and Support Coy, 2/4 RAR, the Pilbara Regiment and the Malaysia Australian Joint Defence Program. He also spent two years in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine as part of a long established exchange program. For his leadership and contribution, Alan was made a Member of the Order of Australia.
In early 1998, Alan transitioned out of service: “I gave the Army the best and healthiest part of my life. It is a young man’s game and while I was still able to keep up on route marches and cross countries, it was taking longer to recover. I had also missed some very important parts of our daughter growing up and wanted to share more time with my family.”
Leaving the Army, Alan faced a period of unemployment and experienced bouts of anxiety, worrying about how he would provide for his family.
“The period in my life of unemployment was a major challenge,” says Alan. “The dignity of work is so important to all. With work comes individual respect and respect for others.”
After a three-month-long job hunt, Alan became the CEO of East Coast Apprenticeships, a group training organisation which focusses on promoting, retaining and supporting apprenticeships and traineeships for all Australians, including disadvantaged, disabled or distressed youth and adults.
Having now been at the helm of the organisation for 22 years, Alan has a particular interest in helping his fellow veterans, believing they have the skills, experience and talent to make a substantial contribution to the civilian workforce.
“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. It would be silly on everyone's part not to recognise that veterans have a continuing contribution to make.”
Developing the Defence Trade Program, an initiative which saw East Coast Apprenticeships win a 2020 Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Award, Alan offers tailored training and support to arm veterans with the necessary confidence and skills to enter the apprenticeship system and gain paid, meaningful employment.
Upon enrolment Alan meets with every candidate; to establish trust, understand their circumstances, background, skills and experience, and develop an individual transition plan.
“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. 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.”
While moving into a civilian role is a significant change, Alan says it is important transitioning Australian Defence Force members remember, that their military service has prepared them for whatever they do next.
“The personal characteristics developed in service coupled with the methods of a soldier and preparing for the unexpected are transferable skills. The day of transition is the first day of the rest of your life! Define what will make you happy in a job and then seek that role. Reach out to others and share your life with family and friends. Lastly, create your own individual transition plan and find individuals and organisations that can wrap their support around your plan.”