Norris, 34, was injured in Afghanistan and struggled to settle in a new job after being discharged. With employment support he has found a new sense of purpose with telecommunications firm Ociusnet, working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to improve digital connections between people in the West Midlands.
Danger during service
“I was about 20 when I first joined the Army in the 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment. I was living in the West Midlands after moving to the UK from St Vincent and the Grenadines, in the Caribbean.
“After completing my training I did a tour of Afghanistan in 2009, including Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand Province. I found it OK, but when we started losing a lot of guys, I got worried. Everyone in my team wondered if they would make it through each day.
“We had to stay out longer in Afghanistan than we were meant to, and that’s when things started to go wrong. There were numerous explosions. At one point we were out on observation when we were ambushed, and I was hit and injured by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“When I came back to England I was transferred to work in the officers’ and sergeants’ mess, which was very different to being a soldier. I was medically discharged with a spinal injury and post-traumatic stress disorder in 2013.
Struggling to see a way forward
“In the civilian world I didn’t have many options, and I didn’t have time to sort out a proper transition from the Army. I felt like I had no purpose.
“I was trying my hardest to get a job. I worked in a few different places. People would always ask nasty questions about the experiences I’d had while serving, and I felt they would look down on me. Sometimes in job interviews, when people find our you’re a veteran, they don’t want to employ you. They think you might lose control, or that you’re a timebomb waiting to go off. But it’s not like that.
“I had a son in 2014 and when my relationship didn’t work out, I wasn’t able to see my kid and hit rock bottom.
Finding employment support
“I used to go to the Royal British Legion Pop-In in Birmingham, and it was there that I met Jane from The Poppy Factory. Jane started giving me employment support, helping me build up my CV and making it clear what skills I have. She was really helpful, always taking the time to listen carefully and understand. All I wanted was to pay my bills and put food on the table.
“Jane found an opportunity with the telecommunications company Ociusnet, working as part of a team that lays fibre optic broadband cables. I got the job at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak and I’m settling in well. It feels like the work is important because we’re helping to connect people digitally.
A new sense of purpose
“I’ve been getting public transport to my job every day throughout the pandemic, but I don’t mind. It’s given me a sense of purpose – I’d much rather do that every day than be at home with no work. For me, the goal is to keep active and keep my mind busy.
“In the long-term, I’d like to keep developing a plan for my own distribution business that I wrote up before the virus. I’m ambitious for the future.”
The employer’s view
Beth Woodhouse, Director of Operations at Ociusnet UK, said: “After video interviewing dozens of candidates for our recruitment drive and seeing mostly foreheads all afternoon, I can still remember my first chat with Norris – a big smile, a can-do attitude and a willingness to work.
“Ociusnet is introducing innovative ways of building fibre networks, positively disrupting the industry in the UK and Europe. We wanted new people to work alongside our experienced crews and started our first project just as lockdown began in March 2020.
“Whilst we had trawled through applications and CVs from our recruitment ads, Jane and the team at The Poppy Factory had done all that hard work for us and provided three superb candidates.
“Nothing has changed from that first encounter, and I look forward to seeing Norris whenever I’m on site. He’s a popular member of the team and whilst we have had to make small adjustments when the cold weather closed in and old injuries flared up, there hasn’t been anything insurmountable.
“We’re very happy to be involved with The Poppy Factory and would recommend them to any business looking to introduce new people into their team.”