Commander David Shutts OBE Royal Navy (retd) has launched a new charity to help connect people who have long term illnesses with businesses in need of talent and expertise.
Commander David Shutts OBE Royal Navy (retd) served 25 years as a Marine Engineer in the senior service. His career included serving on Leander steam ships, as the Marine Engineer Officer of the Type 23 Frigate, HMS Westminster and then the best job in his career as the Senior Naval Officer and Marine Engineer Officer of the first Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Daring. The most advanced warship of its day it was a huge challenge leading the RN team through sea trials ready to take ownership under a white ensign.
Aged 45 and a second career beckoned in industry providing a new perspective and great opportunity. Without question, and like so many people of his age, David was enjoying his professional life.
Then, ten days after his 50th birthday, David was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. Diagnosed as incurable and inoperable, it put a different spin on every aspect of life and has set the course for what will be his last voyage.
Now, two years after this diagnosis, David is pioneering a project that will transform the lives of thousands of fellow cancer patients across the UK.
“There is only one way to approach this situation” David suggests, “and that is to be positive and to make the most of every day available. It’s a bum deal but that’s what it is. Accept it and move on with making the most of what's left.”
Which is why David has founded a project he calls ASTRiiD. ASTRiiD will connect people who have long-term illnesses, but who also have plenty of skills and experience, with businesses that need an injection of talent and expertise. “Holding down a permanent job can be a massive challenge for people with cancer and other serious health problems,” said David. “Yet many people still want – and need – to work.”
ASTRiiD, which stands for Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development, is underpinned by technology from the IT partner, Salesforce. “ASTRIID epitomises modern commerce; there are no longwinded application forms - we are doing everything online through our website www.astriid.org.uk and are proud to be working alongside a leader in this field,” said David, who was awarded his OBE for his contribution to the Royal Navy with HMS Daring.
As well as providing heavily discounted licences to run the website, Salesforce has pulled together a pro bono team to help David launch ASTRiiD. “The support has been extraordinary,” he said. “Without Salesforce, ASTRiiD would still be nothing more than a good idea; it’s been fundamental in bringing the vision to life.”
According to Macmillan, more than 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer in the UK and nearly 60% of cancer survivors who were employed when diagnosed had to leave their job or change roles due to a range of reasons, including physical limitations, emotional wellbeing, or a lack of support from their employer. But ASTRiiD is not limited to cancer patients.
David is quick to point out, “There are many long-term diseases out there that stop people working full time. With ASTRiiD it’s not about what disease you have, it’s all about what you can do and we want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to continue to use their skills and experience.”
David continues, "I call the members of this community of people who are fighting their long-term illness the ‘Invisible Talent Pool’. There are tens and tens of thousands of highly skilled and talented people in the UK who, because of the limitations that their condition places on them, are currently invisible to business and vice versa. Through ASTRiiD I want to make the invisible visible.”
Holding down a permanent job can be a massive challenge for people with cancer and other serious health problems... Yet many still want – and need – to work.
“By helping people find meaningful work we hope to be able to boost an individual’s self-esteem and self confidence which in turn will provide that all important positive mental attitude to help fight their disease.”
The demand side of ASTRiiD is provided by the UK Skills Gap, the term given to address how companies struggle to find the right people with the skills they need to grow their business.
“There is a vast demand for skills out there. Our business landscape is dominated by micro, small and medium
sized businesses, all of whom at some point will need help to let them grow and prosper. And of course,” adds David, “if the economy prospers then we all prosper including the members of the Invisible Talent Pool.”
"I speak from experience," says David, "without question my health has deteriorated over the last two and half years since my diagnosis of Stage 4 renal cancer in May 2015. But working on ASTRiiD and keeping busy has maintained my mojo and my feeling of self worth and I know I'm in a much better place as a result of having meaningful work than I would have been if I'd had nothing to keep my mind and body active."
The beauty of ASTRiiD is that with the right connections made between individual members and companies, we are supporting individual members, UK business and making sure that we stop ignoring a huge community of talented
people and so increase our diversity and inclusivity.
"That’s got to be the right course to steer.” says David.