Getting around the glass ceiling of OC

Here’s a staff development question for you all…

I am a fairly experienced member of staff, in the organisation for almost 2 decades and been commissioned nearly 10 years. I have been the OC of a successful unit for several years and have really, really enjoyed the role. However, I am no longer feeling challenged in my current role as OC and my day job makes the commitment to the same parade nights each week a bit exhausting at times (I would like the flexibility to be able to manage my own time). The not-feeling-challenged is the major issue though: I need the challenge to enjoy what I’m doing, and whilst we aren’t exactly here for ourselves I think I do need to be enjoying what I’m doing to give the cadets the best experience. I’m also growing increasingly frustrated as I’m constantly full of ideas about how we could improve the wing… but I’m unable to really do anything with these ideas except throw them up the tree and hope that some of them stick.

I had intended to apply for a full time wing staff role the next time it came up, but our wing commander has just announced that they have filled several of these roles without an application process as a “reshuffle” of existing wing staff. This is not the first time these wing roles have been filled without giving other staff the opportunity to apply - it’s actually becoming a regular occurrence, with different justifications each time. I have been told that there needs to be more commissioned staff in the wing and ‘reviews’ about the wing need to take place over the coming months before more wing staff can be taken on… but we’ve had 2 cases in the last 2 years of staff transferring in and being given wing roles without needing to apply. At the moment, none of our current wing staff team have been on a squadron in at least 4 years - most were last on a squadron 5-15 years ago.
So, the upshot of this is that there probably won’t be any opportunities in the near future, unless our current wing staff team retire or are abducted by aliens.

Has anyone else hit this glass ceiling? Where can I go from here? Is it totally unfeasible to be applying for the wing staff roles in neighbouring wings? I don’t want to quit the organisation, but I need to change something.

Whilst I couldn’t be bothered about going to wing 2 of my friends did and said the biggest shock they got wasn’t so much a change of activity it was that they found most of their time was taken up with complaints.
Cadets complaints, staff complaints and the like.
It no longer felt like the air cadets it was now more like personnel HR managers with little actual cadet activity.

Is this really what you want?

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That seems to be a very cynical approach that doesn’t actually answer my question or address the problem.
I suspect, however, that the “complaints” aspect depends on the role you’re doing.
I’m also not daft: if I hate it, I don’t have to stay.

I imagine that wing need to have competent, experienced officers in place on squadrons so would not necessarily be looking to move them up to wing if they could just rearrange the wing staff (who may have previously sucked on squadrons :wink: *) if they don’t need to.

Have you made your personal situation known to your WSO/OC Wing? Do you have any specific skills which would be of value in a wing staff role?

*( on the principle of people being promoted to their level of incompetence)


You may have a point, there :wink: Although if the competent, experienced officers become unhappy and bored, won’t they just take their skills elsewhere?

Yes, I have: both the sector commander and wing commander have been aware for a few months. And yes, I do have skills, qualifications & experience that would be of value.

My own experience would suggest that very few WSO’s were remotely interested in ‘going down’ to being OC’s or Sqn Officers, so that they either stayed as WSO’s, left, or retired.

It may be that the WCo simply has little option - he has a finite, and less than he needs, number of bodies - if he shuffles the current wing staff about and back to Sqn’s he runs a serious risk that they’ll thrown their teddies out and leave - and he simply doesn’t have the officers at Sqn level to replace them and keep the Sqn’s running.

Its also my experience - as @incubus suggests - that he’s quite deliberately keeping some weapons grade throbbers away from Sqn’s…

@Angus - I don’t think you’re wrong, but I don’t think that makes it OK. I’m slightly of the mind that the shortage of staff is, in part, a result of volunteers feeling that their own personal development is ignored and undervalued…

I’m sure there are wings around that do enforce a 2-4 year term on wing staff before requiring a return to squadron for a refresh and development, though? I find the culture of getting into a position and then staying there for all eternity very odd.

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Maybe we should time-limit WSO positions. In the RAF, in general, officer development is rotated between a “command” tour and a “staff” tour. Maybe if the organisation limited WSO tours to 4/5 years, then a rotation back to sqn command for 4/5 years we could have a bigger throughput of WSO to give more OCs the experience, as well as an understanding of how wing works for when they return to squadron. I know unlike the RAF where they always go upwards, this may mean that some staff go up and down ranks, but maybe first WSO tour could be a squadron support role, in Flt Lt rank, then back to a squadron, then second WSO tour as a Sqn Ldr exec role. The three roles then over 12 years.


It wasn’t meant to be cynical just an honest input that going higher will probably result in much less Actual cadet activity time and much more hr management time. I don’t know about your wing but ours splits the complaints between all wing staff so they all have this issue.

