Are ex-military personnel in your talent plan?

Written by
Ray Lock

20 Sep 2017

20 Sep 2017 • by Ray Lock

The UK has a proud history of supporting its armed forces, but when it comes to employment, it can be difficult for employers to see the benefits, rather than the perceived challenges. The myth that anyone who has seen action must be in some way damaged - ‘mad, bad or sad’ - is one that has persevered, in the face of evidence that veterans hugely benefit the workplace. 

The Forces in Mind Trust was founded in 2012 to improve the transition of military personnel and their families, as they move from the service into the civilian world. That world comprises many facets, including employment, housing, health and wellbeing, that contribute to a ‘successful’ transition. That’s why we focused our latest Transition Mapping Study ‘Continue to work’ (following on from our first Study in 2013) on training, skills and employment to explore how to make the most of the talented and unique veteran cohort.

Making the most of veteran talent

A steady 15,000 members of the UK’s armed forces leave every year and what remains consistent is that almost every one needs a civilian job. The Ministry of Defence’s support for transition has markedly improved and, overall, employers have become more veteran aware since 2013. 

Of the legacies formed over the past 20 years of overseas operations, the most pernicious and false is the perception that serving in the armed forces is damaging. Remarkably, the public belief that military service commonly results in ‘physical, emotional or mental health problems’ has risen to over 90%.

The extraordinary and sustained generosity of the British public is, speaking as a veteran, quite humbling. Maintaining it depends in part on continued public exposure. Charity fundraisers and the media, quite naturally, highlight the plight of a small proportion of veterans who fall through the net and struggle with civilian life. Solider leaves army, gets job, buys house, lives happily – it’s not exactly Eastenders.

Credible business benefits

One of the great pleasures of my role is that I am required to present independent and credible evidence to policy makers. So this is an appeal to employers on the basis of a sound business proposition, not to be stamped ‘corporate social responsibility’, but to be clearly marked ‘this is a really good opportunity to become more competitive’.

Towards the end of last year, FiMT partnered with Deloitte on a report which revealed that veterans were more punctual, less absent, and more quickly promoted than similar non-veteran colleagues. They also brought skills and attributes that carry a premium in the changing world of work, such as: communication; teamwork; strong inter-personal relationships; motivation; and strategic thinking.

Presented with such an opportunity, who wouldn’t recruit such a person?

Are you offering a level playing field for veteran applicants?

Revealingly, we’ve identified a disconnect between the brave words of leadership, determined to do their bit to support veterans into employment, and recruitment within the (often) methodical and (sometimes) algorithm-driven HR department. No veteran seeks preferential treatment, but each wants to compete on a level playing field.

Veteran CVs can be impenetrable, and self-effacing to the point of absurd under-selling. A recent Business in the Community campaign has been to ‘ban the box’, aimed at persuading employers to remove the check-box that asks if applicants have a criminal record.

We’d like to see a campaign that ‘ticks the box’. Served in the armed forces? Then you tick many boxes for employers looking for a range of first-class skills and attributes. But it isn’t always easy for employers (especially SMEs) to make that connection, especially without previous experience of employing veterans.

Bridge the gap between military and civilian work environments

We recommend increasing work placements, extended throughout military careers. Military folk staying in touch with the civilian work environment makes eventual transition easier, while employers learn the benefits of veterans and how small adaptions can make a huge difference.

Do HR teams know how to tap into the veteran job market? The Ministry of Defence’s Career Transition Partnership and Defence Relationship Management can provide the framework (go Google them), but there are probably also local networks that could serve your organisation’s needs better.

It is true that calls to action are all the vogue as people recognise that we seem to have policy-based evidence more than evidence-based policy. Here’s mine. When they leave, veterans ‘continue to work’, and your organisation would benefit from fishing in that talent pool, not to chase some corporate ideal, but simply because it makes good business sense. The pool though is shallow: so HR has to know what to do, and more importantly has to want to do it. Do you?