Impending fatherhood led Neil Williams to make a big decision in 2016 – to leave the Marines which had been his life for seven years. It also took him down a completely new career path, providing training for ex-servicemen in how to fight threats to cyber security.
Williams, 34, joined the Marines in 2009 after leaving Loughborough University and saw duty in several overseas hotspots, including Afghanistan. He served the required year’s notice and left as a Captain in November, 2017, looking the next challenge.
“Life as a civilian is certainly different, after so long in the services,” he admitted.
Neil, his wife and baby son moved from Plymouth to his home town of Worthing and he began to have conversations with contacts about business opportunities. One day, chatting to a friend who was in the financial world, they started “throwing ideas about” and decided to start a recruitment business.
One of the company’s first employees was an ex-Marine who was expert in cyber security. An idea sparked in Neil’s head and he formed an idea – to train ex-servicemen and women in the latest cyber security techniques.
So Crucial Academy was formed. Neil found first-floor premises in Portland Street, Brighton and speedily set up the training centre. It opened in June this year, offering three-week courses for up to 20 trainees, led by another ex-Marine, Tom Huckle. The first two weeks concentrate on getting them through the necessary exams and the third is spent on what Neil refers to as “real life training”, with representatives from various companies coming into the classroom to share their expertise on what students can expect when they leave.
Neil said there were many reasons for choosing to train in cyber security awareness: “There are plenty of entry-level jobs going in the cyber security profession and ex-servicemen and women are ideally suited to it – they have already been trained to be good communicators and to be adaptable to change. In the services we are aware of the need for good security policies, we have a natural affinity with the role,” he added.
In September, Crucial was presented with the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme silver award, a project set up to reward employers for outstanding support of the defence and military community. He’s proud of the achievement in such a short time and already has his sights on gold. The academy’s fifth course has just been run and there are more booked next year. The courses are free for ex-military, police and intelligence services. High-quality students are then introduced to their new career, being alert to the modern menace of cyber security attacks and trying to stay one step ahead.
As he approaches his son’s second Christmas, Neil is still trying to get the balance right between building the business and being the best dad he can be.
What keeps him going? He pauses a moment and says: “I’m working to make a better, safer future for my son. Life changes for ever when you become a dad.”