As for getting through the ceiling.
In our wing the wingCo asks the WSOs for recommendations and then selects someone. The only time they had applications and interviews was for the WWO post as the “favourite” wouldn’t do it.

Have you thought about re training, look at adventure training or skill at arms etc… if you go in to the world of shooting have you considered joining a regional Small Arms Training Team (SATT) this could give you that new challenge you are looking for. Perhaps. I guess it all depends on where your interests are.

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is there an opportunity to change Squadrons?

We have 2-3 neighbouring units our WSOs would love to have an experienced CO at. these are however 25-35 minutes each way drive away so none of our Staff team wish to make the jump given the extra hours commitment required to find each evening (or accept turning up late).

but your situation maybe different. what about a CO-exchange? swap unit with someone for 4-6 months?


yes we’re volunteers and are charitable in how we support the organisation, but you can’t be made to feel guilty about wanting to move on.
i have been inconvenienced personally in the past attending Squadrons which are either not my first choice or not my local one accepting the “development” they offered me. I am now less than a mile from my current unit and have said to WSOs who approach me suggesting i move “i’ve done my time” and enjoy being selfish attending the unit I want to.

I thought there was a big push from the RCs in recent times (2-3 years ago) that WSO roles HAD to be advertised to offer transparency to the organisation…:thinking:

absolutely not.

one of our WSOs have flipped between two Wings (as a WSO) - they do live on the border and other than the unit they currently attend (they are a Sqn Officer again) the next closest units are across the Wing border. They were a WSO didn’t like the “old boys club” attitude at WHQ and so jumped ship across the border.

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In much the same way a new OCWg term lasts the same.

it is as if the OCWg is the PM and the WSO is the cabinet. each 4-5 years there is a new OCWg and a cabinet reshuffle takes place from the CFAVs in the Wing appointing people to roles, be that Sqn OC, WSO as SME or other roles.

trouble is we’re volunteers and this is not an ideal world.

the idea in principle works although in my ~20 years the WSOs tend to be the ones who want the role and/or best suited to it and some are perfect for the role.
Certainly the SME roles (sport, shooting, radio, AT etc) tend to be in post far longer than 4 years simply because no one else wants the role, or couldn’t do it better/they don’t wish to step down

we have some exceptional WSOs who would be wasted as OCs, and likewise some Sqn OCs who would struggle as a WSO but would give it ago believing they’d be good at it.

i like the idea though and would be interesting if every 4-5 years if Sqn OCs and above were asked to reapply for their positions as a new WgOC came in

If I had to reapply for my position as an OC, I wouldn’t.

I think the theory behind terms of posts for WSO is great but completely impractical. This might be controversial but a lot of WSOs are in post there because they’ve been there, done that as an OC and wanted a step up, or a new challenge. Forcing them back down whilst good in terms of making them see what it’s like will in all honesty see people just leave. What’s worse, people staying in post for 8 years or no one in post at all?


You ard me both!

Personally, I think that the perceived promotion aspect of being a WSO can sometimes attract the wrong type of person, and also, rightly or wrongly, lead to jealousy and resentment.

I do wonder if the WSO role came with a rank of FO, if there wouldn’t be quite as much emphasis on the promotion/demotion aspects of the role.


I’m loving life being a section officer rather than OC since my move. It’ll be a long time before I take that role again

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There is a perception amongst some people that Wing Staff is an easy number and those are often the ones shouting loudest for term limited WSO’s etc.

I’m sure for some individuals it is a cushy number or that they are only after a promotion. But for the vast majority it isn’t, it is as the OP is thinking about doing something else and having a new challenge.

How to break through that glass ceiling however is a question I can’t answer as it is very much going to depend on your Wing and your relationship with your Wing Commander/Sector Commander. It also going to depend on your Wing Structure. One obvious route would be if you have a specialist skill set, to join a Wing Team or become an SME’s Deputy this would put you in pole position as and when the job becomes available.

I get that, and I very much agree with you. I do think the organisation needs to address the issue that peoples perceptions of “a new challenge” almost always equate to moving up to a wing level, though.

As an OC, you could say my next logical step in to join the wing staff. But if I really wanted a challenge, I could stand down, dust off my walking boots and requalify in the AT side. It would take some personal effort, and cost me some money, but it would benefit me, my Sqn, and I’d probably be asked to support wing expeds anyway.


I understand from a friend that she thinks a lot of Wing roles are filled by failed OCs.

cough Wing Commanders cough

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you may also get people in the role who don’t want it, or not suitable.

I can think of a WSO who is brilliant and was a fantastic Sqn OC prior.
when he was promoted up the CoC he had already prepared his successor and although there was a shift change, the change was a ripple rather than a pothole bump in the road to deal with.

this wouldn’t be possible if command was changed every 3-5 years - there just isnt the turnaround of staff to pick up the role