Making the transition from serving in the Armed Forces to life after the military can be challenging. Adjusting to a new environment, way of life and of course finding work.
Starting a new role can be difficult.
I've just done it myself and my partner is currently in the market for a new job, which brings with it the daily joys of tweaking her CV, submitting applications, networking and attending interviews. To be honest she's probably working more now than she was when she was employed.
It's a thankless task too. Unless you're successful in landing a position, you're either ignored or rejected. It's like dating minus the wine. And if you do it long enough, it can start to play with your own perception of yourself and the skills you've got. Your confidence gets gradually eroded with every email that begins with, "we regret to inform you that..."
Most of us have received one of those emails and we know the frustrations which come with searching for work. But imagine for a second that you’re transitioning into a whole new way of life after spending 20 years devoted to a service that always puts the group before the individual. A service which values loyalty, integrity and respect over everything else. Now imagine that it wasn’t your choice to move on.
I read an article this week about a former Sergeant Major who'd served 25 years in the British Army before his Terms of Service came to an end. He'd done tours of duty in four countries but, like many ex-servicemen and women, struggled with the transition to "Civvy Street". When the article was published in 2017, he'd applied for some 400 jobs and couldn't find anything permanent. He'd even taken to standing on a roundabout wearing a placard which said, "Job Wanted. Educated to degree level. Speak to me please."
Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident and there’s a high number of former Armed Forces members who find the transition difficult. A recent survey conducted by The Royal British Legion suggests working age veterans are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their equivalents in the general UK population.
This isn't solely an issue in the UK either. In the US, the unemployment levels of recent veterans returning from duty is improving after hitting 10% in 2014, much higher than the civilian population. However, many people argue that the quality of positions being advertised or filled are dead-end jobs that lead nowhere. In fact, one study claims that as many as 43% of veterans in the US leave their first job within 12 months.
We wanted to understand more about this transitional period, and what support is available to veterans when they go through such a massive change.
British Forces Resettlement Services (BFRS) is a small, family run social enterprise which exists for the Armed Forces Community (AFC). Their purpose is to create an easy to access, inclusive bridge between the AFC and the commercial world – largely through helping candidates find long-term work relevant to their skills and experience.
I met with Rob Locking, Armed Forces Engagement Officer, at the BFRS office in Nuneaton near Birmingham. Rob’s role is to represent the BFRS brand and spread the word about what they do so that veterans can make the most of their many services.
BFRS are part of a growing number of private organisations operating in this space. As well as providing online resources, training, and development, they host events around the UK where employers can speak directly to current and ex-military personnel about potential opportunities. They now work with some of the biggest employers in the UK to find placements for the roughly 30,000 candidates registered on their system.
Rob thinks that sometimes employers find it hard to see the skills that an ex-military person might include on their CV as transferable to the commercial world. He brings up the example of the driving trade. HGV employers sometimes can’t make the connection between someone that has 15-years driving experience in operational tours abroad, and their need to fill driving positions.
“...they’ve driven fuel transporters and tank transporters across desserts, but for some reason that’s not the experience some companies require.”
Rob shared his own experience of being discharged after 18-years of service for medical reasons and then training as a security officer. One of the more difficult things for him was working with other people who didn’t adhere to the same standards as people in the military do. He added one of the biggest challenges for many (especially those that joined the Armed Forces as their first job) is adjusting to the changes that arise from being separated from such a big organisation.
“...some people do 20-30 years in the Army, Navy, RAF or Marines and suddenly they’re stuck in an environment that they’re not used to.”
For some, it might be that they’ve never put together a CV before and haven’t attended an interview since joining the Forces. Many employers state that ex-military applications sometimes don’t focus on the right skills for the job which is advertised, and there is often a tendency to be too “humble” about what they can do. Essentially, candidates aren’t sure how to sell themselves to potential employers.
Support is out there though and not just from the private organisations like BFRS. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the UK partners with Right Management Ltd to create the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). The CTP provides resettlement services and support for those who are leaving the Navy, Army, RAF, and Marines, providing an intermediary service for employers wishing to hire service leavers.
Their support starts from 2 years before discharge to 2 years after and, as well as career consultancy, advice workshops, and plenty of online resources, they also fund the retraining of candidates to help them adapt some of the skills they’ve picked up whilst serving.
The CTP is often the first port of call to assist with the transition and they’re quick to point out that whilst it can be daunting, service personnel have such a broad range of skills that are of real value to employers, they just might not have identified it in themselves yet.
But the way a veteran prepares to re-enter the job market is only one side to the story. Ensuring employers are actively recruiting veterans and recognising their skills is the other.
In 2016, Deloitte commissioned a piece of research on “recognising the potential of ex-service personnel,” which aims to highlight some of the key benefits to employers in hiring from the military talent pool. They found that:
The research also identifies that there is a persistent lack of understanding of the key skills that veterans possess. Only 66% of medium and large organisations perceived veterans as having good communication skills – when in reality, communication is a key strength highlighted by organisations who have actually employed them.
The research also raises a number of important questions for employers and recruiters alike to consider, such as:
It’s clear that the transition to civilian life is the bigger issue here. Much of the resources and support needs to be focussed on bridging the gap between the skills and experience gained through service and the demand for a robust and talented workforce.
Back in Nuneaton, Rob suggests that if organisations like BFRS and the CTP didn’t exist then there’d be a lot more veterans out there looking for work, which would put more pressure on an already stretched welfare budget.
As our conversation comes to an end, I ask Rob what the business community and people in general can do to support the work of BFRS. His answer was a simple one:
“Join us, get behind us and employ the military.”
With Armed Forces Day coming up on the 30th June in the UK, his words hold even more weight.
You can watch the full interview with Rob Locking of BFRS here.